Foraging for Elderflowers

Bottle of cordial

Elderflower marks my first time truly foraging for food. The fantasy of foraging through the woods on a hot summer day has played around in my mind for years. I originally toyed with the concept before making the seaweed salad, but due to zero experience, I ended up purchasing it. A safer route for the inexperienced. You can buy elderflower cordial at many European style markets.

Foraging is a great deal more complex than it first appears. Make sure that you do not forage for anything the first time without an informed guide. Elderflower is quite similar to White Hemlock (poisonous, I believe) so I decided to enlist the assistance of a more knowledgable friend. Maria from NH Home Grown Eats was glad to show me the ropes. She also makes a mean elderflower cordial so proved invaluable to the learning process. We picked the elderflowers first thing in the morning when first in bloom. The end of June is a great time in New England to find it.

Maria picking elderflowers
Maria from NH Home Grown Eats picks elderflowers

Elderflower cordial developed into a bit of a habit during the recent trip to Ireland. After purchasing Ballymaloe Cookery School’s cordial at Midleton Farmer’s Market, and pairing it with Highbank Orchard’s Gin, the drink turned into a ritual on the trip. It was a sad day when the gin and cordial reached the last drop. Upon returning to the States, I was excited to try my hand at making my own cordial.

Imen McDonnell has a lovely sounding recipe for elderflower/honeysuckle cordial and Darina Allen has one for a more straightforward cordial. Both recipes are helpful to read as an overview for the general steps involved. In the end, I decided to go a slightly different route after looking over a few more recipes and talking with Maria. My final recipe worked well with my schedule and turned out quite nicely (it takes a few days to make – but fairly easy).

Basket and lemon jug
Elderflowers in a basket, next to a jar of Maria’s fermenting Elderflower soda

Elderflower Cordial


  • 25-30 Elderflower heads
  • 5 cups of cold filtered water
  • 3 large lemons (washed, organic, non-waxed are preferable)
  • 4 cups of cane sugar
  • 1 tsp of citric acid

Shake off the flowers to discard any insects. Remove the flowers from the stem (pull off just the flowers, otherwise, the stems can be toxic) and place in a large jar with a decent seal. Slice up the lemons and put them in the jar. Boil the water and pour into the jar. Close it, let it cool for about 30 minutes. Put the jar in the fridge for three days.

After three days, strain the infused liquid into a large saucepan (my ceramic coated, 5 quart dutch oven worked great). I used a fine mesh sieve to strain it, but a cheesecloth is recommended. Next, add in the sugar and citric acid. Slowly heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring often. Bring to a very gentle simmer (needs to bubble), cook for a few minutes, then using a funnel, pour into a flip top soda type bottles. 1 liter bottle, plus a smaller .5 liter bottle did the trick. Complete this step in the sink since it will spill. I poured my mixture into a smaller bowl and then bottled it – the dutch oven was rather heavy for pouring. However, I still managed to spill the sticky cordial in the oddest of places. Finding sticky spots days later and the fruit flies are having a field day- but worth it!

Allow to cool a bit and then store in the fridge. The citric acid helps preserve the cordial, so it should keep up to a year.

Elderflower “head” partially in bloom. Only use the ones in full bloom.

I am also trying my hand at elderflower soda, following a recipe from Darina Allen. The soda can take up to two weeks to ferment, so I will keep you posted!

After making the cordial, it is fun coming up with ways to include the lovely stuff in recipes. So far, drinks have been the focus (tough, I know!). My favorite non-alcoholic beverage is simply seltzer and cordial in a glass with ice (add gin for the adult version). My favorite alcoholic creation uses orange as the focus. Elderflower cordial is often made with oranges; since I did not use orange in my cordial, it seemed a wonderful mixer.

Elderflower cordial in a glass

Summer in a Glass


  • 1 oz Elderflower Cordial (either homemade or store bought)
  • 1 oz Vodka
  • Club soda
  • Juice of half a medium organic orange
  • Orange slice
  • Ice

In a shaker mix the cordial, gin, and orange juice. Shake gently. Pour into a glass with ice, top up with club soda (or tonic water). Garnish with an orange slice. Tastes like summer in a glass!

Edlerflower shrubs