Before discovering the elderflower syrup in the food section at IKEA, I had no idea that elderflowers could be used for anything other than producing elderberries. The first time I mixed up a glass of elderflower juice I fell in love with it straight away. The intoxicating floral aroma is sweet and subtle with a hint of spice. It transports you to summer with one whiff.
In Sweden fläderblomssaft (FLEH-durr-BLOOHMS-sAHft), or elderflower syrup is well-loved and easy to obtain in any grocery store. Saft is a very sweet concentrate, typically made from berries, elderflowers, and/or sometimes citrus and diluted with water for drinking. Brits refer to it as cordial rather than syrup. I would buy the fläderblomssaft in the stores without considering that I could make it myself. Then I was invited to my sister-in-law’s house for the day and she served homemade fläderblomssaft. My reaction was “oh no! Now I have to wait until next summer so I can try making it myself.” The wait was long, but the good news is that it is easy to do.
Those of you who have already read through the elderflower liqueur post can skip over this paragraph about harvesting because it is the same information. Elderflowers are typically in season during May and June. It’s best to harvest them when they are a rich, creamy color before they turn white. Ideally pick the flowers early on a dry day before the sun hits them and their aroma starts to fade. Look for flower heads with buds that are fully open, but not turning brown. Snip off the whole umbrellas and place them gently in a paper bag. The pollen contributes to the taste so transport them carefully. For maximum effect they should be used within a couple hours of picking. They don’t need to be washed but do inspect them closely and remove anything crawling or undesirable before use.
To make elderflower syrup you need citric acid which is readily available in any supermarket spice section in Sweden. It is a bit tougher to find in the U.S. but you can seek it out at health food stores, brewing supply shops, or online. It’s a breeze to make this syrup that is rich in vitamin C from the elderflowers as well as the lemons. Aside from that perk it is an incredibly refreshing summer drink or a welcome reminder of summer when the dark days of winter return. Be sure to use a non-reactive container such as glass, plastic, or ceramic. I divided my batch in half and used two glass containers that hold two liters each. You can make this in a bucket, but I can’t resist the chance to view this gorgeous butter-yellow liquid as the mixture infuses.
Elderflower syrup (fläderblomssaft)
Makes about 3 liters
30-40 elderflower heads
3 lemons, sliced
8 cups (2 liters) water
8 ½ cups (2 kg) granulated sugar
2 ounces (60g) citric acid
Place the lemon slices and the flowers that you have removed from the elderflower heads (the stems can be toxic so leave as little stem as possible – you can use a fork to comb the flowers from the heads) into a non-reactive container(s) that is large enough to accommodate one gallon (4 liters). Bring the water and sugar to boil in a large pot stirring periodically to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and stir in the citric acid until it dissolves. Carefully pour the hot liquid over the lemon slices and elderflowers. Stir everything well and cover the container with a lid or a towel and let sit in a cool, dark place for 3-5 days. You can stir the syrup once daily if you like. After 3-5 days nest a piece of cheese cloth in a fine mesh strainer and pour the syrup into clean containers. Discard the flowers, lemons, and debris. Store the syrup in the refrigerator or freezer. Serve it diluted with ice water or sparkling water to taste, try it in lemonade, add it to champagne, pour it over ice cream, or make a lovely floral-scented sorbet.
cook’s tip: I prefer to place the elderflowers in the bottom of the jar and put the lemons on top of the flowers, then quickly pour in the hot liquid to mininmize the browning of the flowers.
edited to add: I have learned that you can also use this recipe with lilacs. Unfortunately they are finished blooming in my neck of the woods so I have to wait until next spring to try that version.