I love this time of year, when the hedgerows are full of life and blossom. Here in Cornwall, our elder trees are busy opening their creamy, fragrant heads, and it’s the perfect time to make Elderflower Cordial.
I like things to be easy, and this delicious drink couldn’t be simpler to make. It’s non-alcoholic, perfect diluted with sparkling or plain water on a summer’s day.
First things first: hopefully it doesn’t need saying, but if you haven’t used elderflowers before, make sure you are 100% certain of your identification. This time of year, the elderflowers are at their best, umbrellas of tiny, white flowers, with an alluring smell which is unmistakable once you’ve learned to recognise it.
25 elderflower heads (no leaves)
1 kg sugar
2 or 3 sliced lemons and/or oranges
1 tablespoon citric acid (if you don’t have this to hand, you can use lemon juice instead, adding about 4 tablespoons to the hot water mixture)
1 ½ litres of water
The first step is to snip off your 25 elderflower heads and shake out any little critters into the hedge. I don’t wash my elderflowers because it can take away some of the fragrance, but it’s best not to pick them from a busy roadside, due to traffic fumes. Ideally, take a few from various trees – remember to leave some for the wildlife. The birds love the berries!
Back indoors, place the blossoms in a bowl with the citric acid (if using). Meanwhile, heat your kilo of sugar in a large pan with the water and sliced lemons/oranges. Bring the mixture just to boiling point, stirring to dissolve the sugar. I like to bash the sliced fruit a little with a wooden spoon, to release the juice.
Pour the hot water mixture over the elderflowers and citric acid. Give it a good stir.
Steep, covered, overnight (up to 24 hours), then strain into bottles. It makes around two litres altogether.
And that’s it! Use as you would squash, diluting with plain or sparkling water. Add some ice, maybe a sprig of mint, and enjoy your refreshing, home-made summer drink.
Some intriguing facts about the Elder Tree (Sambucus nigra)
The elder has a long and distinguished history, dating back to Neolithic times. It has been used for all kinds of purposes, from musical instruments, to medicine, to magic. In medicine it’s used for hay fever and warding off colds, among many other things.
According to folklore, the elder tree is sacred, home to Hylde Moer, the Elder Mother. It’s always wise to ask her permission before harvesting her gifts of flowers or berries!
An elder tree growing near your home is said to be a good omen, and to have a protective influence. This is welcome news, as we have a little family of them in the garden.
Enjoy the gifts of the countryside, and if you like mysteries and adventure stories, check out my novels here:
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