Every year, I pick a big bag of elderberries and pop them in the freezer, ready for this elderberry cordial recipe. It's really easy to make, and sweetened with just a little honey. It's also virtually free to make (if you pick your own elderberries), and tastes delicious.
Why make elderberry cordial?
- Elderberries are packed with nutrients. They are a really good source of vitamin C and a number of other powerful antioxidants. The dark purple colour is rich in anthocyanins, the same nutrient found in blueberries and blackberries.
- A number of experts recommend taking elderberries to shorten the duration of colds and flu. In fact there's a wealth of elderberry products on the market which are sold during the cold season. Homemade elderberry cordial is a cheap and convenient way to get the benefits of elderberries. This link has more information about the health benefits of elderberries, if you want to read more.
- Cordials are often very high in added sugar. This elderberry cordial recipe has just a tablespoon of honey to sweeten the flavour of the elderberries. The lower levels of sugar do mean that you'll need to make small batches rather than storing the cordial for weeks. (You can freeze the cordial if you want to keep it for longer.)
- This recipe is very quick and easy to make. There's no need for complicated equipment, or sterilised bottles.
- Elderberry cordial is a refreshing and delicious drink which you can enjoy hot or cold.
If you live in the countryside, elderberries are easy to pick. You might find it easiest to spot the elder bushes in May when they are covered in frothy white elderflowers, so make a note of where the best bushes are. The berries are usually ripe in August. Make sure that the whole head has deep purple berries, and then pick the head whole. You'll quickly end up with a bagful. Of course, do make 100% sure that you have identified the right plant with a good field guide!!
I always freeze the whole clusters of elderberries, and then it is really easy to shake the berries off the stems. Rinse the clusters, then put them in a bag in the freezer. If you prefer to take the berries off their stems first, freeze the elderberries on a tray before putting them in an airtight container.
Elderberries must always be cooked before they are eaten, otherwise they'll cause an upset stomach. Make sure the berries are fully ripe, and don't consume any other parts of the tree such as the stems or leaves.
Don't forget that blackberries are ripe at the same time as elderberries, so take an extra bag with you, and try this apple and blackberry crumble.
Elderberries, fresh or frozen. You could also use dried elderberries if prefer. You'll need half the quantity by weight, as dried berries are more concentrated.
Honey. You can use either runny or set honey.
Optional - you can also add a squeeze of lemon if you like. Or add a little extra sweetness with cinnamon, cloves or allspice.
How to make elderberry cordial
Place the rinsed berries in a pan. If they've been frozen, it's easy to remove the stems from the fruit. If your berries are fresh, remove them from the stems by dragging the prongs of a fork down the stem. Add the water and bring to a gentle simmer.
Simmer the mix for 15 minutes. Strain the mixture through a sieve, and squeeze the berries with the back of a spoon to remove all the juice. Discard the pulp.
Return the juice to the pan. Add the honey to the juice and place back on the heat for a couple of minutes so that the honey melts. Stir to mix.
It's worth remembering that elderberry can be used as a natural dye, so any spillages will stain. I'd recommend wearing an apron when you make the cordial!
How to serve
Elderberry cordial is delicious served hot or cold. Dilute it with about 3 parts water to one part cordial. You can use hot or cold water, or add some bubbles with sparkling water. Or experiment with some elderberry cocktails;)
This low sugar elderberry cordial recipe needs to be stored in the fridge and used within 2-3 days.
Frequently asked questions
Like many other deep coloured fruits, elderberries are a great source of vitamins and antioxidants. Some experts also believe that they are useful to help shorten the duration of colds and flu.
Both elderberries and elderflower grow on the same plant - the common elder, or sambucus niger. The white frothy elderflowers come out in May and can also be used to make a distinctive tasting cordial. The tiny white flowers then turn into berries which are ripe around August in the UK.
Elderberries must be cooked before they are eaten, otherwise they can cause an upset stomach. Never eat raw elderberries. Other parts of the plant such as the stems and bark are toxic, so make sure that they are carefully removed from the berries. If you are foraging berries from the wild, make sure that you have correctly identified the plant!
As well as making this delicious cordial, you could also add a handful elderberries to an apple or plum crumble. Or try your hand at some elderberry wine or vinegar.
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- 150 g elderberries rinsed, with stalks removed
- 300 ml water
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Add the elderberries and water to a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Strain the mixture through a sieve and return the juice to the rinsed pan. (Discard the pulp.)
- Add the honey. Warm through until the honey has melted. Stir well to mix.