Every June I look forward to making elderflower champagne, but this year constant rain has washed away the elderflower pollen, with its natural yeasts and fragrance. If there’s no scent, I don’t bother. Fortunately, milkweed stands up to our wet weather, and the color, scent, and flavor of this milkweed flower cordial are outstanding, rain or shine!
This recipe makes four quarts of cordial. You can make a half batch, or simply scale it according to how many flowers you find. Don’t be afraid to get creative. If you don’t have a lime, use lemon peel, or try orange or grapefruit.
I use sterilized plastic soda bottles to store my finished cordial, but you can use quart jars or swing top glass bottles if that’s what you have on hand. The important thing is that you must be able to release the gas regularly, as fermentation continues.
What You’ll Need to Make Milkweed Flower Cordial
- 5 cups milkweed flowers
- 4 cups sugar
- 12 cups water
- the peel of two limes
What You’ll Do to Make Milkweed Flower Cordial
Snip the milkweed flowers off of the umbels and into a large pot or container. It’s ok to include the slim, individual flower stems, but you don’t want the thick stem of the umbel.
Add the sugar, water, and lime peels, and stir to dissolve the sugar. Cover the container with a dish towel or cheesecloth and leave it on the kitchen counter at room temperature. Ideally, you’d give this a stir every day, to aerate the liquid and speed fermentation. But I had to leave town, so I fastened the cheesecloth to the top of the container with an elastic band, and hoped for the best. Five days later I came home to a wonderfully fermenting brew, so obviously the stirring isn’t 100% necessary.
You’ll know your cordial is fermenting when a quick stir produces visible and audible bubbles. If you’re not sure, wait another day; you shouldn’t need more than 5 – 7 days.
Strain off the solids, pressing on them to release all the liquid, then transfer the liquid into your bottles or jars. Leave a few inches of air space at the top of each bottle and screw on the tops firmly. If you’re using plastic, squeeze the bottles to feel how flexible they are; this will be helpful later. Leave the closed bottles or jars on the counter.
As the cordial ferments it produces carbon dioxide, which builds up pressure in the bottles and forces the gas to dissolve into the liquid. The pressurized gas will be released as fizzy bubbles when the bottle is opened. One of the reasons I like to ferment in plastic is that you can feel how fermentation is progressing.
Check the bottles every day, gently squeezing on their sides. When they are rock-hard (no give at all beneath your fingers) they’re ready to be drunk. You can either move them to the refrigerator for immediate consumption or keep them cool and dark until you’re ready. But milkweed cordial won’t keep forever, so don’t wait too long.
Note: Pressure continues to build as the bottles sit. Left untended, they may explode, even in a cool, dark basement. Now’s your chance to learn from my experience: Once the bottles have reached the rock-hard state, leak a little gas from them at regular intervals. Loosen the cap for about three seconds, just enough to hear gas escape. Then tighten the cap and notice that you can once again feel a little give in the bottle. After a few days the bottle is rock hard again, and it’s time to repeat the process. Take this precaution and you’ll be explosion-free.
When it’s time to open a bottle, remember, there’s a lot of carbonation in there. Crack the bottle open just a smidge and let it sit in the sink while it bubbles up and some gas escapes. Once the bubbles recede a bit, you’re ready to pour. Some particles may settle out of the liquid, so pour gently to avoid stirring up the sediment. (It won’t hurt you, but it makes the beverage cloudy.)
Milkweed cordial is delicious all on its own, over ice. But I have bigger plans for this beverage. I’ll keep you posted….
Sara in Brooklyn says
I had a dream about this incredible elixir since you tasted it to me. A truly inspired creation… Shaking the bugs out for my first attempt.
Also, what a glorious personal fragrance milkweed could be. Move over, lavender.
And also also, hope you’re having a good elderflower year. The relentless rain here is so disappointing…
Too much rain for elderflowers here, too. Hoping to catch the end of the season!
I have heard that the different species of milkweed have differing flavors. Do you have a preferred species? Have you noticed any worthwhile differences between them? Right now I have access to Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed.
De, not all milkweeds are edible and I’ve never eaten A. incarnata. I harvest A. speciosa (in the west) and A. syriaca (in the east). A. exaltata (aka poke milkweed) also grows in the east, and I’ve just learned it’s also edible, but haven’t tried it yet. I can’t find any record of swamp milkweed being edible, so I wouldn’t recommend it.
Hello – For control of fermentation and carbonation, I highly recommend using an “EZ Cap” (https://ezcaps.godaddysites.com/). Very inexpensive and fits a 2L plastic bottle like that mentioned here. The cap has a built-in pressure relief devise that keeps the carbonation in but releases it if it gets excessive. I make Austrian STURM in five days with wild grapes using this and it works great.
Interesting, thanks for the recommendation.