Less Noise, More Green: Elderflower Cordial

Friday, July 4, 2014

Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower Cordial, foraging, Edible Forest Garden
Elderberry bushes can be found in every British hedgerow, park and farmer's field. Growing up in the British countryside, their waving blossoms and distinctive fragrance were a part of my summers. Elderberries are steeped in British folklore and legend, being long associated with warding off evil and possessing magical qualities (did you look under an elderberry bush on Midsummer Night's Eve and see the King and Queen of the Faeries?). Country lore has always seen the benefits of the plant. Elderflower tea is a curative for colds and flu, the crushed leaves are a natural insect repellent, and the flowers and berries make delicious and nutritious drinks, syrups, jellies and jams. Here in the US, however, the merits of the elder have yet to be widely recognized.

Elderflowers, elderflower cordial
Between late June and early August, the heady scent wafting from the clusters of small white flowers, entices British foragers to fill their baskets with flower heads and make, arguably the quintessential summer drink, Elderflower Cordial. For me, this drink really does capture a British summer in a glass.

One of the Master Gardener projects I am involved with, here in Rhode Island, is an Edible Forest Garden at Roger Williams Park in Providence, which has several beautiful elderberry bushes in bloom. I volunteered to make a batch of the Cordial as an educational supplement to the Project.

Elderflowers, elderflower cordial
The best time to pick elder flowers is early in the morning on a sunny day. The flavor is in the pollen so the flowers need to have been opened and warmed by the sun. If the flowers are wet, wait for a dry day to harvest. When foraging, always get permission and leave more than you take. I try to harvest no more than twenty percent from any plant.

Elderflower Cordial, foraging, Edible Forest Garden
Elderflower Cordial

Makes 6+ cups

25-30 heads of elderflowers
2 lemons
1 orange
6 cups of water
2oz citric acid
4 cups of sugar

Harvest the flowers and leave outside on newspaper for a little while for the bugs to leave. DO NOT WASH THE FLOWERS!

Elderflowers, elderflower cordial
Remove the flowers from the stems and place them in a large bowl.

Elderflower cordial, foraging,
Peel the zest from the lemons and orange, thickly slice the fruit then add to the flowers. Pour in the water, add the citric acid and mix well. Cover with a clean cloth and let the mixture steep for 24 hours.

Elderflower cordial, foraging
With clean hands, squeeze the juice out of the fruit slices into the mixture. Drain the mixture through a cheesecloth lined sieve into a large pan.

Elderflower cordial, foraging,
Bring the mixture to a slow boil and add the sugar, returning to a boil, then simmering on low for ten minutes.

Have hot, sterilized jars ready for filling (Visit Ball's website for safe canning instructions). Seal the jars and boil in a water bath for ten minutes. The cordial has a shelf life of up to one year. Another method is to let the mixture cool then freeze in plastic bottles.

Once opened, refrigerate the cordial for up to six weeks.

Elderflower Cordial, foraging, Edible Forest Garden
To make the drink, use either water or seltzer water and add the cordial to taste. I like four tablespoons of cordial per glass.

Recipe Ideas

The cordial syrup is quite versatile. Try drizzling it over fruit salad or mixing an equal amount of orange juice with a glass of cordial made with seltzer water to make mock mimosas!

One of my favorite uses is to add elderflower cordial to a salad dressing recipe.

Elderflower Salad Dressing
1/4 cup cordial
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp. clear vinegar, such as white wine
1 tsp. dijon mustard

Place all ingredients in a jar, firmly close the lid and shake until well combined. Delicious!

If you have access to elderflowers, I hope you will give elderflower cordial a try. It truly is a fabulous summer drink and a wonderful way to use the abundance we see in nature around us.

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This cordial was made with elderflowers harvested with permission from the Roger Williams Park Edible Forest Garden Project, located in Providence, RI. The Edible Forest Garden is a University of Rhode Island CELS Outreach sponsored demonstration garden, maintained by URI Master Gardeners. The garden is designed using permaculture principles to mimic a forest environment and includes food, fiber and fuel producing plants that naturally grow in the region.

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