Elderflower Cordial

I remember the very first time I ever tasted elderflower cordial. It was an extremely hot summer and I had traveled the great distance between the North and the South of England (which is a far greater divide psychologically than physically, as anyone from ‘Up North’ will confirm) to be with my boyfriend during the holidays. As the sun beat down on the yellowing grass, we sipped cool, refreshing drinks of elderflower cordial and loitered with our fellow bellringers in the shady ringing chambers of old church towers.

The taste of elderflower cordial today transports me straight back to that time. Only now, the boyfriend is my husband and we have three young children who are already in love with the smell and taste of elderflowers.

T smelling elderflowers

Although elderflowers grow abundantly in the hedgerows of Devon, this is the first year that we have collected the flowers to make our own cordial. It was O’s idea last weekend.


My collection of cookbooks on the kitchen bookshelves yielded two recipes for elderflower cordial. The first was by Sophie Grigson and the second was in The Cook’s Scrapbook (a lovely book with a whole section on foods from the wild). At first sight, Sophie Grigson’s recipe seemed the more appealing as the elderflowers only required steeping overnight, rather than the five days called for in the second recipe. However, Sophie’s recipe also used relatively more sugar, and we wanted to avoid making the cordial too sickly sweet. In the end, we decided to combine the two recipes by using less sugar and straining the mixture after one day (largely through fears that it would become a mildewed pond if left for any longer).

Both recipes included citric acid, something which I do not happen to keep in ready supply. Apparently, this acts as a preservative so that the bottled cordial can be kept for up to a year. It also enhances the charateristic sour zing of the elderflowers.

Although citric acid is found naturally in the juice of the lemons that are also used in the recipes, it is in too small a quantity in lemons to provide a substitute for the amount of citric acid required – it would take about thirteen lemons to produce an equivalent amount of citric acid, something which would also override the essence of elderflower in the cordial.

Unfortunately, the larger chain pharmacy stores in the UK no longer stock citric acid because it can be used to make heroin more soluble. However, it is also used in wine-making so can be found in small quantities in home brewing shops. We tracked down a supply locally at Quay Side Easy Brew on the Historic Quay in Exeter.

If you haven’t yet made elderflower cordial, I can reassure you that it is simply the easiest thing to do. The most important part is to make sure that the flowers you gather are fresh and white and not creamy or brown, which means that you have to get the timing right – generally, the flowers will be at their best for only two weeks in the early summer of each year. Apparently, it’s also best not to pick blossoms from beside a road … a piece of advice that we didn’t follow to the letter, although the narrow Devon lanes we get around here could hardly be classified as major motorways 😉 .

elderflower cordial

Elderflower Cordial

2 kg / 4 lb 6 oz caster sugar
1700 ml / 3 pints boiling water
90 g / 3 oz citric acid
30 large elderflower heads, flowers snipped from stems
3 lemons, sliced

Put the sugar into a large bowl and add the boiling water. Stir until all of the sugar has dissolved, then add the citric acid, elderflowers and lemons (we were concerned about the many bugs that seemed to be living in the flowers, so we put the pot on the oven top and boiled everything up for a minute or so … I haven’t seen anywhere that recommends you do this, but it certainly didn’t impair the flavour of our finished cordial at all).

Cover the bowl and leave to stand at room temperature for 24 hours.

Scald a sieve, jug and muslin cloth with boiling water, then strain the cordial through the muslin (double-thickness) into the jug.

Clean and scald 3 or 4 bottles (we used wine bottles with screw caps). Pour the strained cordial into the bottles. Cork or cap the bottles, then store in the fridge.

To drink, dilute one part cordial with two or three parts water (still or sparkling), tonic, soda or gin.

Leave a comment


  1. I love Elderflower cordial. It is a English summer in a drink to me. So refreshing. I was thinking of making my own cordial last year, but then waited too long and the blossoms had turned bad. It is such a pretty blossom too. I have my own un-killable bush in my back garden that a dear elderly friend gave to me. Everyone said not to plant it but I did and I actually love it. I prune the daylights out of it every year and it springs back to life despite my assault!
    I love the picture of your little one smelling the blossoms!

  2. Jeannette

     /  June 10, 2009

    My very favourite drink! It seems to be popular with everyone this summer as I have seen lots of mention of it on blogs and articles in magazines but none as informative as yours, Kate. I think I have probably missed the time for gathering the blossom by now (?) but I shall have to have a go at it sometime, I really do like it. I buy the cordial from the supermarket but last week it had sold out!! Last year Tom picked sloes from around his golf course and we made sloe gin, we were very popular with our friends! Nice article, I enjoyed reading it>

  3. I spent last summer in England studying at Oxford and all my underage American classmates were so excited they could finally drink. I, however, do not drink that much, as in I fall asleep after half a drink. I have nothing against it, I just can’t do it I guess. But the one thing every pub, bar and club seemed to offer was fresh or bottled elderflower presses with cordial. I fell in love but when I came back to Texas there was no elderflower to be found:(. I smuggled several bottles back with me but they were gone after only a few weeks. I’ve gone so far as to email Sainsbury’s and politely beg them to ship me their version of elderflower drink. Let me just say I share in your love of elderflower.

  4. With such a persistent supply in your own garden, I do hope you find time one year to make a cordial with your flowers, Melinda. It’s worth it – honestly! And you can do lots of other things with it besides drink it. I’m planning to mix some in with some whipped crème fraiche and a bit of gelatine to make it firm, then pour it all into little pots and chill them in the fridge to set. My kids love rumaging around in the fridge for tasty treats in little pots, so I’m hoping they’ll enjoy this, too.

    Thanks, Jeannette – you know, now that I’ve met you, I can hear your voice as I read your comment 🙂 We’ve made sloe gin a few times, too – it seems like a long wait in between bottling and drinking, but it’s another lovely drink from the hedgerows.

    Hi Katherine – Have you tried The Chef’s Warehouse? – they seem to stock exactly the same elderflower cordial as we get in our local supermarkets (and it’s quite expensive over here too, if that’s any consolation). I think you were very wise to drink nothing much stronger than elderflower in Oxford – just think what your friends were missing out on!

  5. the elderflower man

     /  June 13, 2009

    Hi, I work for one of the UK’s biggest elderflower cordial makers (I don’t speak for them etc, which is why this is going to be an anonymous post). We are in the middle of our elderflower season, taking in flowers from the general public. The season usually lasts about six weeks from start to finish, although the first and last weeks tend to be pretty ropey.
    I’ve had a suprising number of phone calls regarding citric acid – I didn’t know that it was used by addicts, but it’s clear that it’s no longer easy to get hold of. You could use tartaric acid, I don’t think that that should taint the cordial. You’re right that elderflower needs acid. Elderflower cordial made without a source of acid (lemon juice and / or citric acid) is horrible. Our elderflower cordial has a pH of below 3, it’s about as acidic as vinegar although the sugar counteracts this.
    I wouldn’t cut back the sugar too much if I was you – especially if you’re planning on making the cordial in quantity and storing it. Sugar is a very effective preservative. Personally, I’d keep the sugar levels up and balance them with either lemon juice and / or acid (citric / tartaric). If you do reduce the sugar content then you could always freeze the cordial rather than risk it fermenting.
    We infuse our elderflowers in cold syrup for about two days and we find that gives a nice fresh flavour. It also makes a stronger-tasting syrup that you can dilute at about 1:8, so even if the syrup sugar content is higher than the recipe you used, less is ultimately consumed.
    Pick the elderflowers themselves on a warm dry day. Don’t even try to make cordial with wet flowers and don’t wash the flowers before you use them. It’s the yellow pollen that really makes the difference (which is why the brands which use frozen elderflowers, rather than fresh, tend to lack the fresh zing of fresh cordial).
    Cordial can be blended with alcohol too – a dash of elderflower cordial in a gin and lemonade is fantastic, or a long drink made of a mixture of white wine, elderflower cordial and fresh strawberries is really refreshing on a hot summer’s day.
    For the Americans who like elderflower cordial, most British stores (such as the British Aisles, http://www.britishaisles.com/) can supply elderflower cordial.

    • Gosh, thanks for leaving such a detailed comment, elderflower man. If you’re putting the flowers into a cold syrup, do you need to sterilize the cordial in any way before bottling it (we boiled ours, but that may impair the flavour …)?

      • the elderflower man

         /  June 14, 2009

        thank you for your comments! We pasteurise the cordial, but that’s not something that is easy at home. Unpasterised the cordial lasts for some time, but eventually the yeasts take over. Traditionally people making it would use much higher levels of sugar / acid than we’d be happy with now and that stopped any yeasts or mould growth. If you can’t taste the difference between a hot and a cold infusion though then a hot infusion may be the best way to go for home produced cordial if you’re planning on storing the cordial. It can be frozen though, this is the way we preserve it if we don’t bottle it immediately after we took out all chemical preservatives three or four years ago.

        • That’s really helpful to know, elderflower man – thanks again for your info 🙂 . We’re planning to make another batch today before our elderflowers start to be past their best. With the thirsty hoardes in our household, drinking our way through three pints of cordial isn’t much of a problem – but freezing any extras sounds like the way to go.

  6. the elderflower man

     /  June 14, 2009

    you’re more than welcome, good luck with the cordial making!

  7. love the recipe…i havent made it before but its my favourite cordial to drink…I’m gonna have a go!! Thx for posting 🙂

  8. I love the photographs in this post! They transport me to a wonderful place and make me feel so calm.

  9. You’re welcome, MJK06.

    It’s not always so calm around here, as you can imagine, Cynthia! But I’m pleased to be able to share a little of our English summer with you 🙂 .

  10. hey…the Elderflower Man is very cool! Such good advice. Cheers

  11. What an interesting drink! 🙂 I love all kids of flower teas so I’m sure I would enjoy your cordial… but where to get fresh elderflowers?

  12. I guess it could be difficult in London (especially the ‘not beside a road’ part!). Hmmm – I wonder if my sister knows …

  13. Lucy

     /  June 15, 2009

    Well I saw heaps of them when I was out walking in Kent around the North Downs Way at the weekend: but that’s not really London! I think the best places to look more centrally would be in local allotments (find a friend who has one rather than just nicking the produce!) or parks. Allotments can be researched at: http://www.london.gov.uk/allotments/
    I’ve found that wilder ‘parks’ are better for things to use in cooking. There’s a place near us (South Norwood Country Park) which is a veritable treasure of produce such as rose-hips, elderflowers, blackberries, crab-apples etc: http://www.croydon.gov.uk/leisure/parksandopenspaces/parksatoz/southnorwoodcountry/
    It’s a very grand title for such a piece of land but it’s one of many around London and they aren’t too hard to find if you do a bit of research first.
    Hope that’s of help if you’re looking in London!
    Luvnhugs, Lucy

  14. Thanks, Lucy 🙂 I see that the park you mentioned also has a children’s playground … useful information for when we visit you!

  15. Just waiting for my first batch of elderflower cordial to brew. It was a nightmare getting hold of the citric acid but hopefully it’ll be worth it in the end!

  16. Great recipe, but what a super-duper gorgeous picture of the little one! It should be on the cover of a magazine…OR IN A MUSEUM! Really.

  17. Duncan

     /  June 21, 2009

    For those having trouble getting citric acid – you need to go to a chemist or the pharmacy counter of a supermarket. They will only sell you a limited amount at a time (two 50g boxes from Sainsbury’s) and will probably ask why you want it – but the answer “elderflower cordial” is entirely satisfactory (and usual gets a “oh, we get lots of those” type comment!)

  18. I hope it all turned out well and was worth your marathon effort to find the citric acid, Missbliss!

    Awww, thanks Sue 🙂 .

    Hi Duncan – thanks for that bit of information. It could make life a lot easier!

  19. sisterrosie

     /  June 26, 2009

    These photos are superb! My mum just made batch-loads of fantastic elderflower. The only hitch was when it was ready…and we suddenly realised there were no bottles around. We had to use up milk so as to free up some storage space!

    By the way, my mum managed to find not just one but two chemists that stocked citric acid – ask at the independent chemist down the road!

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