Where to find it, how to pick it and a delicious cordial recipe to try at home.
Popular premium soft drinks company Belvoir Farm is nestled in the Vale of Belvoir in Bottesford, Leicestershire. Each year, Pev Manners and his team works with the community to handpick the elderflowers that thrive in the area and surrounding counties.
The central ingredient in their iconic 40-year-old cordial, these pretty and fragrant Elderflower white blooms start to flower in June and carry on until mid-July. Observing the Countryside Code, they are harvested from the company’s own organic plantations, plus hedgerows and woods near the farm, with the community sharing tip-offs from friends as to where the most prolific bushes are located.
“The best blooms are not necessarily in the same place each year,” says Pev, “so it’s always good to keep an eye out in the run up to the harvest”.
Here Pev shares his top tips for successful elderflower harvesting, plus a delicious cordial recipe to try at home:
- A gentle sunny day is best for foraging as you want the pollen on the flowers.
- Find a spot away from a busy road - horse paddocks are great.
- Key equipment you’ll need:
Walking stick – one with a curved end so you can grab and pull down the top branches.
A basket if you have one, for collecting the flowers, or any bag or hessian sack suspended to your belt works just as well. Pev’s top tip: “I use a garden centre weed collector shaped like a cylinder, which holds masses of flowers, although my old one died so I need a new one for this year!”
- Pev’s preferred method is picking from the taller branches, by drawing the boughs down with a walking stick. Always pull gently at the end where it is more pliable, to avoid snapping the branch.
- Don’t use scissors, just bare hands, as it’s easier to just snap off the flower-heads.
- Look for creamy white heads with a dusting of greeny-yellow pollen. That is where the flavour lies.
- If you find one with a head the size of a tea plate, you know they’ll be good. However, if the pollen is brown, the flowers have gone too far. Anything that smells stale, like cat pee, is also beyond its best.
- Cut just below the umbel — the common point at which all the short flower stalks extend.
- Try not to shake the blooms too much, or wash them, as you'll lose much of the valuable pollen and flavour.
- Lay the blossom out in the shade for a couple of hours so that any the insects can walk away.
- Use your picked flowers as soon as possible - ideally within 6-8 hours of picking - before the pollen falls off and the flowers go brown, which they will do after about 8 hours off the bush.
If you’re making cordial, the recipe will likely involve submerging and steeping the flowers in a mixture of sugar and water. Here’s a delicious cordial recipe to try at home:
Elderflower Cordial Recipe
2.5kg white sugar, granulated or caster
2 unwaxed lemons
20 fresh elderflower heads, stalks trimmed
85g citric acid (buy online or from a chemist)
Put the sugar and 1.5 litres/2¾ pints water into the largest saucepan you have. Gently heat, without boiling, until the sugar has dissolved. Give it a stir every now and again. Remove the zest from the lemons using a potato peeler, then slice the lemons into rounds.
Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the pan of syrup to the boil, then turn off the heat. Fill a washing up bowl with cold water. Give the flowers a gentle swish around to loosen any dirt or bugs. Lift flowers out, gently shake and transfer to the syrup along with the lemons, zest and citric acid, then stir well. Cover the pan and leave to infuse for 24 hrs.
Line a colander with a clean tea towel, then sit it over a large bowl or pan. Ladle in the syrup – let it drip slowly through. Discard the bits left in the towel. Use a funnel and a ladle to fill sterilised bottles (run glass bottles through the dishwasher, or wash well with soapy water. Rinse, then leave to dry in a low oven). The cordial is ready to drink straight away and will keep in the fridge for up to 6 weeks. Or freeze it in plastic containers or ice cube trays and defrost as needed.
Visit Belvoir Farm to see how they make their famous Edlerflower Cordial.