I am absolutely, positively, insanely obsessed with all things elderflower. It’s common knowledge that I will order anything and everything that has St. Germain in it at a bar. It’s even more common knowledge that I would never dare to celebrate a New Year’s Eve, Christmas, or special occasion without St. Germain topped champagne. And, to be honest, I never once thought about making my own elderflower cordial. Not until now, of course.
A local forager that supplies goodies to Whole Foods and local stores gave my husband a giant, beautiful bag of elderflowers. When he handed them to me, my eyes lit up like Christmas morning and you would think he just gave me a 10-carat diamond. (I truly am so simple to please. Just spoil me with good food and wine, who needs jewels?)
I live in the Pacific Northwest. Portland, to be exact. And people forage here, a lot. I’m amazed at what they’re able to find, too. Whole meals made from foraged goodies. Now, me, on the other hand… I would be way too nervous that I would completely misidentify a species of plant and poison my entire family.
So, I don’t think I’ll be foraging anytime soon. How about you guys? Do you forage? What are your favorite finds?
To circle back to elderflowers, if you don’t know what they are: they’re these teeny, tiny little flowers that grow on the elder (or the Sambucus) tree. They actually have a ton of uses, from being used in cold or cough medicine, an extract in perfumes, or a water for skincare and lotions. And, of course, in cordials and liqueurs. St. Germain is the most popular elderflower liqueur, and it’s delicious. It’s a distinctly floral, fruity, and fragrant flavor that is really unlike anything else. It’s excellent paired in cocktails or mixed with club soda or lemonade for an incredibly refreshing summertime drink.
Elderflower syrup is widely made and used in Europe, but it can definitely be found around the states, too. IKEA and stores such as World Market sell it. Whole Foods often carries a version, too. But, guess what? Besides Europe, elderflower trees grow throughout the US, and there may very well be one right in your own neighborhood. If you’re interested in learning more about the plant and the foraging aspect, you can visit here or here. I don’t want you guys picking the wrong species or eating copious amounts of the stems, getting poisoned, and blaming me, k?
Some things to note (if you’re interested in the foraging aspect): Elderflowers (which bloom in spring/summer) become elderberries (in autumn), another edible elder goodie that’s typically used medicinally or to create wines or jams. Elderflowers and ripe elderberries are edible, although it is not suggested to eat elderflowers raw. The stems of elderflower plants, the leaves of the plant, and unripe elderberries are basically a no-go always and are mildly toxic.
If you do forage for the flower, it is important to 1. Do a “sniff test,” the flower should smell fragrant and should be picked on a dry day. Their smell is most fragrant in the morning. 2. Choose flowers that are bloomed, not bunches that are mostly unopened buds. 3. Don’t pick all of your flowers from the same tree. Spread the love and leave some for the birds and the bees. 4. Don’t pick flowers from trees that are on busy, car-populated roads. We want tasty, fragrant flowers, not fumes! 5. After you boil the simple syrup, let it cool. These delicate flowers don’t like super hot, boiling liquid. 6. If you can’t find fresh flowers, use dried! You only have to use about half as much. Dried flowers can be found online (link below), at Latin markets, or homebrew/wine shops.
The PNW foraging company told me one of their favorite ways to eat elderflowers are fried up like fritters and served savory or as a sweet sugar-dusted version. They’re also excellent in desserts. But, yeah, back to the elderflower cordial!
The process couldn’t be easier. The hardest part is possibly finding two things you’ll need for this recipe (besides, of course, the flowers): cheesecloth and citric acid. I get my citric acid on Amazon. I will link it below.
This recipe does need to steep for at least 48 hours or up to 72. Taste it after 48 and see if you would like a stronger flavor. Some people steep theirs longer than 72 hours, but at that point I don’t want to risk fermentation.
After I strain it, I store it in sterilized mason jars and it will keep up to a month in the fridge, although it will probably be gone long before that.
Some ideas for your cordial:
Boozy: Mix it with gin and tonic, a quintessential English drink // Pour some in a champagne flute and top with champagne, sparkling wine, or Prosecco // Make an “Eldertini” with the syrup, vodka, and cherries instead of olives // Use it in a white wine or Rosé sangria for a summer sangria makeover.
Non-Boozy: Mix with lemonade for the most refreshing drink ever on a hot summer day // Mix with club soda or sparkling water for a homemade soda // Pour over raspberry, grapefruit, or lemon sorbet for a super easy and faux fancy dessert // Use it to flavor whipped cream or buttercream or to lightly soak a cake // Mix with strawberry or cranberry soda for a fun, sparkling, and pink Girl’s Night beverage (perfect for your teen’s party or sleepover).
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So, that’s it! Let’s get to making this cordial, shall we? Before we start, here’s a few things you may need:
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- 2 heaping cups elderflowers, stems removed (flowers only)
- 1 quart water (4 cups)
- 3½ cups sugar
- ½ cup honey
- 1 lemon, zested + juiced
- 1 blood orange, zested + juiced*
- 2 teaspoons citric acid
- Shake the elderflower branches to remove any dust/insects. Pick off the flowers, removing the stems. Try to remove all of the stem (especially the thick parts). A few of the thin stems that hold the flowers won't hurt, but they can be mildly toxic, especially in large quantities.
- Peel the lemon and orange zest with a peeler, being careful not to get any of the white pith. Then, juice both of them and combine the elderflowers, juice, and the citric acid in a large glass pitcher or bowl. Set aside.
- In a pot, combine the water, sugar, honey, and zest. Bring to a boil and dissolve the sugar. Once boiling, turn off and set aside. Cool mixture to luke warm. The syrup should be the temperature of a warm bath. Then, pour the syrup over the flowers, cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge.
- Steep the mixture for 48-72 hours or until desired taste. Check after 48 hours. If it's strong enough/to your liking, proceed to the next step. If not, infuse another day.
- Once infused, strain the mixture through a cheesecloth into sterilized mason jars. Keep the mixture in the fridge for up to 1 month. Enjoy!