Walking at the edge of the woods, I was intoxicated by the scent of roses. I could smell them from yards away, and I knew I had to make something with them. My countertop was already completely covered with small-batch wines and meads, though a rose mead sounds like a lovely idea. Something simple, that won’t take up more counter space for weeks on end. It’s time for a simple homemade rose cordial.
I’ve always considered cordial to mean a sweet alcoholic beverage. Simple syrup, vodka and something flavorful to infuse. My homemade limoncello, for example, is a type of lemon cordial. I’ve recently learned that a cordial doesn’t have to contain alcohol, and there are plenty of examples of commercial non-alcoholic cordials. Rose’s Lime Cordial is one example, though in that one the name rose is a brand, and it’s just lime juice and sugar.
A non-alcoholic cordial is a very sweet syrupy drink that basically amounts to a flavored simple syrup. While I love to infuse flavors into vodka, I’ve already done that with almost everything under the sun. Now that I have two young children in the house, perhaps it’s time that I made a more versatile drink.
This homemade rose cordial can be mixed with seltzer to make a quick, child-friendly rose soda. It’s heartily approved by my 3-year-old daughter. I’ll admit, she’s never tried any other type of soda, so this fizzy sugary drink was pretty mind-blowing. It’s quite sweet, so it only takes about a tablespoon or two to make a full glass.
When making rose cordial, it’s important to choose roses that are completely unsprayed. My grandmother was fond of all sorts of chemicals on her homegrown roses, most of which she cautioned me never to touch because they could be absorbed directly through the skin. Scarry stuff.
Wild roses, which are more common than you’d think, are a good alternative. Around the summer solstice in Vermont, you can see wild rose blooms along roadsides and in sunny spots near human habitation. They grow all around our land, carried by rosehip loving birds. I’ve transplanted a few into our perennial beds and they’re a great no maintenance solution.
Wild roses don’t require any attention and they grow like weeds. The rosebuds look about the same as any cultivated rose, but when they open they’re what my grandmother would refer to as “single roses.” They have a single line of petals instead of the really full, peony style pom-pom of petals that are popular with cultivated roses these days.
Non-alcoholic rose cordial is absurdly simple. It’s much the same as making a simple syrup and then infusing rose petals and a little citrus for intrigue. A bit of citric acid is added to help give it a tart, fruity taste that’s characteristic of cordials. The citric acid will also help with preservation.
Citric acid can usually be found in the bulk section of a coop, or near the canning equipment in a grocery store. I buy it in bulk online because we do quite a bit of cheesemaking. It’s also handy if you want to try making your own fizzy bath bombs.
After 24 hours of infusing, the cordial is strained through a fine mesh strainer and bottled. That’s a lot quicker than an alcoholic cordial, which needs to infuse for weeks if not months to achieve full potency. The simple syrup takes on the flavor and colors of the rose petals in about a day.
If you want to try an alcoholic version, simply infuse rose petals in vodka with a bit of citrus zest. Filter the petals out and then add in a bit of simple syrup. I’ve found that a simple syrup made with one cup of sugar and one cup of water is enough to sweeten about half a gallon of alcoholic cordial. That winds up pretty sweet, so adjust according to your own tastes.
If you’re excited about cordials in general, I’d highly recommend the book Cordials from Your Kitchen. They cover a lot of exciting ideas in there, including unique ways to use cordials. For example, they suggest using a rhubarb cordial drizzled on top of a roasted grapefruit. Talk about creative!
Sadly, they didn’t have a rose cordial recipe, so I had to improvise on my own
This simple rose cordial captures the essence of roses in a sweet syrup that's perfect for kids sodas or mixed drinks for the adults.
- 2 cups rose petals tightly packed for measuring
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 tbsp citric acid
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 orange sliced thin
Bring water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan and then remove from heat. Stir to fully dissolve the sugar.
Add the remaining ingredients into the sugar and water syrup. Stir to distribute, and allow to infuse for 24 hours.
Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer and bottle.
This recipe yields somewhere between 3 and 4 cups of rose cordial, depending on how well you strain and how juicy your fruit is. I'd like to tell you exactly how much, but I spilled some while straining. Oops...