Capture the taste of summer with my Elderflower Liqueur recipe. Freshly picked elderflowers, vodka and lemon combine to work their magic, et voila, homemade St Germain!
Elderflower liqueur is so easy to make. Once you’ve made a bottle you will be looking forward to next year’s Elderflower season so you can make more. A big bonus is that a litre bottle of good quality vodka costs less than a half litre of St Germain so your liqueur is almost half price. Plus, you have the enjoyment and satisfaction of foraging and making your own delicious liqueur, a win win situation.
Here in the UK and France, elderflower season starts towards the end of May through to mid June. However, this is not set in stone, it’s weather dependent. Some years after a mild winter I have been able to pick flowers at the beginning of May.
I love elderflowers, their tiny delicate blossoms exuding a sweet intoxicating scent which heralds the beginning of summer. I find myself looking forward to the short flowering season for elderflowers and I really enjoy picking and preserving them to have all year round.
How To Pick Elderflowers
If you haven’t foraged for elderflower before, make sure you are picking elderflowers. Elderflowers can sometimes be confused with cow parsley as they do look a little similar, although cow parsley has white flowers and elderflowers are more creamy than white.
Elder grows as a shrub or tree. Take a look at the photo below and you’ll see our elderflower is quite a big tree. You can also see the almost oval shape of the leaves and how dark a green they are. Cow parsley is a member of the carrot family and has fern like leaves reminiscent of carrot tops.
There’s an abundance of elderflower out there ready to be picked and preserved. The beauty of elderflowers is that you don’t need to live in the countryside to get a good harvest. You can find rich pickings in parks, gardens and alongside footpaths in the city too. Wherever you pick, a quick check to get the landowner’s permission is generally a good idea.
- Choose a tree that is free from pollution: in the city you’re more likely to have the problem of roadside exhaust fumes and in the countryside insecticide spraying can be an issue.
- Another tip is not to pick lower than a labradoodle can raise its back leg.
- Take a pair of scissors with you along with a mesh bag or basket. Don’t use a plastic bag or container as the blooms are delicate and an airless container will make them sweat and turn brown.
- Snip off the flower heads with as little stalk as possible so the plant is not damaged. Remember to leave plenty of flowers on the tree, some for fellow foragers and wildlife and some so they can turn into fruit for later in the Autumn.
- Elderflower are best picked when the buds are freshly open on a warm, dry, sunny day. Pick just before noon for the best scent.
What do I need?
- 1 x 1 Litre (1 US quart) sterilised Le Parfait jar, Kilner jar, Mason jar or similar. Don’t use a container which holds more than a litre. There should be no room for air at the top of the vessel once the litre of vodka is poured in with the elderflowers. If there is an airspace the petals will turn brown.
- 1 x 1 litre (1 US quart) glass bottle with cork or screw top to bottle the liqueur when its strained. Alternatively, you could decant the liqueur into smaller bottles.
- 20 large elderflower heads. To ensure you infuse maximum flavour and scent into your liqueur, elderflowers are best picked and used within two hours.
- 1 litre vodka. It’s best to use vodka because of its ‘neutral’ taste. But if you’re a gin lover, elderflower gin is delicious. You don’t need to go for the massively expensive brands of vodka although I would avoid the cheaper end of the market. Whichever brand you use, it does need to be 40% strength, 80% proof.
- 1 lemon, zested into strips. Use an unwaxed lemon or give the lemon a good scrub in warm water to remove the wax.
- White granulated or caster sugar and water to make a sugar syrup.
How to make Elderflower Liqueur
Elderflowers are best picked and used within two hours to capture maximum flavour and scent.
Discard any flowereheads with brown flowers and then give each remaining flowerhead a good shake to get rid of any creepy crawlies.
Snip the tiny flower heads off the thick stalks, leaving only the thin stalks attached to the flowers. It’s the flowers that contain all the flavour and scent but the stems contain a toxic compound and can cause stomach upset in some people.
Place in your sterilised jar and top with the lemon zest, making sure you have completely covered the flowers. The lemon zest will help keep the flowers submerged under the vodka.
Pour the vodka right to the limit of the jar. This should prevent the flowers from turning brown but don’t worry if you end up with a few brown flowers. These won’t ruin the taste but you might have a slightly darker liqueur.
Place in a cool, dark place for two to four weeks.
I like to make Elderflower Liqueur by adding the sugar in syrup form at the straining stage. You can add the sugar at the initial flower and vodka stage but I find extracting all the flavour from the perfumed elderflowers before adding sugar tends to deliver a purer taste.
Also, it’s easier to gauge a sense of the finished product and how sweet you might like it to be if you add sugar to taste after the elderflowers have worked their magic on the vodka.
Strain the elderflower, lemon and vodka liquid through a muslin cloth into a bowl.
Add half the sugar syrup and taste for sweetness before adding the remaining syrup if required. I use all of the syrup and I find it isn’t overly sweet.
Decant into clean sterilised bottles and leave for two months in a cool dark place to mature.
If you really can’t wait, it is okay to drink straight after bottling but it’s definitely worth waiting the two months so the flavour can develop.
How to serve
- We love Elderflower Liqueur with sparkling water and a slice of lemon as the perfect summer drink.
- For a special treat, why not try some with champagne ? Now that really is a treat.
- Use as the base for a cocktail.
- Chilled as an after dinner digestive.
How long does it last?
Elderflower Liqueur will keep indefinitely. As it ages it will darken to a deeper amber colour.
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Harvesting Elderberries: Picking, Preserving & Recipes
Elderflower Liqueur Recipe
- 1 x 1 Litre ( 1 US quart ) sterilised Le Parfait jar, Kilner jar, Mason jar or similar
- 1 x 1 litre ( 1 US quart ) glass bottle with cork or screw top
- 20 flower heads large elderflower heads
- 1 litre vodka
- 1 lemon, zested into strips
- 100 g sugar
- 100 ml water
- Pick your elderflowers on a sunny day just before noon for the best scent. Discard any with brown flowers.
- Give each flower head a good shake to get rid of any creepy crawlies, although you will strain them out later.
- Snip the tiny flower heads off the thick stalks, leaving only the thin stalks attached to the flowers.
- Place in the sterilised jar, top with the lemon zest and pour the vodka in until it completely covers the lemon zest right to the limit of the jar. (This should prevent the flowers from turning brown but don’t worry as an odd few will only result in a darker liqueur and it won’t ruin the taste)
- Place in a cool, dark place for two to four weeks.
- Make a sugar syrup by gently heating the sugar with the water until the sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool before using.
- Strain the elderflower, lemon and vodka liquid through a muslin cloth into a bowl.
- Add half the sugar syrup and taste for sweetness before adding the remaining syrup if required. I use all of the syrup and I find it isn’t overly sweet.
- Decant into clean sterilised bottles and leave for for two months in a cool dark place to mature. (If you really can’t wait, it is okay for drinking now but it’s worth waiting the two months)
- Keeps for years but I’m sure it won’t be on your pantry shelf that long!
Pin my Elderflower Liqueur Recipe
I’m entering my Elderflower Liqueur Recipe into a few challenges this month:
- Credit Crunch Munch created by Camilla from Fab Food 4 All & Helen over at Fuss Free Flavours & hosted this month by Lisa over at Lovely Appetite.
- The Teatime Treats Challenge hosted by Karen over at Lavender & Lovage and Janie at The Hedgecombers, hosted this month by Karen.
- Simple And In Season hosted by Katie over at Feeding Boys.
And linking to:
Saturday 9th of July 2022
I made this today and used flowers immediately, covered with lemon and filled the jar to the brim with vodka. The flowers started turning brown within the hour! Should I just abort? Help!? Thx!
Sunday 7th of August 2022
@Sarah James, thanks it’s all good!! The lemons stayed in place and the liquid and flowers never got any browner! I’m thrilled just strained it. Another question. Do you have a recommendation for sugar free simple syrup?? Thx
Wednesday 13th of July 2022
Hi Anne, I've only just come across your comment, it ended up in my spam filter, so apologies for a late reply. It sounds like your flowers have started to oxidise, this happens when the flowers are exposed to air. I've found the lemon is usually enough to keep the flowers submerged in the vodka with a one litre Mason Jar as the neck of the jar isn't very wide. That said, I did once use a wider neck jar for a batch and the flowers started to oxidise from the top down. However, I can report the liquer turned out fine. Usual rules apply in that if something smells a bit off, err on the side of caution and discard it. If all of your flowers very quickly turned brown this suggests there may have been something on the flowers to cause this reaction. I know it might be too late but I hope this helps, Sarah.
Saturday 7th of July 2018
I tried this using gin, but for some reason the whole batch has gone very dark, almost black, and it doesn't smell quite like what I expected. Any idea what went wrong? TIA
Thursday 2nd of August 2018
Hello Hazel, I'm sorry to hear your batch has gone dark. This is usually caused by air so it's important that the flowers are completely covered by alcohol and your jar doesn't have much headroom, covering the flowers with the lemon zest usually keeps the flowers steeped in the vodka.
Wednesday 27th of June 2018
Hi, I tried to make this but it doesn't look good. It has been two weeks since I put the elderflowers, vodka and lemon together, albeit in a 2 l jar as I didn't have a smaller one. I used the quantities stated in the recipe. All the flowers turned brown in my case and so did the liquid which tastes rather unpleasant. I still went ahead and mixed the filtered liquid with the sugary syrup. It is all bottled up now but I don't hold much hope for the final result.
Thursday 2nd of August 2018
Hi Julia, I'm sorry to hear your flowers turned brown but I think it may be because you used a 2 litre jar which means there would be a large air gap. It's also important to make sure the flowers are completely covered by vodka, the lemon zest placed on top helps to keep them covered. Let me know how you get on.
Sunday 18th of June 2017
Thanks for sharing your recipe. I do want to try it this year. How do you know the optimal time for picking the blossoms? I have to drive a bit to my picking spot, but don't want to miss the perfect time.
Sunday 18th of June 2017
I make elderflower cordial every year and love it with prosecco but might try this x