Elderberry Cordial

Elderberry Umbrel
Caledonia Spirits Elderberry Honey cordial combines the rich depth of elderberry with the sweet goodness of apple and raw honey, creating a joyous experience for the palette and spirit. Lower in alcohol than our other offerings, our Elderberry Cordial is a lovely digestif, and also provides something special to cocktails. In partnership with local farmers, it also embodies a deep connection with the land and people who steward it. Enjoy!

History and Uses

Todd & Lewis Hill

Lewis and Todd in front of his home, Spring 2003. Lewis, his father, and his grandfather were born here.

The word Cordial is believed to come from the Latin “Cordalis”, meaning “of the heart”. Cordials are believed to be of European origin and the historical descendants of herbal medicines. Thought to have effects especially for the digestive and circulatory systems, cordials are often referred to as liqueurs and are made by infusing distilled alcohol with fruit, flowers, leaves, nuts, spices, herbs, or cream and a sweetener.

The tradition of drinking cordials at the beginning or end of the meal stands to this day. In Europe, cordials are served as a digestive and to bring warm feelings to the gathering. Served in a small, short cordial glass that typically holds about an ounce and a half to two and a half ounces of liquid, cordials are wonderful served by themselves, poured over ice, or mixed with coffee, cream, or other mixers to create cocktails.


Lewis Hill w/ Elderberry

Lewis Hill, with a tray of softwood elderberry cuttings, Greensboro, Vermont.

Elderberry, (Sambucus canadensis N. America/Sambucus nigra Europe), with its delicate white flowers and purple black clusters of berries is native to subtropical regions in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Found growing in wet woods, marshes, meadows, or on the edges of lakes and rivers Elderberry offers a pharmacy of medicinal uses. The berries and flowers are the most commonly used parts of the plant; but the leaves and bark, although somewhat toxic, have a history of internal use and are still sometimes used under strict supervision.

Sambucusus canandensis is common throughout New England and can be found blooming from late June to early July. The blossoms can be gathered and made into a tea, which served cold offers a refreshing drink on a hot summer’s day. If dried and saved for the winter’s cold and flu season, elderflower is helpful for fevers, by inducing sweating, and for congestion, by loosening and expecting phlegm. The tea, when taken on a regular basis during the spring and summer, can help strengthen the body’s ability to deal with seasonal allergies; and can also be used as an eyewash to sooth sore or inflamed eyes. Elderflower is also famous for beautifying the skin, used to tone, nourish, and soften, as well as heal burns, cuts, scratches, and sores. In days of old it was added to the bath water to lighten skin, remove freckles, and prevent wrinkles!

Elderberries become ripe in New England in late August and early September; they are a favorite of birds and are ready to be picked when black-blue in color. Rich in vitamins A and C and antiviral properties, elderberries are a delicious immune booster, helping to prevent and recover more quickly from colds and flus. Most often taken as syrup, tincture, juice, or decocted (simmered) tea, elderberries can also be used to make cordial, wine, jelly, or pie, where their palatable flavor is well appreciated. Care should be taken not to eat many too many seeds at once!

Scientific research has found elderberries to increase production of non-inflammatory infection-fighting cytokines as much as tenfold. At the Bundesforschungsanstalt research center for food in Karlsruhe, Germany, scientists conducting studies on Elderberry showed that elderberry anthocyanins enhance immune function by boosting the production of cytokines. These unique proteins act as messengers in the immune system to help regulate immune response, thus helping to defend the body against disease. Further research indicated that anthocyanins found in elderberries possess appreciably more antioxidant capacity than either vitamin E or vitamin C.

With a long history of use across the globe, the elder bush (or tree as it’s called in Europe) has extensive folklore surrounding it, known by various indigenous groups as “teacher of the law”, “teacher of the plants”. Stephen Buhner writes in The Lost Language of Plants; The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicines to Life on Earth, that the elder is a “keystone species” and literally serves as an elder in its ecological community, “teaching” the other forms of life how to be, changing soil chemistry to create ideal conditions by attracting or repelling certain fungi and bacteria, constantly sending and receiving information with its community through “Gaian feedback loops.”