Elderflower Cordial and a host of other uses for the Elder.

The elder can be used for all sorts of things from the root, wood, bark, leaf, flower and berry...


The elder's bark, leaves, berry and flowers were once thought to cure all kinds of ailment, even the plague. In Shakespeare's play Cymbeline he referred to it as "the stinking Elder" because the blossom on the tree can have an unpleasant odour but once the flowers are picked they develop a delicate scent that can be captured in drinks and syrups.


Foraging for elderflowers. Watch the video above


The English writer and gardener John Evelyn [b.1620] wrote, "Ale in which Elder flowers have been infused is esteemed by many so salubrious that this is to be had in most of the eating houses about our town" [Lewes, Sussex]

That's not the case today, more's the pity, but many people across the world look forward to the short elder flowering season in early summer and go out to collect the flowers to make a variety of delicately flavoured jams, vinegar, syrups and drinks like cordial.

Elderflower cordial can be made with either honey [or sugar].

25 elderflower heads
2 un-waxed lemons, sliced
1 tablespoon citric acid
2 pints (1 litre) honey [or 4 pints sugar]
3 pints (1.5 litre) water or [or 4 pints water]

Shake the elderflower heads to remove any dirt or insects. Separate the flowers from the stalks, removing as much of the stems as you can.


Place the flowers in a large pan with the lemon slices, citric acid and honey [or sugar]. Bring the water to a boil and cool to 500C then pour it over the mixture and stir to dissolve the honey [or sugar].

Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let stand for 2-3 days tasting from time to time. The longer the mixture stands the stronger the flavour that develops. Strain and store in airtight bottles in the refrigerator or cold room.

Not just the flowers...

It's not just the flowers that can be used. The wood, bark, root, leaves and berries are also valuable. The bark of older branches can be used as an ingredient in black dye. The leaves of the elder have an unpleasant smell when they are bruised. They were used to repel insects by country workers who kept them just under the rim of their hats. Gardeners used the bruised leaves to sprinkle them over delicate plants and the buds of the flowers to prevent attacks of aphids and caterpillars.