Elderflower: Uses, Taste, Benefits, Substitutes Explained

Elderflower is best known for its use in making cordial, a type of sweet liqueur. Also, elderflower drinks like cordial, champagne, tea, or water are said to have a tonic or stimulating quality due to the medicinal components in them. Elderflower tea has strong antioxidant properties and antiviral effects, which makes it quite popular for fighting a cold, flu, and other symptoms.

You’ll find several recipes that use these blossoms, especially desserts, squashes, cordial, gin, champagne, tea, or water.

This article takes an overview of elderflower’s meaning, uses, benefits, and flavor profile; it is also the best elderflower substitute to use in a pinch.

What is Elderflower?

Elderflowers are the mellow clusters of cream-colored blossoms on elderberry trees (Sambucus). The trees begin to blossom at the start of the summer and have a short season that lasts for a few weeks.

The elderberry trees are found throughout the UK, Northern Europe as well as in some parts of North America. They grow thick foliage with leaves present from March to November, flowers from June to July, and berries ripen from August to September.

Several recipes including baked goods and cocktails require elderflower syrup or cordial.  Almost all parts of the elderberry tree, like leaves, wood, bark, flowers, and berries are used for several purposes.

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Culinary Uses Of Elderflower

The flowers are most commonly used for making cordial and syrups. Several recipes use cordials that have a distinctive flavor of elderflowers. Usually, the cordials are made by steeping clusters of flowers in sugar syrup and citric acid.

A splash of cordial is often used for flavoring ice creams, jellies, or a panna cotta. Raw elderflowers make a delicate and beautiful garnish. Some like to deep-fry the whole head of the flower and use it for garnish or snacks.

Elderflower is extensively used in cocktail recipes and for making liqueurs like champagne and gin. Champagne with elderflower is a popular British summer drink.

What Does Elderflower Taste Like?

Elderflower tastes green, fruity, and floral with subtle notes of lychee and pear. It infuses a mild citrusy note especially when the flowers are used in cordials and jams. Elderflower renders a vanilla-like flavor when used in desserts and baked goods. On the whole, the flavor of elderflower is a blend of unusual combinations like floral, pear, and lychee which render a broader appeal. A combination of liqueur and cordial has a reputation for sweetness. Too many elderflowers in any recipe can result in extra sweetness.

What’s A Good Elderflower Substitute?

Elderflower is a key ingredient in several summer recipes, also used for flavoring liqueurs. Most people cherish the taste of elderflower cordial-flavored desserts and cocktails. It’s a seasonal flower that appears in the June-July months. Besides, elderberry trees are mostly cultivated in only a few areas of Eastern Europe and the UK. In short, it remains scarce most of the year. If you don’t have this flower for your recipe, try one of the elderflower substitutes below:


Elderberry is the fruit of the same plant on which elderflowers bloom. Like the flowers, the berries are also edible, and cooked berries have a taste similar to elderflower. Raw berries taste astringent but they turn sweet when cooked. In place of elderflower, use elderberries to flavor jellies, syrups, and jams.

Importantly, the blueberries may change the color of your dish into a bluish-dark color, unlike the flowers that give a pale yellow color to your dish. Perhaps, elderberry is a good alternative to elderflower in jams and jellies in which color isn’t a big concern.

Triple Sec Liqueur

Triple sec liqueur is made from orange peel and has an orange flavor with citrusy notes. This liqueur is very similar to elderflower cordial in taste and usage. Also, the triple sec has a mild citrus flavor comparable to cordial. Thus triple sec is a good substitute for elderflower cordial, and it is possible to use them interchangeably in most applications.

If you don’t have triple sec at your disposal, Grand Marnier is another orange-flavored liqueur to use in place of elderflower cordial.

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Acacia Flower

In some recipes, elderflower heads are battered and deep-fried. In such recipes, you can use acacia flowers to replace elderflowers. Acacia flowers are edible and they taste like elderflower, especially after frying. The sweet floral flavor of the acacia flower is a great addition to recipes that call for a floral taste.

Vanilla + Orange Peels

Two prominent flavor features of elderflower include vanilla and citrus undertones. The same taste can be replicated by using a blend of vanilla extracts and orange peel instead of elderflower. This substitute option works best in baked goods and desserts that require elderflower.

Homemade Elderflower Infusion

In place of a store-bought elderflower cordial or syrup, a homemade product of the same is the ultimate substitute option for you. Cordial can easily be made at home by infusing the petals of the flower in sugar syrup or water. Immerse the flower heads in lukewarm water or sugar syrup and leave it overnight. The next day, strain out the infusion and add sugar. Cordial can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six weeks or keep it frozen and thawed when you need to use it. Frozen elderflower cordial or syrup has a shelf life of up to 4 months in the fridge.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is elderflower liqueur gluten free?

Elderflower liqueur is usually gluten-free, as the distillation process removes gluten proteins. This makes it suitable for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Still, always read the label to confirm no gluten ingredients are added.

What does elderflower cordial taste like?

Elderflower cordial has a light, flowery flavor mixed with notes of honey, pear, and citrus. Its sweet yet slightly tart taste makes it a perfect addition to refreshing summer drinks and cocktails.

Where can I buy elderflower?

You can buy elderflower products like syrups, cordials, and liqueurs from various places. These include online retailers, specialty food stores (especially in spring and summer), farmers markets for fresh flowers and local products, and health food stores for natural and organic options.

Is elderflower safe during pregnancy?

The safety of elderflower during pregnancy isn't completely known. It might interact with medications or affect blood sugar levels. But, the small amounts in products like cordials and teas are usually safe.

How to dry elderflowers?

To dry elderflowers, you can air dry or use a dehydrator. For air drying: collect fresh elderflowers, remove insects or debris, spread them on a drying rack, and let them dry in a warm place for 2-3 days. For dehydrating: preheat the dehydrator to 115°F, place flowers on trays, and dry for 4-6 hours until brittle.

What does an elderflower look like?

Elderflowers are small, star-shaped with five creamy white petals. They cluster in flat, umbrella-like groups up to 12 inches wide. Their sweet scent is like honey and citrus. Elderflowers bloom from late spring to early summer.

What do elderflowers taste like?

Elderflowers taste delicately sweet and floral, with a slight muskiness. They often have hints of honey, pear, citrus, or lychee. Their flavor is most enjoyed when fresh or in products like cordials, syrups, and liqueurs.

When do elderflowers bloom?

Elderflowers usually bloom in late spring or early summer. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is around May to June, and in the Southern Hemisphere, it's from October to November. The exact time can vary with climate and weather conditions.

Final Thoughts

Elderflowers are used for making cordial or syrup meant for flavoring cocktails and desserts. Elderflower liqueurs like champagne and gin are exotic drinks. Raw or cooked flowers are also used in various seasonal recipes in summer. The best substitute for elderflower is elderberry, triple sec liqueur, acacia flower, or a homemade infusion.

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