Harmony in the Garden Blog

An Elderflower Cordial from my Elderberry Tree

elderflower cordial elderberry tree

Today I’m sharing a delicious elderflower cordial recipe, compliments of my elderberry tree.

But first, a little info about this magnificent native plant that I inherited when I moved here seven years ago.

Several elderberry varieties are native to the West Coast, but mine is a sambucus mexicana (commonly called Mexican Elderberry or Tapiro.) 

This variety does better in hot, dry, and sunny climates like mine (zones 6-10) and requires very little water once established.

In fact, I don’t irrigate mine at all (and I doubt the previous owners did, either, since they weren’t really into gardening.) 

I’ve read that once native elderberry shrubs are established, their roots grow deep to search for water. 

I’m sure this is why mine does so well without any irrigation, as it’s planted near the bottom of a slope in my garden that has a naturally occurring high water table.

This deciduous sambucus is a biggie, growing to 20’ x 15’ if left alone, making it more of a small tree versus a shrub.

elderflower cordial elderberry tree

A few years ago, my old tree was severely damaged when a neighboring oak fell on it during a storm, breaking its main trunk in half. 

The tree’s trunk is on its last legs and is now fairly hollow, but has loads of new growth sprouting around it. 

Instead of severely pruning the broken and battered tree, I’m leaving it as-is since each spring it’s home to lots of different nesting birds.  

I have a garden bench near the tree and love to sit and watch the mothers feed their babies (see below.)

elderflower cordial elderberry tree
elderflower cordial elderberry tree
elderflower cordial elderberry tree

The elderberry tree blooms May through June with tons of soft, creamy yellow umbel-shaped flowers that pollinators adore. 

I felt a little bad picking the clusters of flowers for my recipe, but once I was out there, I realized there were so many flowers these wouldn’t even be missed. 


elderflower cordial elderberry tree

Throughout the summer, the flowers transform into clusters of small berries that ripen in late July through August.  

You can tell the berries are ripe when you see a glaucous, white-ish coating on the outside.  

Or, just look outside and the frenzy of birds feasting on your tree will tell you the berries are ripe!

Don’t eat the berries raw, as their seeds have toxins that may make you sick. 

However, once the berries are cooked into a jam, they’re delicious with an unusual subtle fruity flavor with notes of pear, lychee, and tropical nuances.

elderflower cordial elderberries
elderflower cordial and elderberries

Which leads me to my elderflower syrup recipe. 

My husband and I made it for the first time this year, and it’s been a massive hit with my family. 

The flavor is so unique (and quite addicting!), and when a little syrup is poured over ice, with sparkling water added, it’s the perfect drink on a hot summer day.  

elderflower cordial elderberry tree


3 lbs. 5 oz. of caster sugar

12 cups of water

2 lemons (I used Meyer lemons from my tree)

25 heads of elderflowers    

** I rinsed the flowers to remove any tiny critters.  Also, don’t use older flowers that have started to brown, as the syrup will turn an unappetizing rust color!

1 ¾ oz. citric acid

2 Campden tablets

** the tablets help to sterilize the mixture and are often used in beer/wine making.  Make sure to keep your face away from the mixture, as the tablets produce a gas that can be an irritant if inhaled.

1.   Put the sugar and water into a large pan and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then remove from heat and let cool.

2.  Thinly slice the lemons, remove the seeds, and put them into a large container or deep bowl along with the cooled sugar water (basically, it’s a simple syrup.)

3.  Add the flowers, Campden tablets, and citric acid to the lemons. Cover and leave overnight or up to a couple of days for more robust flavor (we left ours on a pantry shelf for 3 days.)

4.  Sieve and strain through muslin and pour into sterilized bottles. Store in the refrigerator.

To serve, just mix 2-3 tablespoons (less or more, depending on your taste) with 8 ounces of sparkling water and pour over ice.    It’s delicious!

AND – here’s some exciting news! 

My daughter is getting married next month, so I’m bringing my last few bottles of elderflower syrup to mix with champagne. 


For more posts related to this article, take a peek:  My Top 30 Native PlantsMaking Grape Juice from Roger’s Red Grapes | Winter Berries in the Garden

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  • I am starting a large garden of veggies, berries, flowers, fruit. I was looking for the elderflower variety to make syrup and found your post. Now for a dumb question…. I assume the sugar water goes in with all the ingredients? Then sits covered for a day or 3? I don’t see it mentioned after it cools down.
    Congratulations on your daughter’s wedding!

    • Hi Terri – not a dumb question at all! I re-wrote that paragraph so it made more sense – yes, after it’s cooled add the sugar water along with the rest of the ingredients and let it all mix together for a few days. Thanks for bringing that to my attention and sorry it was confusing! Thank you for the congrats, too – it was an amazing wedding. 🙂

  • Congratulations on your daughter’s wedding Rebecca! I know the flowers and her bouquet will be perfectly beautiful if you’re in charge.
    I have three Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa in my garden and they’re huge! I’ve never made the syrup or jam because I planted them for the birds. I have friends in Sweden who also make the syrup for cordials.

    • Hello Maia, so wonderful to hear from you! I will say Emily and I have had such a wonderful time picking out the flowers (she’s become quite the gardener the past few years) and it’ll be so fun to post the wedding arch she designed. It’s definitely a bold statement, that’s for sure, and I can’t wait to see it in person. I feel a little guilty picking the flowers for the cordial syrup, but since there’s SO many flowers I figure they won’t miss a few. At least that’s what I tell myself. 😉 I hope all is well with you and that you’re having a fantastic summer.

  • And OOPS, so sorry I forgot to mention your beautiful Emily’s upcoming marriage. I am so happy for her and for your family. Tahoe is a great destination and setting for an unforgettable wedding.

    Sending love and best wishes,


  • You hit the nail on the head with this! Yes, this is one of the best natives you can include in your garden (make way). I can’t imagine having a garden without an elderberry and the Hermit thrushes couldn’t imagine me having a garden without one.

    At Heart’s Ease in Cambria I had a HUGE elderberry that dated back to the mid-1800s. It was the queen of the garden. I learned from an elderly British lady that you always have to ask permission of the tree before you harvest anything from it.

    Rebecca, I just love your blog posts. I feel like I’m walking the garden pathway beside you.

    Sending love and elderberry blessings,


    • What a story, Sharon. I’ll make sure to kindly ask permission next summer when I harvest more blooms (I’ll even try a British accent, if that helps make the cordial taste a little sweeter – lol) Thanks for such a lovely comment. Have a wonderful time in Maine!

  • Rebecca,
    Thanks for the wonderful blog on Elderberry trees and making your own syrup. I shared it with our Windmill Pointe Garden Club who you spoke .with last year. Congratulations to you and your family on your daughter’s Wedding Day!

    • Hi Lynn, so nice to hear from you! And thanks for your good wishes, we’re really looking forward to this glorious day! 🙂

  • That announcement was a happy ending to a very educational post. I have an elderberry but have never done anything with the berries. Though your recipe sounds like it makes an intriguing drink, I will probably not make it. I’m trying to be more honest with myself about reality versus wishful thinking. I’m glad the birds are making good use of your poor battered trunk.

    • I feel the same way about Elderberry jam, Barbara – I’d love to make it but realistically I just don’t have it in me. But that cordial is so yummy, I’ll definitely make it again next year.

  • How nice to feature a native plant in your blog! I especially like that your’e maintaining your tree in it’s compromised condition after having recognized it’s importance to wildlife. I do volunteer nestbox monitoring with local Audubon socities, programs that were begun decades ago due to habitat loss for cavity nesting birds. Keeping trees with cavities used by these birds is so important! It looks like an Oak Titmouse in your photo and they need natural cavities or man made nestboxes, so yay for you Rebecca!!. I’m going to take a look at your related articles on natives too. Thanks so much for including those links! It’s also so interesting to learn about how to make elderflower liquor. It’s a drink I’ve read about, but never tasted. It sounds intriguing!! Congratulations to your daughter on her upcoming wedding. We all know how beautiful you will help to make it!

    • Thanks, Ronnie, and that’s wonderful that you do so much Audubon volunteering. Yay for YOU! 😉 I have 2 somewhat skinny oak trees that lost their heads in separate storms and instead of taking them down, I’ve left them standing (one of them is already sprouting again, so it doesn’t look quite as bad as it sounds – ha!) and birds love the naturally occurring cavities in them. I’ve seen lots of titmice making their nests in them. The cordial has such a unique flavor, everyone who tried it is taken aback for a minute, then asks for more. I love it!

  • Best Wishes and congratulations to your daughter and to her soon to be husband!
    I hope the wedding is filled with love and blissful camaraderie.


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