Recipe: elderberry cordial

15/09/2013 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 50 Comments
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If you’re looking for a reason to love autumn, I give you… elderberry cordial. Imagine a sublime concentration of juicy, fruity, fresh and vibrant flavours. Picture the deepest, richest ruby red colour. And did I mention that it’s backed with health benefits? It’s full of antioxidants and bioflavanoids. Rich in vitamins A, B6 and C, it also has good amounts of iron and potassium, making it a healthy drink all winter long. Okay, it contains sugar. But you do dilute it. Elderberry cordial is just beautiful.

My friend Jacqui asked me for the recipe, and I realised I don’t have one, not really. It’s flung together according to what fruits are available. I have been known to throw blackberries and plums into the mix, and any number of citrus fruits.

But this year, for the first time, I have written it down, just for Jacqui… and also for you, if you are passing a harvest-ready hedgerow any time soon.

Please note: measurements do not have to be exact.

Collect bunches of ripe elderberries (Sambucus nigra), as many as you can find. Pick them, put them in a basket, and carry them home.

At home, remove the berries from their stalks, discarding any that are past their best. The easiest way is to run a fork down the stalks. Put all the berries in a big bowl of water and swill around to remove any dust and bugs. Please note that the leaves and stems of this plant are considered toxic in the long-term, so don’t add them to your brew! A few tiny floret stems are fine, however.

Place the berries in a large pan and add just enough water to cover comfortably. Bring slowly to the boil, then simmer gently for 15 minutes. Stir from time to time.

Strain into a large bowl through a colander with a muslin cloth draped over it. Press the cloth with the back of a large spoon to get as much of the juice out as possible. Be careful about spills: this liquid stains!

Measure the amount of liquid you have and put it back in the rinsed out pan. Add half a kilo (1 lb) granulated sugar for each generous  litre  (1.5 pints) of liquid.

Heat gently until all the sugar is dissolved. While you are doing this, you might like to add the juice of  a couple of mandarins (or an orange or lemon) per litre  (1.5 pints) of liquid.

Pour the liquid into sterilized bottles (putting them through the dishwasher beforehand is fine).

Put caps on the bottles, making sure they are well sealed.

Label and put in the fridge. (You can also freeze your cordial, but make sure you use plastic bottles and leave enough room in each bottle for the juice to expand when it freezes).

Elderberry cordial

Your elderberry cordial will keep all through the winter, until early spring, in the fridge (actually, mine can keep for up to a year, in a cool cupboard).

Dilute with water to drink – a ratio of 1 juice to around 5 or 6 water depending on your taste. You can also drink it with sparkling water, or white wine, or even champagne. And it’s wonderful diluted with hot water to chase away winter chills.

There is something magical about gathering Mother Nature’s wild fruits, preserving them, and drinking them. You will find nothing so vibrant, in any shop. You’re connecting with nature, and your true nature.  The medicine is in the making. And the finished product has a healing quality all of its own.


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  2. Thank you, your recipe is just what I was searching for. Many thanks

    • You’re welcome, Sue. It’s such an energising, health-giving drink. I hope you enjoy it. Not long now till the elderberries are ready!

      • No Suzanne, I am keeping careful watch on them being fully ripe before picking 🙂 In the mean time the blackberries are keeping me busy, with freezing them and juicing 🙂

  3. Thanks a million, can’t wait to start making the cordial! Made elderflower cordial in late june, such an enjoyable and rewarding task!! Used good quality bottled water and then used the bottles (50cl) to store and freeze the cordial. I found some excellent tips on the elderflower cordial sites, which as a novice, gave me confidence to get going. All worked out wonderfully!

    • You’re welcome Mary. I agree: elderflowers in the spring do make the most delicious cordial. This one, from the berries, is so different. I think it’s nature’s way of making sure we get a good dose of health-enhancing nutrients through the winter. I always throw a few blackberries into mine too, because you so often find them growing together!

  4. Thanks Suzanne. Great recipe and so easy to make. Just made the first batch and I’ve already got everyone wanting to know how i made it! Ryan.

  5. Oh and the lime / lemon idea was a great addition to the cordial. 🙂

    • So glad you’ve enjoyed making the elderberry cordial, Ryan, and the citrus addition too. I also love adding fresh lemon slices to a jug of elderberry cordial to serve at the table – goes down a treat!

  6. Hi – just found this recipe and am delighted to have first go at my elderberries, before the raccoons got them! The majority were ‘very dark’ but a few were red. The bunches were tighter than I thought they would be, however, I picked them. Is there a problem if they are not completely ripe? Just add more sugar?

    • Hi Kate, I suggest you put all your berries in a big bowl of water and slosh them about a bit to clean them. The lighter, green and red berries generally float to the surface. You can then scoop them out with a sieve. I’m sure the odd unripe one doesn’t do any harm but the ‘superfood’ goodness, and the juiciness, is all in the ripe, very dark elderberries. I love the idea of beating the raccoons to the elderberries – we don’t have anything like that here in England. 🙂

  7. Thanks for the quick response. I look forward to completing the recipe.

  8. I like your recipe but it appears very wasteful, I have been using elderberry juice for years, the way I prepare them is like yours but after rinsing them I add about 50 per cent water bring them to the boil and simmer very gently for an hour, then using a hand held blender with the cutting blades deliberately blunted I puree them (blunting the cutters prevents the pips from being cut), then using a large wire sieve lodged over a bowl I take a scoop of them into the sieve and with the back of the ladle press them through with a circular motion till just the pips are left. The resulting juice I place in bags and freeze using it when stewing fruit in the winter. it can be left unsweetened or flavoured with star aniseed while stewing them. Just mind you don’t use too much as it can have a laxative effect

  9. I couldn’t find my usual recipe and couldn’t quite remember ratios, but yours was just how I have done it in the past – thank you. I also add a cinnamon stick in the simmering stage and I actually left it all in a covered pan overnight, I just felt I would get more out of it that way, it looks and tastes brilliant.

    • Hi Desiree &Suzanne. I add lots of cinnamon & sliced ginger as well as cloves. Makes for a wonderful spiced warm drink in winter . I give bottles to family & friends. My children love it. W are in the north & some of the elderberries are the size of black currants this year. Happy bottling.

  10. when are elderberries ready to be picked?

    • Hi Jeanete. Eldeberries are ready to pick right now. In fact, we’re close to the end of the picking season here in Southern England where I live. I picked a batch two days ago and mixed them in a cordial with damsons – lovely! If you live somewhere more northerly, or more exposed, you’ll have a little longer.

  11. we bin drinkin it fa years but wi dont add suger half cup of juice harf cup of hot water an a spoon full of huney keeps tha flu away not add a cold in 20 years or more

  12. Just made some blackcurrant cordial(ribena)and can’t wait for the elderberries to beready

  13. […] (I’m expecting it to be pretty sour (though it wasn’t)) The recipe is from  this link. Sunday was wrapped up with a run of about 15km with Andrew (my Marathon partner in crime). […]

  14. Just making this now (yes, at 8:45pm!), the smell from the pan is amazing! I remember sipping neat elderberry corial from the bottle when I was little; I loved the thick, syrupy taste and it was great for colds when you added hot water. Can’t wait for it to be done!! Thanks for the recipe 🙂

  15. Can’t believe you didn’t use any spices! It’s best to add something like cloves or cinnamon when adding the sugar – spices it up! Have made it for years!

    • Yes, Judith, there are many variations to this recipe. You can certainly add spices and it’s a nice thing to do especially for winter drinking. I wrote the recipe without because this is the way I prefer it, letting the taste of the elderberries themselves shine through.

  16. Hi Suzanna ,I made my first batch of elderberry cordial,that turned out lively.Thank you very much.

  17. I was looking at elderberries while walking today.I have distant memories of the delicious syrup taste.My mum or gran used to make it and ive thought about it for years.Thank you for the recipe.Im ready to embark.

  18. Have just made some on a whim, it is absolutely delicious! Will be making lots more tomorrow, thank you for the recipe.

  19. Just made this for the first time…but I’ve been making elderberry compote from a recipe handed down through generations of women in my family… I’m from Austria and the compote made with elderberry is very well known and eaten everywhere. It’s called ‘Hollerkoch’ and is usually elderberries, plums, pears, cloves and cinnamon boiled up with sugar and water. Every family seems to have their own version of this recipe. At any rate…it’s delicious on top of Greek yoghurt! I am now enjoying my cordial as well…thank you!

  20. […] something a bit different so that it doesn’t get boring . I have been foraging and have used Suzanne Askham’s elderberry cordial recipe to make 3 bottles of utter total crazy […]

  21. I made this and stored it in a kilner bottle. It appears to have gone fizzy, I don’t if this means it fermented and has gone alcoholic. I also need to know is it still safe to drink

  22. Just made up some elderberry cordial for the first time after picking them and freezing the 2 weeks ago. It is so freshly made it is still warm in the bottle! Chose the traditional recipe largely but did add a few squirts of lemon juice. Will do the tasting later! Looking forward to it. Thanks for the very easy recipe. And I managed to keep the mess to a minimum!

  23. […] most viewed post in 2015 has been a recipe for  elderberry cordial.  I adore elderberries, from their vibrant colour to their delicious, healthy […]

  24. I made this recipe in September after collecting a bagful of elderberries I happened upon near to where I live. I have a new awareness now if what bounty there are grieving around us! And cannot now wait for the elderflowers to arrive next year! Thanks for the great recipe which is delicious hot, cold or topped up with prosecco as a christmas tipple!

    • Sorry about the spelling mistakes – the iPad has terrible predictive text……!

      • Mmm, love the sound of the prosecco, Lainey! Will have to try that.

  25. […] I am writing down the recipe so that others can follow it. In fact, it’s very similar to Elderberry cordial. But there are some […]

  26. […] elderberries – 800g of them. After a few online searches, I came across this simple recipe, which brings out the subtle flavour of […]

  27. Bare root elderberry bushes for planting arrived just yesterday for us. And although snow still covers much of everything here, grateful to discover this recipe in anticipation of future harvests … This is simple, intuitive and perfect! I like your site. Thanks!

  28. Sounds wonderful. I’met looking forwArd to making plenty for the residents and staffordable where my wife is now a resident.

    • I hope your wife and the other residents enjoy the elderberry cordial, Paul – and that you do too.

  29. Hi this recipe sounds simple and just what I need. I missed to use the elder flowers so will try this instead. I don’t have a muslin cloth is it ok to use a plastic sieve?

    • Hi Rosie, it’s fine to use a plastic sieve, but be aware that your resulting liquid will contain pulp, making it a coulis rather than a cordial. It would be delicious on ice cream or with yoghurt and cereal, or over other desserts. You could still dilute it with water to drink, but you would need to give it a good stir.

  30. Thank you for replying so quickly. I’m really looking to making it

  31. Just harvested my elderberries to make another brew! Finished last years brew mid-summer but found a bottle made in 2015 in my garage … it was still perfect! Love it hot or cold especially with Fever Tree Tonic! I assume one could make other berry cordials this way, like blackberries and blackcurrants?

    • It’s lovely to hear how your elderberry cordial stays perfect over years. As long as the bottles are clean and airtight, these cordials can keep very well. And yes, please do use any autumn berries. I certainly throw blackberries and other fruit in. You may be interested in my plum cordial recipe which is one variant.

  32. Thank you I am going to try this today as I have a huge elder tree in ny garden and the berries normally get trodden thro the house!

  33. I have just made cordial but feel it’s lacking compared with elderflower to which I add tartaric acid .With cinnamon and mixed spice is it too late to add that lift of a sharper taste.Tried it diluted with soda but totally uninteresting.Diet lemonade was better tasting. What does one do with this labour of love?

    • Apologies not to have replied sooner Rosslind. I think the cinnamon and mixed spice ideally have to be added at the heating stage, to infuse through the cordial, and then be strained out. Simply adding a slice of lemon or orange would zest it up a little. However, if you found the diet lemonade a better tasting addition, it could be that your cordial is not sweet enough for your taste? In which case, you might want to try stirring a little honey or even maple syrup into your glassful, and then adding a citrus slice too. Alternatively, you could reheat your cordial, adding your spices and citrus slices, almost like a mulled drink.

      • I add Blackberries, Crab apples, one lemon, one lime, one lime, one orange,Star Anise and cloves to mine. I have foraged since I was old enough to walk, I am now 71, initially with my mother who wasted nothing. I was interested in your “recipe” because my ancient one from my mother begins…… “Gather one large bucketful of Elderberries ……….” it was our medicine for all things throughout the winter. Mum added cloves but Star Anise is an addition of mine which my friends and family love, as is the Citrus fruit as that was a rare as hens teeth in my mothers time. Our NHS had only just been created when I was born so plants, leaves and herbs were used for everything that ailed us including wild honey for poultices, wounds etc. The recipe is not wasteful it is based on how it was done back in time when there were not such implements that one person has suggested. Mine is sold to help funds of local charities………..I think folk smell it or have secret cameras in my house as it disappears as fast as it appears. As well as medicinal purposes my young friends and grandchildren use it in Gin and tonic, mixed with cider and also in cocktails

  34. […] … […]

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