It’s that time of year again… after a cold, long winter and spring, it suddenly heated up and everything has burst into life with amazing rapidity! And it’s not long now till the elderflowers are in full bloom here in Edinburgh. Elderflowers are not only wonderfully fragrant, in the past they (and the berries) were used medicinally. The Elder is also surrounded by myths and meaning: apparently there is a Danish myth that if you stand under an Elder tree on Midsummer’s Eve you will see the King of Fairyland ride by…. other countries attach other superstitions or meanings to it such as it granting protection against evil influences and bringing good luck.
Medicinally the Elder is said to contain a cure for many things – and many properties probably remain undiscovered. The flowers are mainly used for respiratory conditions as a decongestant and a relaxant, but have also been used for inflammatory conditions and for nervousness and anxiety. I certainly know from my own experience that drinking elderflower cordial when I have a bad cough is much more soothing that just water – and it’s definitely not just because it is more tasty!
I’ve been making Elderflower Cordial for years – the first year I made I lived in an intentional community and I made around 40 pints! Since then the amounts have been a bit more modest as there’s a limit to how much I can drink and give away in a year. Last year I substituted the lemons I normally use for lime in some of the batches and the lime gives the cordial a slight edge. I also experimented with making a lighter syrup than usual so I use less sugar. The best thing about Elder is that it is widely available in hedgerows and on city cyclepaths… I manage to make around 10 pints every year just by foraging along the cycle paths in Edinburgh. Before starting the cordial make sure you have enough bottles that can be sealed well and heat-treated so that the cordial lasts into the autumn and winter.
Elderflower and Lime Cordial
750 ml water
375 g sugar
12 elderflower heads
1 organic lime (or unwaxed if it’s not possible to get organic)
1 tbsp citric acid
First make the syrup by heating up the sugar and water slowly until it boils and all the sugar in dissolved. While it is heating up shake the Elderflower heads so all insects are removed and put them in a large bowl. Peel/pare the zest off the lime (I use a vegetable peeler), slice the fruit and add to the bowl. Once the surup boils take it off the heat and pour over the elderflowers and lime. Add 1 tbsp of citric and stir well. Cover the bowl and leave for around 24 hours. This amount makes around 900 ml of cordial.
You need to wash and sterilise two bottles (or one large one) and let them cool down before adding the cordial. I sterilise them in the oven by putting them onto a tray when still wet and drying them in the oven for around 30 min at 150º C. I sterilise the lids by steeping them in boiled water for 10 minutes.
When the syrup is steeped enough you need to strain it. I use a muslin cloth folded over a sieve, but you can get special strainers in homeware shops. You can then decant it into the sterilised bottles. If you want the syrup to last for longer than a couple of months you need to heat process it and seal the lids. The easiest way to do this is in the oven (but there are other methods). Put the bottles on a baking-paper or newspaper lined baking tray with the lids on, but only quarter turned. Heat the oven to 150º C and put the tray in the oven for around 30 min. Take the tray out of the oven and turn the lids completely tight immediately. Leave to cool before storing away. I usually have a taster before bottling it all – just to make sure, you know!
I hope you’ve been inspired to go foraging and make your own cordial – it is really very easy once you’ve figured out the process and it is very, very satisfactory! Enjoy!
© Saraphir Qaa-Rishi
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