Elderflower foraging for homemade cordial
Trying out foraging has been on our to do list for a while now, and an unexpected opportunity arose to give it a go when we were locked down at our workaway at Round the Woods in Norfolk! The family at RTW forage for elder, amongst other things, each year – harvesting the sweet flowers for cordial and, later, the elderberries for jam. They had a fantastic foraging book by Adele Nozedar called ‘The Hedgerow Handbook’, which we dipped into more than a few times during our stay, and have since invested in a copy of our own! We’ve shared a photo of the Handbook’s cordial recipe at the end of this post.
Our (accidental) lockdown home was situated on one of Norfolk’s nature reserves, with 20 acres of woods and meadow just brimming with flora and fauna. Elder trees dotted all over the woodland seemed to suddenly burst to life in late May, as we spied the first of the beautiful clusters of white and yellow flowers by Hazelnut Yurt. We waited a few days for more of the blossoms to appear, before arming ourselves with trugs and snips and heading out into the meadow to gather some of the fragrant blooms.
When selecting elderflowers to pick for cordial it’s vital that the weather has been dry for at least a few days before you harvest them, as it’s the pollen that gives the elderflowers their flavour – rain washes all of that sweetness away! It was a lovely, warm, May afternoon when six of us made our way through the meadow, using our snips to negotiate paths through the dense carpet of nettles to reach the most flower-covered bushes we could find. We looked out for young, sweet-smelling elderflower heads that had a mixture of flowers and also a few buds on them, as these are more likely to be covered in pollen. To harvest the elderflowers, snip at the base of the umbrella-shaped bloom – there’s no need to cut each individual stem or get rid of the stems, as you’ll strain the mixture when you make cordial.
For The Hedgerow Handbook’s recipe, you need 30 elderflower heads, and we found that this amount makes around four litres of cordial! As suggested in the book, it’s best to make as much as you can store as the season for elderflower is short, and you can always freeze some in bottles or even ice cube trays to make a floral cocktail! We filled a trug with varying sizes of elderflower heads and left it upside down on newspaper in the porch overnight, with a stick propping up the edge to make a small gap. This encourages any bugs to drop down from the elderflowers and crawl out, instead of washing the blooms and rinsing away all of the pollen.
The next day we set to work making the cordial! We’ve shared the recipe below – feel free to screenshot to save for later, and tag us @ChrisAndSuzeGoWalkies on Instagram or Adele Nozedar herself @hedgerowguru on Twitter if you use the recipe! It’s an incredibly simple process – we just dissolved sugar in boiling water and left it to cool, then added the rest of the ingredients before covering the mixture and leaving it for twenty-four hours, at which time it can be strained and bottled. The first time we made the cordial solo, we left the sugar water to cool and promptly forgot about it – only when we were heading to bed did we remember that we needed to add the actual elderflowers and other ingredients before it could be left to soak!! Nevertheless, the cordial turned out perfectly and we had four bottles of strong, sweet elderflower cordial to enjoy!
We hope it goes without saying that you should never eat foraged plants if you’re not completely sure about them – it’s all too easy to get mixed up with flowers and eat something you shouldn’t. (Luckily the only time we mistook another plant for elderflower it was Hawthorn, and the process for making it into elderflower was the same!) We wouldn’t like to think of any of you getting sick from eating things you’ve foraged on our say-so. Make sure you familiarise yourself with how the flowers look first, even if that means Googling photos for a while before you pick them, just to be super sure! The elderflower season runs from mid May to June, so there’s only a really short window to grab some. Once picked, the flowers don’t keep for very long so we found it best to get cracking on the cordial as soon as possible – each batch we made was started the very next day after foraging and letting the bugs drop down overnight. We were lucky to have elderflower on the land, but if you’re going out into the countryside: avoid bushes that are on the fringes of busy roads (pollution, dust, yuck!) or ones that are lower down in public areas (where people may have walked their dogs… You know what we mean!). If you’re hoping to return to the same area for elderberries later in the Autumn, avoid picking every single bloom as the berries grow from the flower heads. As for the recipe: we’ve read from a few sources that you don’t necessarily need to add citric acid to the mixture, as its only purpose is to lengthen the shelf life of the cordial. If you don’t fancy buying a whole bag just to use 50g, go without and enjoy the cordial within a few weeks or freeze it.
We hope this has inspired you to get out in nature and forage your way to a delicious drink! Let us know below or on our Instagram if you have any experience with making wildflower cordials – we’d love to hear from you! You can also sign up to travel and Workaway using our unique invite link, and check out more from our travels on our blog.