I have been inundated with a request for instructions on how to make my elderflower syrup so I have finally decided to reveal my own elderflower syrup recipe. If people start drinking a refreshing drink made with elderflower syrup instead of coca cola or other over-priced, coloured, fizzy water, then I’ll be a very happy man. If you choose to follow these instructions then you do entirely at your own risk and if you die while drinking your elderflower syrup, please don’t come running to me to complain.
First of all you’ll need some elderflowers. Depending on where you live, they could be in flower from late April until the end of July. If you’re lucky enough to live in a mountainous area then you could get a supply over a three month period as they flower later, the further up the mountain you go. Make sure you have the right flower.There are some plants which look similar to elderflower but which will not make a refreshing drink.
Here is an elderflower bush in the Spanish Pyrenees so that you have an idea of the size and shape of the bush.
Collect them from an area which is well away from roads and any other forms of pollution. Don’t pick too many heads from one bush as birds feed on the berries in September. The quantity here is enough for about 5 litres of syrup.
Get some real lemons rather than a plastic bottle of lemon juice. Try to get ones that are untreated – check out your local bio store – with regular lemons, the peel is covered in loads of chemicals. Rinse them to get rid of any dust.
You’ll need a lot of sugar. I use a five kilo bag of sugar with three litres of water. Yes, it is a lot but that preserves the drink, no bugs can live in it. Add the three litres of water and heat – not because it needs cooking but simply to dissolve the sugar.
While you’re waiting for the sugar to dissolve, grate the lemons. Try not to get too much pith as this will affect the taste. Once grated, throw the lemon peel into the sugary solution.
Once the lemons are ready, as they are in the picture, squeeze them and add the juice and pulp to the mixture. Don’t add the pith. Take the pith (ha ha) and put it on your compost heap. It’ll take a long time to rot but it will make your compost smell nice.
It is a good idea to rinse the elderflower heads before putting them into the elderflower syrup. Also remove any dead mice, bugs, leaves etc. Stir the mixture well. It doesn’t have to be heated but will probably still be warm. Make sure there is no sugary sludge at the bottom of your pan.
Cover the pan for about 3-4 days. This will allow the flavour of the elderflower to diffuse into the syrup. Make sure that the syrup is well covered so that animals and/or small children don’t upset it – it is quite sensitive.
And finally, the bottling process. Sterilise your bottles by putting them in an oven on low heat for around ten minutes – if it is too hot, they’ll crack. Remove the elderflower heads from the syrup then decant the syrup into the bottles through a sieve. Store in a cool dark place.
And that’s it. The drink probably lasts for a couple of years though never does for me as I drink it or give it away to friends. To serve, add a small quantity to a jug with some fresh lemon juice. Serve chilled with ice cubes and slices of lemon. Very refreshing in summer and great if you need some energy when doing sports – and much cheaper than Lucozade. If you’re interested in wild food, you may like to have a look at my favourite book on the subject.