Summer hasn’t truly arrived in Ireland until you can see the soft white bloom of elderflowers emerging from hedges along paths, roadsides or, if you’re lucky, your own back garden! The flowers are most abundant at the start of June but if you’re worried that the season is over, don’t fret: there is still time to forage. We picked ours just a few days ago however I would encourage you to get out this week to get the last of the harvest before the sweet aroma turns sour.
Elderflower cordial is a favourite recipe of ours and holds so much nostalgia from summers of our childhood. Filling a basket filled with flowers and bringing that gorgeous scent in to our home is one of the real joys of summer and the bottles usually last us until Autumn (unless we bring it out for cocktails!)
The recipe is really easy to follow but requires a bit of patience. The cordial tastes best when left overnight, I left mine for about 18 hours and it tasted SO GOOD. If you’re not too sure how to best to forage for elderflower, just follow my quick guide below and you should get the best of the crop.
Elderflowers are the edible blossoms of, surprise surpise, the Elder tree, Sambucus nigra. This small tree or large scrub blossoms in late May, and produces dark berries in late summer. Elderberries are also edible, but they have to be cooked to remove toxins.
You can identify the flowers by looking for flat-headed sprays of hundreds of tiny, five-petalled, creamy-white flowers with prominent stamens. They can grow almost anywhere but your best bet is to follow footpaths, quiet roadsides, railway lines or gardens.
Tips for picking your own elderflowers:
- Avoid picking from roadsides and polluted areas
- Avoid flowers lower down that dogs or foxes may have peed on
- Try to identify flowers that are newly opened and smell sweet (they can smell like urine when they’re past their best – not so appetising!)
- The best time to pick elderflowers is late morning on a dry day.
- Always use them as soon as possible after picking.
- Snip off the flower heads with as little stalk as possible (the stalk is quite bitter)
- Before using, pick off any insects but don’t run the flowers under the tap or you’ll wash the natural yeasts off
- 15 elderflower heads large (use double if small)
- 2 lemons sliced
- 1/4 cup citric acid (you can get this from your local pharmacy)
- 2.5 L water
- 5 cups sugar
- Check elderflowers for dirt and little insects but remember not to wash!
- Add elderflowers, lemon slices and citric acid to the water in a big pan (leave out the sugar for now)
- Heat up to boiling point, stirring occasionally
- Remove from heat, cover and let infuse overnight, or for at least four hours.
- Strain the liquid through a muslin cloth or sieve, to catch all the flowers. Squeeze all that yummy flavour out of the pulp!
- Return liquid to the pan and add the sugar.
- Bring to boil again, stirring frequently to dissolve all the sugar, and simmer for 5 minutes.
- In the meantime, sterilise some glass bottles (don’t forget about the lids!) with boiling water. If you are going to use a funnel or any other pouring aid, sterilise that, too.
- Bottle up the finished cordial while it’s still boiling hot.
- Store in dark cupboard or keep in fridge once using
- Depending on desired sweetness, dilute 1:5 to 1:10.
- Best enjoyed with sparkling mineral water.
- Optional: Squeeze in some fresh lemon for extra tanginess!
OTHER FANCY RECIPES
Cordial is a firm favourite in our house but there are so many other ways to use this gorgeous flower. Here are a few recipes I’ve saved for when I feel super fancy.
- Elderflower champagne
- Lemon & elderflower fizz
- Elderflower gin & tonic
- Elderflower jelly
- Thyme, elderflower and lemon ice lollies
- Elderflower ice cream
- Yotam Ottolenghi’s elderflower recipes