I became interested in using elder flowers after reading one of Alexander McCall Smith’s books; it was his ‘Sunday Philosophy Club’ series about the stodgy Scottish amateur sleuth, Isabel Dalhousie. His description of her drinking elder flower cordial on a warm summer day was so appealing I set about to make it myself! This was a particularly satisfying project as we have TONS of red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) bushes in Juneau and I have never known what to do with them. The process is slightly labor-intensive, as it is necessary to remove as much of the toxic stems as possible from the flower bunches. Also, the flowers must be picked when completely open on a dry day, so the harvest timing window is narrow! According to Janice Schofield (Discovering Wild Plants), Scandinavian custom dictates that you beg permission of Hylde-moer, ‘lady of the elder’ before cutting elder!
Elder flower cordial
This is really just a simple syrup made from elder flowers. It can be mixed with white wine, champagne, or sparkling water to make a fragrant and refreshing party beverage. Honestly though, it is a slightly unusual flavor that some people love and others do not—tell me what you think of it!
5-gal stock pan
Glass bottles with swing-top lid
Hot water bath
5 ½ lb sugar
6 c water
20 Elder flower heads, stalks removed
3 oz citric acid
Put sugar and water into stock pan, gently heat until sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally.
Pare zest from lemons using peeler then slice lemons into rounds.
Once sugar has dissolved, bring syrup to boil, then turn off heat.
Wash flowers gently with cold water to remove dirt or bugs, gently shake water off and transfer to syrup along with lemons, zest, and citric acid.
Stir well, cover and leave to infuse 24 hrs.
Line a colander with the kitchen towel and strain infused syrup into large bowl.
Sterilize glass bottles in hot water bath.
Ladle syrup into sterilized bottles.