WATCH: Elderflower drinks for the young and the old

Valerie O’Connor give two recipes for the medicinal flower which is about to go over — so make them soon.

FOR many years now, I’ve been making tasty drinks from the delicately-coloured, yet pungently-fragranced elderflower. 

It never occurred to me that these pretty blossoms might have any therapeutic properties other than being a great thing to add to a gin cocktail, but how wrong have I been?

In a recent fermenting class, I was asked to show everyone how to make elderflower champagne, which, even though it is a ferment, I hadn’t considered in the repertoire of healthy, fermented foods. 

In autumn, the deeply coloured berries that fruit from the elder tree are one of the best preventers of colds and flu. As elderflowers taste so good, it’s easy to ignore their antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.

The most common uses are for colds and flu, sinus infections and other respiratory disturbances. As a supplement, elderflower also has diuretic and laxative properties, and is helpful in relieving constipation. 

Elderflower has antibacterial and antiviral properties, and may also alleviate allergies and boost the immune system.

Topically, elderflower might reduce pain and swelling in joints caused by some forms of arthritis. It can be used, for its antiseptic properties, as a mouthwash and gargle.

The creamy-coloured flowers can be cut with a scissors, or just picked off. Use them on the day you pick them, as they wilt and develop a pungent ‘did a tomcat break into my house’ smell overnight. 

Don’t wash them; just tap them off something to remove forest beasties. You must strain everything, anyway.

Elderflower Champagne

10x 500ml bottles with flip-top lids and a clean, plastic bucket, a funnel and some muslin for straining


1kg sugar Flowers from 10 elderflower sprays Grated zest and juice of 4 lemons I tblsp apple cider vinegar


1. Dissolve the sugar in a clean, plastic bucket in two litres of boiled, hot water. Top up with three more litres of water and leave to cool.

2. Add the lemon zest, juice, and vinegar and elder flowers. Stir, and cover with a cloth to let air in, but keep unwanted visitors out.

3. Check the mix after three to four days, and if there is no sign of bubbles, wait for another day. You want to hear a little hiss of fizz before you bottle it. (You can cheat here and add proprietary yeast, if the fizz is weak).

WATCH: Elderflower drinks for the young and the old

4. Strain the mix, through muslin, into a clean container and leave it settle for a few minutes, before pouring it into your cooled, sterilised bottles. Close the lids and store the bottles at room temperature for a week, before drinking. Using bottles that are airtight is key.

The big ones that you get full of pink lemonade are best, so keep your eyes peeled. Elderflower champagne can be explosive, so it’s a good idea to store the bottles in a box or cupboard that is away from people and valuables. Open carefully.

Elderflower Cordial

This can be kept in small, plastic bottles and frozen, or bottled, in sterile, glass bottles. As it doesn’t get gassy, you don’t need to worry about pressure building up.

Makes 10 x 500ml bottles 40-ish elderflower heads/sprays 4 unwaxed lemons — zest and juice 1 kg sugar.

1. Place the elderflowers in a big bowl or bucket, first checking that they are free of insects. Add the lemon zest. Boil the water and pour it over them. Cover with a cloth and leave them to infuse overnight.

2. Line a strainer with muslin and pour some boiling water through it. Strain the elder into a large pot and add the sugar. Bring it to a boil and simmer for five minutes.

3. Have your bottles freshly sterilised and while they’re still hot, carefully funnel the syrup into them and pop the lids on. Label the bottle.

You can use plastic bottles for this, if you don’t have glass, but allow the syrup to cool and you can then freeze. 

This will preserve the cordial, too. Dilute this to taste and have it with plain water, fizzy water, or, as I love it, diluted with a glass of bubbly!


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