Elderflower cordial recipe

June 12, 2018

Get picking and enjoy!

bottles and jars filled with elderflower cordial
Author: Muddy Faces

Age Range: all ages

Duration: 3-4 hours

Location: park/green space

Time Of Day: daylight

Season: spring

Tags: flower, food, foraging, recipe

Category: food outdoors


The elder (Sambucus nigra) is a native small tree or shrub. It is found in abundance in woods, wastelands, urban greenspaces, hedgerows and gardens, as well as along canals and pathways where the sun can reach them.
The elder has 5-7 oval, lightly-serrated leaves, 5-12cm and long 3-5cm wide that are oppositely-arranged. When rubbed, the leaves have a distinctive smell.
The elder flowers towards the end of May and into June/July and bears fruit in August/September. Flowers are 5-6mm in diameter with 5 petals clustered in an umbel formation, 10-25cm across.

Known hazards

Information about the toxicity of the elder suggests that the fruit should be cooked (it contains cyanide).
When using flowers, remove as much of the green stalk as you can – up to where the main stem meets the smaller stems attached to the flowers.

close up of elderflower head on tree


Look out for the first signs of the elder flowering towards the end of May.
Making elderflower cordial requires collection, steeping for 48hrs and then bottling.
Make sure you have all the ingredients ready before you collect the flowers as the flavours are best captured when the flowers are fresh (ingredient list below).
Before collecting your elderflowers gather your utensils – you will need a large pan and measuring jug, a spoon, a tea towel, a grater and a knife.

glass jug and wooden spoon large pan


30 elderflower heads
1kg sugar
55g citric acid (natural preservative)
4 lemons
( I got my citric acid in bulk from a hardware shop that sold jam-making equipment but I have also bought it in a chemist)

bag of elderflower heads, lemons bag of sugar and tub of citric acid


Take a look at our Tips for Foraging for suggestions of sustainable foraging. Avoid picking flowers growing near a main road (the flowerheads absorb pollutants) and make sure you are not on private land when you are picking.

Picking elderflowers is a perfect excuse to explore your local environment. The flowers are best picked when they are dry as the scent is stronger. It’s also best to pick first thing in the morning, as the scent changes through the day.

As the flower heads vary in size, throw in some extra heads if some are on the small side.

2 children running through long grass with trees in background

Step 1

Once you have picked your elderflowers, wash and finely grate the peel of 4 lemons.

Cut the grated lemons into thick slices.

chopping board with sliced lemon and grater and lemon zest

Step 2

Pour the sugar into a clean pan (it IS a lot of sugar, however, the cordial will be aspartame-free!)

large pan with sugar in bottom

Step 3

Measure out 3 pints of boiling water and add to the sugar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

pouring water from jug into large pan with sugar in

Step 4

Add the lemon rind and slices and the citric acid and give it all a stir.

pouring citric acid into pan with water and sliced lemon

Step 5

Add the elderflower heads, pushing them down into the sugar solution.

large pan with water sliced lemons and elderflower heads and wooden spoon

Step 6

Cover the pan with a clean tea towel and leave for 48hrs (I always leave it on the kitchen worktop out of direct sun).

Step 7 – bottling and straining

You will need a collection of sterilised bottles/containers, a straining device/method and a large jug.

I cleaned the jars/bottles out with hot soapy water, rinsed them, then swilled them out with boiling water.
You could also use sterilising tablets and leave bottles in the sterilising water until you need them (check instructions – some don’t need to be rinsed off).

equipment needed for straining elderflower cordial

Straining methods

I usually strain through a purpose-made jelly strainer bag and stand but thought I would try out the ‘pegging a muslin cloth over a jug’ method. This worked really well and just required some shifting of the pegs to allow pouring space for the pan.

Alternatively a sieve/colander could be placed over the jug and then the muslin cloth put into the sieve.

plastic jug with muslin cloth pegged onready to strain elderflower

Once your straining system is ready, carefully pour the contents of the steeped elderflowers through the cloth and into the jug.

We did this in 2 stages :

First strain your liquid into the jug.

Take the pegs off and lift the cloth onto the pan, along with any gathered flowers/lemon slices etc.

Then use the jug to fill your bottles with the strained cordial solution (my 8-year-old found a mini-funnel helpful when filling the bottles).

Put the lids on (remember to leave an expansion gap in the jar/bottle if you intend to freeze any cordial).

We then set up the straining cloth again and poured the remaining mixture out. We created a pile of flower heads and lemons balanced on top of the cloth, and left it to strain until it stopped dripping (around 20 mins).

pile of sliced lemon and elderflower heads resting on muslin cloth over plastic jug

Step 8 – taste!

Whilst you are waiting for the last bits to strain, enjoy your first glass of elderflower cordial – Chin Chin! (Don’t forget to dilute!)

Bottle and label the remaining cordial and store in a fridge.

Use within 2 months, otherwise freeze it.

Re-use the lemon slices in your drink and compost the flower heads.

two children drinking freshly made elderflower cordial out of plastic beakers