Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower Cordial enables you to add the characteristic muscatel flavour to recipes beyond the short season of the fresh bloom.  The classic pairing is with gooseberries, the dessert varieties ripening almost a month after the elderflower.  It is also a good match for strawberries – try using a little cordial to sweeten and flavour the cream or syllabub that accompanies them.  The cordial can in fact be used in any fruit salad.

Many recipes include citric acid, but this is just a cheap substitute for the real lemons used here.  The flavour will be fresher, with none of harsh back taste given by citric acid.  They are easier to obtain too!

Selecting the best blooms – There will be only about 3 weeks of flowers but a dry day in the middle of this period is the best time to pick.   The scent is strongest once the flowers are fully open but you don’t want to wait until the heads have begun to discolour.  The bloom should be white, not cream or with any brown flowers, and they should not fall too readily when shaken.

Makes about 4 pints – but use small bottles so that they can be completely immersed in water for sterilisation if you want to the cordial to last until next year (see notes on preserving below).

45 heads of elderflower blossom

2 lemons, sliced

2 litres/3½ pints boiling water

Sugar (approx 2½ lb/1.2 kg but see recipe for precise quantity)

2 more lemons


Day 1 – Make Elderflower Tea

Shake the blossoms to dislodge insects then place them with the sliced lemons in a large bowl.  Pour on the boiling water and stir briefly with a wooden spoon.  Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave overnight.

Day 2 – Make and sterilise Cordial

The following day strain the cold elderflower tea through muslin.  Measure the juice and add 12 oz of sugar plus the strained juice of half a lemon to each pint of tea (strain the lemon through muslin to keep the cordial clear).  Heat gently to dissolve the sugar or simmer as below *.

Pour into hot, sterilized bottles up to about an inch below the top.  Seal loosely.  Put the bottles in a water bath, standing them on dishcloths to prevent the bottles banging around.  The water should come at least to the level of the cordial, but preferably to cover the bottles.  Bring the water slowly up to 88˚C and keep it there for 20 minutes.

Ladle out sufficient water to enable you to remove the bottles.  Tighten the caps and lay the bottles on their side on a wooden surface until they are completely cool.

The cordial will now store for at least a year.  That which you wish to drink immediately, or store in the fridge for a week, does not need sterilising.

Notes on preserving cordial

As noted above it is only necessary to sterilise the cordial if you wish to keep it for a long period (the bottles themselves should always be sterilised in boiling water before use).   If you intend to use all of your cordial by the end of the summer (i.e. no longer than 4 months) you can use a simplified method of sterilisation, which involves only simmering the liquid before bottling rather than immersing the whole bottle.  The cordial will taste fresher using this method: Bring the cordial up to simmering point (88-90˚C on a sugar thermometer) and fill the bottles to within 1 cm of the rim (rather than the inch for hot water bath method).




19 thoughts on “Elderflower Cordial

  1. Hi there,

    I am very new to making my own cordials and syrups etc. I found a great recipe I like with make around 2 to 3 cups. Just would using lemon or citric be best to use to preserve it, without taking to much of the taste. What is the ratio of both of them? if I do more of the mix in bulk how much longer does it preserve or it self life them? many thanks

  2. My recommendation would be to use lemon in place of citric acid (at the rate of 1 lemon for each rounded teaspoon of citric acid stipulated in your recipe). The quantity you make will not affect the preserving time, which, as detailed in my recipe above, is 4 months in the fridge without sterilisation or 1 year if you sterilise after bottling.

  3. Hi Suzanne, thank you for such an informative article, its been so helpful, can I just check, when using the oven method to sterilize instead of the
    water bath, are the bottles loosely capped while in the oven or capped afterwards?

      1. Thanks so much, I’ve never liked that citric acid aftertaste so have just made a batch of grapefruit cordial adding lemon juice instead, tastes beautiful :)

  4. some people say pour boiling water/ sugar solution onto flower heads and others say this scalds them. What do you think?

    1. Limes are absolutely fine as a replacement for lemons – they are actually more acidic but less juicy – use 4 limes in place of 3 lemons. Some recipes use a combination of citrus fruit, including oranges, but these don’t taste right to me.

  5. hi , good article thanks. ive been making myown elderflower cordials , and wondered if you can tell me what is the most elderflowers you would add to a 50/50 water sugar syrup? im assuming there is a saturation piont of the syrups abilty to extract the flavour of the elderflowers
    i usually use 2.5kg of flowers to 12 liters of syrup. have just made a batch with 5 kg of flowers to 12 liters , wondering if it will be twice the elder flavour

    1. I’m not actually certain what the saturation point for extracting flavour might be Carl, but I have noticed that commercial cordials often taste stronger than home made. If your doubling of elderflowers works I would be interested to know as the more it can be diluted the better from a sugar point of view.

      1. I always double the number of flower heads, it does make it stronger.

        Also try to remove as much of the stalk as possible, makes it taste nicer.

  6. At the suggestion of a young Austrian friend I added a large handful of lemon balm to my elderflower heads and it has made a delicious cordial.

  7. Hi There

    Thanks so much for this information Ive been searching for an Elderflower Cordial recipe that doesn’t use Citric acid and had just about given up! Living in France it’s impossible to buy Citric Acid apart from the cleaning grade! So I’m going to try this out before the blossoms go over!!! Looking forwards to trying other cordials also.

  8. Hello, I’m just wondering what quantity of vinegar you would use to substitute the citric acid? Also, if you rinse the flower heads to remove any critters does it impair or reduce flavour?
    Thanks, I’m new to this, all advice much appreciated!

    1. Yes, rinsing the flowers might would impair flavour so just shake them to remove critters. Vinegars vary in strength and flavour so I would stick to lemon juice.

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