German Drinks, Elderflower Cordial

By Francine McKenna on Email

Harry Potter had his mighty ‘Elder Wand’, while the Elder Tree was believed to be a powerful enough deterrent to ward off witches and all evil influences, as well as set a curse on anyone who dared to burn it. The tree comes into its own for the rest of us in the spring though, when from the end of May thru June, its covered with creamy white elder flowers and we can make ‘Elderflower Cordial’.

The flowers and fruit from the European elder Sambucus Nigra and American Sambucus Canadensis are edible, and although often labeled a tree it is a shrub which, with no encouragement at all apart from a little sun, grows like a weed, making foraging effortless as the bushes are easy to find and harvest.

So in Germany out come the woven baskets and paper bags, the flowers will deteriorate quickly in plastic, and just a few flower heads are collected from each bush, as this helps it continue to grow and also means there will be berries to forage later. While only the flowers where the buds are beginning to open are harvested because as they age their delicate flavor becomes more bitter.

Elderflowers, Holunderblueten, used as a flavoring, like a spice or herb, can be added to seasonal compotes or jellies, or steeped in warm cream to make custard, blended with ricotta and spices to make tart fillings, or added to batters for baked goods. In Germany flower heads are dipped in a light batter and deep-fried as a dessert, sometimes served with cinnamon and sugar, while elderflowers mixed with honey, wine, mustard and garlic are a popular glaze for ham roast.

Elderflower Cordial or Syrup is fragrant, refreshing and very easy to make, and here is an often used, and favorite, family recipe to try:

Elderflower Syrup/Cordial – Holunderbluetensaft


20 elderflower heads
1 lb, 2 cups, granulated or superfine sugar
2 pints, 1 quart, water
1 juicy untreated lemon
3 oz citric acid (this helps with preservation)


  • Shake the elderflowers to get rid of any sleepy insects, cut away as much green as possible, this is toxic, gently swoosh in cold water to clean away any dust or dirt, and place flowers into extra large bowl, pan or sterilized bucket.
  • Put the sugar into a pan with the water and bring up to the boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar has completely dissolved.
  • While the sugar syrup is heating, pare the zest of the lemon into wide strips and put in the bowl with the elder flowers.
  • Slice the lemon, discard the ends, and add slices to the bowl.
  • Pour over the boiling syrup, and then stir in the citric acid.
  • Stir well to mix thoroughly.
  • Cover with a cloth and leave at room temperature.
  • Steep for three to four days, strain cordial through a sieve lined with cheesecloth and pour into thoroughly cleansed and sterilized glass or plastic bottles.
  • Snap on the tops and it is ready for use.
  • Store in fridge or cold place, and the syrup also freezes very well so in a plastic container it can be kept right through the winter months.


Elderflower syrup can be used in all types of drinks and cocktails:

  • Diluted to taste with fizzy water, and served over ice with a slice or two of lemon, or a sprig of mint, floating on top.
  • A tablespoon of syrup in a glass of cooled sparkling wine is just delicious.
  • One part cordial to one part white spirit, vodka for example, topped up with sparkling wine and diluted with hot (winter) or cold (summer) water, make a refreshing punch.
  • A tablespoon added to white wine and sparkling water it makes an elderflower spritzer, and it is a good mixer with shots of either gin or vodka topped with a slice of lemon.
  • While elderflower syrup makes the base of a delicious vinaigrette, combined with wine vinegar, touch of mustard, salt, pepper and a light olive oil, to accompany for example zucchini, lettuce and fava bean salad, or any other salad, and the same mixture is used as a marinade for chicken filets.
  • Sorbet made with the syrup is delicate and refreshing, and it is popular as a topping for vanilla ice-cream or just added to mixed fresh fruit salad.
  • But the elder tree wasn’t known as ‘The medicine chest of the people’ for nothing, and its flowers, berries and bark are still used to help with various illnesses and medical symptoms.
  • Elderflower syrup is used for many natural remedies, not only for adults but also children as it isn’t as strong as a syrup made with elderberries. These cures include amongst many others a ‘Spring Tonic’, which is also a detox cure or diuretic, when the cordial is taken several times a day for consecutive days, either 2 tablespoons added to a cup of boiled water or sipped undiluted from a teaspoon.
  • And the same ‘cure’ is also used to reduce the inflammation from rheumatism, gout, and arthritis as well as any symptoms of colds from stuffy noses and aches and pains to the chills, a gargle for sore throats or, when soaked in a compress, a relief for tired or infected eyes.
Photos by Spitfire (top) and Madzik (middle)
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Francine McKenna