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Elderflower Liqueur

elderflower liqueur recipe

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Making your own elderflower cordial or liqueur is a way to remember spring, even in the depths of winter. Elderflowers are the color of butter and smell sweet and just a bit spicy. Their beauty fades fast, however. You will need to pick them before noon, as the aroma fades once the afternoon sun hits the flowers. Time is also important: You want to make this liqueur within an hour or two of picking the flowers to get the best effect.

Mercifully, it could not be easier. Simply pick off enough flowers to loosely fill a quart Mason jar and pour over your alcohol.

  1. Snip the flowers off the stalks into a quart Mason jar. Remember the stalks and leaves of elderberry plants are toxic, so snip off as much of the stems as you can. Getting them all is not possible, but spend some time removing the stems.
  2. Cover the flowers with the alcohol and seal. What alcohol? Your choice, really. Typical is 80-proof vodka, but I prefer 100-proof vodka. And once a year I use Everclear or some other 151-plus proof alcohol. Why? The flavors and aromas of elderflowers are not all extractable by water, or alcohol for that matter. I find that the higher the alcohol content, the cleaner and purer the elderflower flavor. Of course, if you use Everclear, you will need to cut the liqueur with lots of water or ice — otherwise it will knock you down in a hurry.
  3. You will want to submerge the flowers completely in the alcohol. If you don’t, the top layer of flowers will oxidize from contact with air, turning brown. This doesn’t harm your liqueur, and for years I made it this way and it was fine. But a better way to do it is to use a narrow-necked jar and fit another, smaller jar into the opening to create an airlock. Or, you can weigh the flowers down with a small plate or jar lid or something.
  4. Keep in a cool, dark place for as long as you like, but at least a few days. I typically hold mine for two weeks, although I used to do a month. The longer you steep the flowers, the darker the liqueur gets.
  5. Strain twice. First through a fine-meshed strainer to remove the flowers and debris. Then strain it again through the same strainer, only with a piece of paper towel set inside it. This second straining removes very fine particulates, like the pollen. You can skip this second straining, but your liqueur will be cloudy.
  6. For a quart’s worth, add between 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup sugar, depending on how sweet you want it. Seal the jar again and shake well to combine. If you are using Everclear, a good way to get the sugar into the liqueur — and dilute it enough to make it drinkable — is to mix the sugar with an equal volume of water, heat it until the sugar is completely dissolved, cool it back to room temperature, and then add it to the liqueur.
  7. Put the jar back in the pantry, and shake it from time to time until the sugar has dissolved. When it is, you are ready to drink it. It will last forever.

Elderflower liqueur is especially good ice cold on a hot summer’s afternoon, or neat during winter. Keep in mind the liqueur will darken as it ages into a deep amber. This is normal.

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47 responses to “Elderflower Liqueur”

  1. PitbullLawyer

    Hank, do you rinse the elderflowers first? If not, how do you keep from making “bug” liqueur, or does it matter? I did a little foraging this morning, and my umbrels are pretty buggy.

  2. Madeleine

    I’ve followed your instructions and note that the flowers at the top have gone brown, looks a bit pond-like! Should I remove these or is it all part of the process. The lower flowers have retained their colour.

  3. Your gardening suggestions please… at Niles’s Blog

    […] cordial around this sort of time each year. This year, I’m also planning to have a go at elderflower vodka as well for something tasty to last a little […]

  4. Pudding club: foraging for food at Niles’s Blog

    […] I’m growing very slowly and gradually in the stuff I eat from hedgerows. I urge everyone to make their own elderflower cordial at around about this time each year. It’s really easy, the ingredients are easy to find, and elderflowers are everywhere in England at least. My recipe is here. This year I also have some elderflower gin which needs to steep in a darkened place for another few weeks yet, and which I will report on in the fullness of time. Loosely based on this recipe. […]

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  6. Lulubelle

    Hi Hank, great recipe. I had seen an old French recipe which included slices of orange and lemon and also the peels, plus Grand Marnier. But I couldn’t find it again so I have started with yours as a base recipe.

    I picked so many umbrels that there wasn’t enough of the brandy alcohol to cover them. So I panicked and threw in a pint of Absolut, all I had. That didn’t do it either so I tossed in a bottle of “fruit alcohol” (a cheap kind of grappa used for preserving fruits), and then a cup or so of Grand Marnier. In my quest to use all the elderflowers I had collected I am afraid I wrecked everything with this chemistry experiment.

    What do you think? Is this ratafia salvageable, or should it henceforth only be used for “medicinal” (hmmm!) purposes?

  7. Food Photography: Elderflower Cordial & Elder Flower Liqueur | Tigerleaf Photography

    […] The second recipe I have tried this year with the elderflower has been an elderflower liqueur recipe from Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook  : […]

  8. Catharine Gunderson

    Thank you for these directions. I am going to make this tomorrow. I have been making Elderberry tincture for many years, but never Elderflower liqeur. I have a question about the last direction you gave (#7). You said to (make a simple syrup) heat the sugar solution until it dissolves, which is what I do for herbal syrups, but then you say to use the finished product, turning it in the closet or wherever, until the sugar dissolves. I know I will be able to just work through it once I am doing it, but thought I would ask you about this anyway, if you don’t mind.
    Thanks so much!
    Santa Cruz, CA, US

  9. bec

    It is now well past elderflower season here, and I really wanted to make lelderflower liquer, could I do it with elderflower cordial? My mum always makes lots of the stuff and although its really good, for some reason nobody really drinks it! Could anyone suggest a recipe?

  10. Claudia

    Hi, I discovered Elderflower Liqueur this summer and would like to try and make my own. I live in New Orleans and we do not grown Elderflower here. DO you think it would be possible to make the liqueur with dried organic flowers? I have found a source.
    New Orleans

  11. Elderflower Pt 2 Liesl Made

    […] lot more than I needed, I decided to make an (alcoholic) elderflower liqueur as well with help from this recipe. There are recipes out there that have you using citric acid, which helps deter the growth of mold […]

  12. Sebastian Melmoth

    I have placed elderberry flower effloresces in pure alcohol (95%) and have then diluted it down to 40% (ABV) with purified water. The resulting liquid, with the flower essences dissolved in pure ethanol with their oils, became exquisitely iridescent and translucent. It reminded me of the finest absinthe in dilution with water. However, the flavor is pleasantly floral with a harsh note of chlorophyl. I can’t see myself repeating this experiment.

  13. cassamandra

    If you have the nigra variety (so very pretty), you get pink flowers, and a lovely pale pink liqueur. Definitely add some citric acid (rind and juice of a few lemons will do) to deter slimy nastiness.

  14. hilairia

    I spent all afternoon harvesting flowers — before reading your article. Because the afternoon sun most certainly hit the flowers, do you think they are not worth using?

    From New Orleans, where elder is a-plenty.

  15. Ruth gladwell

    English country lanes are bursting with Elderflower at the moment. thank you so much for this recipe. I make many liqueurs and am delighted to know that Elderflower is just as easy. I particularly love to add a shot of of the liqueur to a gin and tonic with a slice each of lime and cucumber.

  16. Ashley G

    I tried to make it this year with vodka, taking care to try to trim the flowers as best as possible and letting steep for 4 weeks. The end result is terribly astringent, almost bitter and smells a bit like dead flowers. It’s also the color of brandy. Where did I go wrong? Any help appreciated. I love your blog and this is the first flop I’ve had.

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  18. amandine

    Do different types of vodkas/high proof alcohols create different tastes?

    I’m wondering if it’s worth spending a little extra using my favorite vodka and possibly some Everclear.

    Would you then still recommend a water/sugar dilution as you with using only Everclear? Or would it be to suit the crafter’s taste sort of thing?

  19. steve

    How much Elderflower does one use in a quart jar? I filled it to top and covered with Everclear. Can one over flavor the Vodka or Everclear with the Elderflower essence?

  20. Karla

    I am soaking the flowers as your recipe suggests. iWhat will happen if I didn’t trim the flowers well enough and there are some stem left in the liqueur ?

  21. kitty

    Bonjour! We have a black elderberry bush that is blooming now with large pink and ivory flowers and wish to make the liqueur. Can you please advise if this variety will be appropriate? Merci!

  22. georgina

    I have my elderflowers soaking in vodka (been soaking for 3 days)
    but as I was out walking I have seen some huge heads of flowering elderflowers, can I pick and add more flowers and vodka to the batch I already have?

    I also have a batch of elderflowers soaking to make cordial, but i have not added any citric acid, do you know if this is needed ? if so can I add 3 days into soaking?

  23. Kris

    Made a batch of elderflower liqueur using your method and tasted it tonight. Absolutely. Delicious. I let is steep two weeks and the color resembles your picture above. The only change I made was after steeping, I simply stirred the sugar directly into the 100 proof alcohol I had used. The aroma reminds me a bit of bananas foster! Thank you so much.

  24. Vanessa

    Hank, I just poured 100 proof vodka over 2 quarts of elderflower after reading this blog post but before reading through the comments. I saw the comment where you said not to use the red berries that grow in the Pacific Northwest, where I live. Is it ok for me to use only the flowers of the red kind? I don’t want to poison myself and my friends who will drink this!

  25. Vanessa

    Darn it! I hate to do that but better safe than sorry. Thank you for your advice.

  26. Bill

    I have two massive elderberry bushes and a German-born friend suggested I try making the liqueur, but my bushes are the American Sambucus Canadensis (which has no fragrance that I can smell, not the European Sambucus nigra. Is it still possible?

  27. Nancy

    Red elder doesn’t only grow in the Pacific Northwest — I live in Vermont and it grows around here, too. Like other foragers, I have always avoided it and will probably continue to do so, but someone in one of my online wildcrafting groups pointed us in the direction of this article that has a lot of information about them — interesting stuff!

  28. kitty

    bonjour hank! The sambuca elderflower liqueur was par excellence with a deep pink color and rich fabulous taste and aroma . . . was a huge hit at our annual Bastille Day party. Really appreciate your help in the process and will be planting another bush this summer. We used Absolut 100 with 30 flowers per bottle and also did another batch with the traditional white flowers. We did a blind taste test with a bottle of St. Germain and the 2 homemade brews won hands down. Merci!

  29. Isabelle

    Red Elder also grows in California. All parts of the plant are considered toxic. Know how to tell the difference before foraging.

  30. Debbi Snook

    I get a terrible headache from vodka. Would you recommend any other clear liquid? Rum? Tequila? What about brandy? What did you think of the grappa idea? And there was mention of sambuca, but no other reference.
    I live on a 60X100-foot lot in the city, with an elderberry in the shade of a black walnut. I get flowers, no berries. Lots of nuts, though. Have enjoyed your posts on the walnuts.

  31. Chris

    Hey folks try running a dinner fork through the flowers to easily remove them from the stems

  32. Elderflower and Loquat Daiquiri | Emily Han

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  33. Eric

    I’m will try this. We live in West Virginia and have a couple different species of elderberry/flower plants. They grow everywhere allong the river. I’ve used the flowers as a garnish on salads. And people here make jellies and jams out of the berries later in the year. May have to try this with honeysuckle flowers as well.

  34. Shana Crondahl

    According to “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast” by Pojar & MacKinnon, red elderberries were a highly-valued food for Native Americans. The book says (page 70), “They should always be cooked, since the raw berries may cause nausea. They were sometimes boiled to make sauce or cooked with the stems intact. The stems and seeds were discarded later. The berries make an excellent, tangy jelly, and some people make wine from them, but they should always be cooked for this purpose. Caches of red elderberries have been found in archaeological sites dating back hundreds of years. The stem, bark, leaves, and roots, especially in fresh plants, are toxic due to the presence of cyanide-producing glycosides.”

    This website has a lot of information on how Native Americans used to process red elderberries:

    I’ve just mixed up a batch of the red elderflowers (they’re actually white) and some vodka. I’m looking forward to seeing what it tasts like in a cocktail!

  35. Michelle

    I just made up some elderflower cordial. This really imports quite a bit of flavor to the simple syrup. Do you think I could put this in the vodka for more flavorful alcohol experience?

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