Homemade Elderflower Syrup (Cordial)

reading time: 5 min

Elderflower cordial is an old summer staple of mine. I used to make this in school every summer, and now I make it using the elder bushes in my local area. The heavily scented flowers make a wonderful syrup, which – when stored in sterilized bottles – will keep for several months. The aromatic, highly concentrated syrup can be mixed with still or sparkling water for a lovely refreshing summer drink.

The cordial is also great for ice cream, cakes, yogurt, kombucha, white wine, champagne or prosecco.

If you missed elderflower season this year, don't fret! You can just use meadowsweet instead, which blooms until August.

Where and How to Harvest Elderflowers 

Elders (Sambucus nigra) grow wild in ditches, roadsides and swampy areas. They prefer sunny and semi-sunny spots, and you’ll most often find them at the edges of woodland, meadows or car parks as well as in hedgerows or on water grounds. 

Elderflowers – also known as elderberry flowers or elder blow – appear before elderberries, and they arrive any time between late April through July, depending on your location and climate. In June the elder is usually at its finest, covered in the creamy white of its flowers, giving off a lovely perfume-y sweet floral scent. 

Make sure you have the right flower. There are plants that resemble the elderflower plant, such as hogweed and hemlock, but are very dangerous. So do your research. To me, the flat umbrella shape of the umbels combined with the characteristic scent of the flowers and the overall shape of the bushes are unmistakable distinguishing marks. 

Avoid elderflowers that are growing close to heavy traffic and busy roads, as they often do – to avoid pollution. And of course, make sure you're not trespassing on private land when you're picking the flowers.

Don't pick your elderflowers after a rain shower as they lose some of their aroma. Instead, collect them on a dry day and later in the morning. This will ensure that they're not soggy with dew. Ideally pick these on a warm sunny day, around noon. This is when they are particularly aromatic.

Harvest only fully flowered elderflowers – for a better aroma. You can tell that they are ready to be picked when the flowers are dusted with yellow pollen. That's the good stuff!

Take a pair of sharp scissors and remove flower heads just below where all the small stems meet the main stem. Use a basket or an old carrier bag to carry your haul.

Elderflowers can be used to make elderflower champagne, mead, wine, syrup/cordial, jam, jelly, sauce, chutney, and fruit leather.

General Foraging Guidelines:

  • You should be 100 % certain you are identifying the correct plant. If you do not know what it is, DO NOT eat it! Do not pick if you're in doubt!

  • Don't harvest from contaminated areas such as busy roadsides, near industrial facilities, where dogs pee, along the edges of agricultural fields, old landfill sites etc.

  • Be mindful & harvest sustainably. Only pick from areas that have a plentiful supply, and never more than 1/4 of a plant, ideally only about 5 %.

  • Leave the harvesting area litter-free.

Be sure to leave some flowers on the shrubs so that you (and the birds) can enjoy elderberries in late summer. I try to rather gather a few flowers from several shrubs than a lot from just one shrub. That way there's still plenty left for any animals that rely on the plant! :)


Preparation time: 30 mins + 48 hours infusing
Main ingredients: elderflower, sugar, citrus fruit
difficulty level: easy
makes: 3,5 litres
suitable for: vegan, lactose-free, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, low-fat


about 30 fresh elderflower heads
2 organic lemons (you will need 1 of them zested)
1 organic orange
3,5 litres of water
750 g of xylitol or raw sugar
85 g citric acid

a large container with lid
a nut milk bag (or any fine mesh or fine sieve)
a funnel
clean, sealable bottles *

* I re-used a bunch of old juice bottles that I sterilized with boiling water, dish soap and vinegar; another way to sterilize your bottles is to put them in an oven on low heat of 110 °C / 230 °F for around ten minutes – if it is too hot, they’ll crack!


Day 1:

Place your freshly picked elderflowers outside on a sheet of kitchen paper or a kitchen towel. I leave them out there for an hour or so to give any tiny bugs and other critters a chance to escape

Don't wash your elderflowers! This would remove all the pollen which are actually what makes the flowers so sweet and flavourful! Instead, give the elderflower heads a little shake before using to remove any dirt or insects.

Fill a large pot, jar or other container (that can be covered with a lid) with approx. 3,5 litres of hot water and dissolve the sugar in it. Allow to cool down to lukewarm temperature.

In the meantime, pluck 30 elderflower heads from the stalks. I like to give the flowers a quick "massage" to release the flavours.

Add the elderflowers to the lukewarm sugar water.

Zest 1 organic lemon, and juice it. Cut the other organic lemon into slices. Juice your organic orange. Add the sliced lemon, zest, and juice of lemon and orange to the pot or jar. Make sure the flowers are completely submerged.

Cover with a lid and leave to steep for 48 hours, stored in a dark and cool place. Stir every now and again. 

Day 3: 

Drain everything through a fine mesh or sieve, and squeeze all the sweet goodness out of the mixture. 

Add citric acid to the water and stir to dissolve. Then bring the strained mixture to a boil for about 5 minutes.

Fill the boiled cordial into sterile bottles, using a funnel. Seal well. Label your bottles, noting the content and also the date of brewing. 

Store in a dark and cool place, such as the fridge or your cellar. This cordial should last for several months, or even up to 2 or 3 years. I actually tripled this recipe, so I gave away most of the bottles to family and friends, froze some of the cordial using regular ice cube trays and also froze some of the cordial in plastic bottles for next year.

Once you open a bottle, it must be stored in the refrigerator.

Thrilled to be featured by the lovely Lisa from Condo Blues over at the Friday Favorites linky party!