A deep-red, warmly spiced drink that tastes delicious drunk neat in tiny glasses (it is strong!) or as a nurturing hot toddy if you are feeling under the weather during the winter months. It makes a great cocktail too; try mixing with ginger beer.

If made when the elderberries are first ripe, this will be ready by mid-December, ideal for festive gifts.

The quantities need not be exact; if you have just over or under a litre of fruit that's fine too. To vary the flavours, reduce the elderberries and add blackberries or ripe rose hips (top and tail the rose hips before adding to the brew). All of these fruit are full of vitamins and autumnal gorgeousness.

Rich with vitamins, elderberries have been used for centuries to make healing brews for winter colds and chills. I like to think the healing properties are in this spicy cordial, especially as it also includes herbs and fruit well known for their medicinal benefits.

I use it as a ‘cure’ for colds, flu and wintry bugs. I can't say for certain that a glass of this beside the fire on a dark January day does count as one of your ‘five a day’, but it certainly feels good.

I have been making versions of this delicious brew for about 12 years now. All I remember is that it is based on a recipe from Michigan. My children were smaller then and life is so busy with young children, time flies. You think “Oh, I'll make a note of that” and then suddenly it is 12 years later on and they are all grown up! And so I don't quite recall how I first came across mixing whisky with elderberries and spices.

How to identify elderberries

Ripe elderberries. © Richard Clark/Getty Images
Ripe elderberries. © Richard Clark/Getty Images

The ripe fruits of elder trees are amongst the easiest of wild fruits to identify. Once pollinated, the flowers develop into small green berries. These gradually turn red and then purple-black when ripe. Like the flower, they are in clusters, and as they ripen, the whole cluster begins to droop as it becomes weighed down by the berries.

Depending on your location in the UK, elderberries start to ripen from mid-August. They must be fully ripe before picking, as unripe ones can cause stomach upsets. In fact, raw elderberries should be also avoided.

Elderberries can be used in a variety of recipes. As well as this spiced liqueur, they can be used to make elderberry wine and hedgerow ketchup (recipes on BBC Countryfile Magazine's website), and added to jams and crumbles.


  • 1l Alcohol, whisky, bourbon, brandy, gin or vodka
  • 1l Elderberries, fresh or defrosted
  • 1 Orange
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1 Ginger root, Fresh, about the length of your thumb
  • 6 Cardamon pods
  • 12 Cloves
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 100g Sugar


  • STEP 1

    Roughly chop the peel and ginger, and crush the cardamom pods gently with a pestle or rolling pin.

  • STEP 2

    Pour the ingredients (minus the alcohol) into a sterilised large jar in alternating layers. A wide mouthed preserving funnel is great for making sure that all of the ingredients end up in the jar and not all over the table and floor. It is amazing how far squashed elderberry can travel when attached to socks!

  • STEP 3

    Pour in the whisky (or other alcohol), stir and admire, then replace the lid. Put your beautiful brew away from direct sunlight but somewhere you'll see it fairly regularly so you can shake it every now and then. I store my brews on the dresser in the living room.

  • STEP 4

    Leave for 3-4 months, strain through a sieve or muslin lined colander and store in labelled and sterilised glass bottles. It will last for a very long time, but is usually gone by the following elderberry season.

Stephanie Hafferty is an award winning ­author, organic no dig kitchen gar­dener, writer, blogger and chef, specialising in seasonal plant based food. She is passion­ate about sharing her knowledge of growing and cooking to feed families and communities. Stephanie regularly writes for Perma­culture Magazine and other publications, gives talks, workshops and courses on food growing, seasonal cooking and making potions for the home and garden. Find out more on her website.

StephanieHafferty. © CharlesDowding

This is a recipe from The Creative Kitchen, published by Permaculture, £19.95.

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Main image: Elderberry liqueur. © Madeleine Steinbach/Getty Images