Respect Your Elders – Elderflower Cordial Recipe

by Ciaran Burke

Elder flowers and foliage- cultivar selection

It’s wild. Its everywhere. Its elder flower –Sambucus nigra. In the month of June its flat flower heads whiten hedgerows and fields around Ireland. Outside my office window I can see the branches bob and sway with the breeze. Seedlings all too often appear in the garden, unwanted, in abundance. But I don’t mind, the elder flower is a handsome plant and it provides much pleasure, not only to look at, but for the taste buds too.

There are some really good garden varieties of the common elder. The dark leaved S. nigra ‘Black Beauty’ not only has dark seductive divided leaves but also bears beautiful pink flowers. Just like the wild one, it is vigorous and tough. If elders are pruned hard in the spring they re-grow with increased vigour and produce enlarged foliage, but flowers are absent. Dark leaved cultivars can be treated in this manner to produce excellent foliage plants. They provide interest to a herbaceous or mixed border. The finer leaved S. nigra ‘Black Lace’ is excellent when treated this way.

One of my favourite is the green cut leafed cultivar, S. nigra ‘Laciniata’. A beautiful textured plant with darker green foliage than the native species. The flowers are said to be bigger too, but I have been cutting our plants back each year. I moved one to a new position this Spring, this one I will leave to flower. Another with intriguing foliage is S. nigra ‘Marginata’, the leaves are edged with creamy white variegation. It produces flowers in the same way as the species.

The flowers will fade by mid-July and in the Autumn the dark purple berries hang in masses from the branches. Both the flowers and fruit can be made into a delicious cordial. The fruits can also be used for making wine and last year we used the fruits to make an autumn pudding, a recipe I got from an old book which also used sloes and blackberries. A closely related species is the North American S. canadensis. This flowers later in July and I have read that it can produce flowers over a longer period.We have one in a pot which we purchased as a small plant from Turku Botanical Gardens in Finland last summer. I plan on planting this in the garden in the next few days, the idea of being able to harvest elder flowers throughout the whole summer really appeals to me.

Over the last couple of weeks we have been cutting flower heads to make Elder Flower Cordial. if you have not tasted home made cordial, you are really missing out. Sweet and delicious, diluted with still or sparkling water, the taste of summer…

Elder flower cordial is very easy to make. Here is how!


  • 10 or 12 Bunches of cut flowers, freshly opened flowers are best.
  • 0.5 Kg (1lb) Fruisana fruit sugar
  • 3.0 L water (about 5.5 pint) of water
  • A lemon cut in four

Elder flowers and lemon


I use a  plastic food storage bucket

  1. Wash the elder flowers in cold water.
  2. Place the flower heads in the jar with the cut lemon
  3. Leave in a cool place for 48 hours so that the flavour of the elder infuses.
  4. In a saucepan heat the water and elder flowers, remove the lemon. (you can use the lemon separately to make lemonade)
  5. Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil.
  6. Strain the fluid through a muslin cloth and fill into sterilized bottles
  7. Store in a cool dark place.

To enjoy the cordial dilute with water (still or sparkling) about 1 part cordial to 10 water or to taste. It is also great when added as a dash to apple juice.

Elder flower- Sambucus nigra

One Comment to “Respect Your Elders – Elderflower Cordial Recipe”

  1. Can’t wait to try this recipe – I love using naturally growing plants in food. Also, your view from your office must be great! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: