Elderberry Jelly

If you are of a certain age, your primary, and perhaps only, reference to elderberries is likely an Elton John song, a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, or if older perhaps a Cary Grant film. So it was much to my surprise to learn from my friend Hank that elderberries grow wild all along the American River, less than half a mile from my home. We moved to Sacramento when I was nine; I have spent countless summers catching minnows and picking blackberries at the river. I can’t believe these elderberries have been there the whole time, right in front of me. Of course when I saw Hank’s photos I recognized them (those are edible?!) and as soon as I could, wrangled Garrett into joining me for elderberry picking and jelly making.

Garrett has a characteristically hilarious account of our elderberry picking adventure. Picking them was a challenge, given the star thistles poking through our jeans, constant vigilance for ticks (I really don’t like those) and rattlesnakes (have had a couple close encounters with those at the river). Speaking of rattlers, Garrett is the only person I know personally who has actually been bitten by one, ask him about it. The good news is that there are plenty of elderberry shrubs right alongside various paths and trails around the river, so you don’t have to do much bushwhacking to get to them. In most parts of the country they ripen in late summer; here in Sacramento they begin to ripen in early July and then new clusters ripen all summer.

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One of the many elderberry shrubs growing along the American River

If you do go picking, wear long sleeve shirt, a hat, and jeans. Make sure you bring a plastic bag, otherwise juice from the fragile berries that will invariably get crushed will seep through and stain your clothes. Bring clippers.

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In Northern California, the variety of elderberry we get here often has a white blush covering the ripe blue/black berries. You’ll want to cut the cluster from its base. Do not process the leaves or stems, as they may contain problematic alkaloids.

The truly time consuming part of processing elderberries is the stripping of the berries from their stems, after they’ve been thoroughly rinsed. It took me about 10 minutes to pick 4 pounds of berries on my last foray, and about 1 1/2 hours to de-stem them.

So, what do they taste like? A lot like blackberries, though they do have a distinctive flavor, and unless very ripe, they are a bit tart. They make a jelly much like concord grape jelly, though not as cloying. After Garrett and I made a couple batches and swore never to bother again because of the work de-stemming, I went out again on my own to pick more. Why? Because we love the way the jelly turned out. Absolutely delicious. I’ve been making peanut butter elderberry jelly sandwiches for lunch for all week long.

What follows is a recipe for the jelly, but you can also make elderberry syrup by making juice, adding sugar, and boiling it down, or elderberry liqueur. Or you can make wine from the berries. I’ve taken plain elderberries, sprinkled sugar on them, and added them to my breakfast cereal like blueberries. According to some studies, elderberries are naturally anti-viral, so the syrup or jelly is good to eat when you are trying to recover from a cold or flu.

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Elderberry Jelly Recipe

  • Yield: Makes 5 8-ounce jars.

Do not double this recipe. Make one batch at a time.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 lbs ripe (not green) elderberries (after de-stemming)
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 packet MCP pectin*
  • 4 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon butter

*If using a different brand of pectin, follow ratios on package instructions for making blackberry jelly.

Method

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1 Rinse elderberry clusters thoroughly. Working over a large bowl, work on one small cluster at a time, gently raking your fingers across the clusters to dislodge the berries from the stems. Only use berries that are completely blue or black. Do not use green berries or partially green berries as they are not ripe. For each batch of jelly, collect 3 lbs of de-stemmed elderberries. Once de-stemmed, rinse again.

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2 Place berries in a large pot and crush with a potato masher to release some of the juices. Turn the heat to medium and continue to crush as the mixture heats up to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

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3 Place a large fine-mesh sieve, or 4 layers of cheesecloth, over a pot. Slowly transfer the mashed berries and juice over the sieve to strain the juice out into the pot. Let strain for several hours.

4 Prepare jars for canning. You'll need 5-6 8-ounce canning jars and lids. Rinse out the jars and place on a baking sheet, top up, in the oven. Heat for 10 minutes at 200°F to sterilize the jars. To sterilize the lids, bring a kettle of a couple cups of water to a boil. Place lids in a shallow bowl and pour the boiling water over them.

5 Measure out the juice. You will need 3 cups of juice to make one batch of jelly if using MCP pectin, 3 3/4 cups of juice if using SureJell pectin**. Any amount more than that you can reserve for making syrup, or add to another batch for jelly. Place 3 cups of juice into a large, wide pot (8-quart). Add the lemon juice and pectin.

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6 Bring to a boil. Add 4 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of butter. Stir with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil again. Watch the pot as the mixture will foam up considerably. As soon as the mixture reaches a rolling boil that you cannot diminish by stirring, watch the clock. At exactly 2 minutes, remove from heat and pour mixture into canning jars to 1/4-inch of headspace from the rim.

7 Wipe rims with a damp paper towel. Place lids on jars and rings to secure. If you want, to ensure a good seal and to protect against mold (any potentially harmful bacteria will already be destroyed by the sugar concentration of the jelly), you can process the jars in a water bath for 5 minutes. To do so, put a steaming rack at the bottom of a large, tall pot. Fill the pot halfway with water (enough to cover jars with an inch or two of water when in the pot), bring to a boil, gently place the jars in the pot (helps to use a jar lifter, tongs, or be wearing rubber gloves), boil for 5 minutes, and remove.

Let cool. As the jelly cools you should hear a popping sound as the lids seal.

**Note these are the guidelines from the pectin box instructions. I found that even half as much pectin will cause the jelly to set, though perhaps not as firm as the whole amount.

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Links:
Elderberry Syrup - by David Lebovitz
Elderberry Ice Cream - Hank Shaw of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

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77 Comments

  1. Garrett

    Still got some elderberry syrup for pancakes and cocktails! The slightly grappa/port wine flavor is just to-die-for. Wonderful write up, Elise!

  2. Kathy Bair

    YUM!!!!!
    My favorite jelly!
    I remember going picking with my grandma some 40-odd years ago. Now I go “pick” for an hour and end up with 20-30 pounds of the stuff to take home to clean. I usually wait until the stems start drying on the bushes before I go. This makes for more ripe berries, bigger berries and makes it easier to clean from the stems. I like to give the jelly as Christmas presents, along with homemade noodles. This year I will be adding zucchini, pumpkin and banana breads baked in small loaf pans. My daughter is on a visit to our place in Indiana, from her home in Washington state and is helping with the noodles and bread. The time to pick in our region in Indiana is around the first week of September.

  3. nicole

    My mum makes jelly by juicing the berries on the stems. There’s a special pot, look here: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dampfentsafter#Dampfentsafter there is no english version of the text though…
    Ok, the bottom of the pot is filled with water, the middle is the actual juicer pot, and the top part is a sieve almost as large as the middle pot, you put your fruit into that. You heat the lot on the stove, the water from the bottom pot evaporates and heats up the fruit which cooks and thereby starts to drip its juice, which flows out through the little plastic hose. All the debris like stems, peel, seeds are left in the sieve.
    And with the juice you can make jelly. It’s not totally effortless, but probably a lot easier than your method. Maybe you can get a pot like that in the States somewhere?

    Don’t know about that approach. There are reports that stems and leaves have an alkaloid that can cause gastronomic distress (see this), so I would avoid including in the processing. ~Elise

  4. Adam

    I’ve got bad memories of eating raw elderberries, even though the jelly and syrup are ethereal. Uncooked elderberries can cause gastronomic distress, i.e. an evening lent over a bucket!

    Don’t let that prevent you from wonderfully purple harvests: just a friendly warning :-)

  5. Georgiaberry

    Your jam looks so beautiful!

    We make elderberry wine, and I have a couple of tips for removing the berries from the stems. The first is to freeze the entire bunch – just put the whole thing in the freezer. The hard frozen berries are easier to remove from the stems. The second is to hold the cluster upside down and use the tines of a fork to gently tease the berries off into a bowl.

    Our elderberries aren’t ripe yet :(

  6. Kalyn

    This makes me think about when I was a kid and our whole family would go up to Park City (before it was a big ski destination!) to pick chokecherries. Although the picking process was very different (chokecherries grow on bushes and are relatively easy to pick) even as a kid I noticed how the process of picking something in the wild and transforming it into a delicious jelly was uniquely satisfying!

  7. Carol

    Thanks for bringing back old memories! There were many elderberries growing in roadside ditches while I was growing up in rural Iowa. My mother, who grew up during the depression, couldn’t stand the thought of all of that fruit going to waste and decided to make jelly. The project was time consuming, labor intensive, and turned us and everything it touched purple. As a result, we only made elderberry jam once in spite of our frugal ways and the delicious end product. The elderberries in our area tasted quite a bit like the bitter filler that you find in pecan shells, and we decided to cut the elderberries with wild grapes. I have since read that raw elderberries are toxic. Of course, we weren’t tempted to eat the raw berries anyway. But I repeat that the end product was quite delicious, and I was extremely pleased to find a commercial course for elderberry jam recently.

  8. Pam

    I am an annual elderberry picker in Pennsylvania. I have not tried this yet, but a wine maker told me they steam the berries. Then gently shake them to get the berries off the stem.

    • Jeff LeBlanc

      The trick I “discovered” after removing the larger stem parts and freezing them to store before using was to just shake them inside a bag while still frozen. Lots of berries get get knocked off from the small stem branches, and those that remain are easier to remove from the stems as a frozen berry.

  9. Susan

    I’ve never tasted elderberries, never even knew what they looked like! Now that I see them, I realize that I’ve passed them by on my quest for those wild black raspberries that grow everywhere in the woods of northern CA. Dang!
    Do they have seeds in them? I’d love to try my hand at making the jelly one day.

    They do have little seeds, which are barely noticeable when you eat them, but to make jelly from them, you want to strain the seeds out first from the juice. ~Elise

  10. pat

    Elise, WHO knew that you could eat elderberries raw??!! I know one mother and two grandmothers who would be floored to find it out! Thank you for the great article. Here in the Deep South, elderberry time is around the anniversary of Elvis’ death; not that I was a fan, it just happened that making elderberry jelly was what I was doing at the time.

    The only additional advice I have to add is that a large, paper grocery sack works great to cut into. Lean the entire plant head into the sack and snip the stem. Done and no frustrations with a floppy plastic bag…when removing from stem, you do NOT want the green berries as they produce an icky, latex sort of ghostbuster gooey slime when brought to the boil.

    This is indeed a beautiful jelly; one my grandmother, mother, and now I, have made for zillions of years…and serves quite nicely for unique Christmas gifts (especially alongside a plate of homemade biscuits or rolls).

    Well, from what I’ve read, if you eat too many raw elderberries, they might cause you to get sick to your stomach. Better to cook them. But a few berries in my breakfast cereal? No problem. ~Elise

  11. George Strong

    Thanks for the reminder. About 35 years ago friends and I made elderberry jam, jelly and wine when we lived on a small farm back up from the coast near Moro Bay. There were quite a few elderberry bushes in the narrow canyon where we lived. You can use grated green apple or a quince (wring out well in a towel after grating to get rid of excess water) to thicken the jam. Three friends made good elderberry wines, one was dry and crisp, one was sweet as dessert Port, and the third was right in between; all had the wonderful taste of those delicious berries.

  12. Tawni

    I just moved to sacramento and was so happy to read this post! The jam looks great! I live off of folsom, @ bicentennial circle, and am wondering where along the river you picked these?! I’m very close to the American River and went wandering the other day but didnt happen to see any!

    If you go to William Pond Park, at the end of Arden Way (in Carmichael), and drive all the way to the end of the last parking lot and park in front of the trout pond, right around there, there are plenty of elderberry shrub/trees. ~Elise

  13. Janina

    I agree with Nicole: raw elderberries are sligthly toxic, so make sure to cook them before eating them. Symptoms are diarrhea and nausea.

    Once cooked, elderberries are healthy and delicous!

  14. Rebekka

    Now that you know where the berry bushes are you can go earlier in the year and harvest flowers to make elderflower cordial which is very popular here in Denmark. It’s called hyldeblomstsaft.

    Harvest the flowers when they have just blossomed and are at their freshest.

    40-50 de-stemmed elderflower clusters
    1 kg sugar
    3-4 organic or unsprayed lemons, in slices
    2 liters water

    Boil the water with the sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Then add the flowers and the lemon slices, stir around, turn off the heat and let it cool. When it has cooled down, put it in the refrigerator and let it steep for 3 or 4 days, stirring it a couple of times a day. Strain the cordial and either freeze it in plastic bottles or keep it in scalded glass jars.

    (This particular recipe is from this site: http://www.blogpro.dk/?p=639)

    The cordial should be diluted with 3-4 parts water before drinking. It has a delicate sweet taste that is very refreshing and is very popular in the summer here.

  15. Gloriana

    Great to see this post! I first tasted elderberry jelly in Peru a couple of years ago. They call it sauco down there and it is AMAZING. I brought jars and jars of it home, kept some and gave the rest away as gifts. It’s all gone now but after reading your post I am excited to try to make some at home. Excuse me while I go out to look for elderberries! :)

  16. maldon

    Woah, it’s really nice to see this recipe, I wouldn’t expected this at all. I can remember my grandmother’s syrup made of those fruits, it was soooo delicious. I’m even not sure how to name it in my language, I can only guess it’s something like ‘black elder’. Unfortunately I’m living in big city and every elderberry tree is polluted and it’s fruits are unfit to eat. :(

    So I have no choice: I’m going to the forest for picking berries, and I’m defintely going to check out this recipe so I could bring back my warm childhood memories of my grandma, who died couple months ago.

    Thank you so much! :)

  17. noel

    Wonderful recipe. Elise how would you go about making elderberry preserves? I like the actually fruit with the jelly.

    Good question. If you look at the booklet that comes with MCP pectin, they may have some guidelines; if you don’t have that available, treat as you would blackberries. ~Elise

  18. Kortney Gretencord-Skelton

    Elise! I always wondered what Elderberries were.. when I was in highschool I played a little old lady named Abbey in our highschool play “Arsenic and Old Lace.” In the play I poisoned people by putting Arsenic in Elderberry wine. Anyways, it’s good to finally know what they look like!

    The little old ladies in Arsenic and Old Lace do indeed use elderberry wine for delivering their poison. One of my favorite old films, what fun to have put on the play! ~Elise

  19. Teressa harrington

    This is my family’s favorite jelly, I was really shocked to see it on your blog. Most people think these berries ore posionous. We pick a whole washtub of them and make several gallons on juice at one time. Freeze the juice that we do not have the time to make the jelly with, then make the rest of the jelly during the winter.

  20. Jennie

    I was just in England and found the shops flooded with elder flower and elder berry this and that from sparkling water to sorbets! I loved the delicate floral flavor of the flower infused items. The berry flavor, at least in the processed stuff I bought, was a bit intense for me. Still, I plan to go foraging next month for the berries when they start ripening here in PA. Look forward to making your jelly! :)

  21. Cookin' Canuck

    Ah yes, Monty Python. “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.” I love the movie, but never would have known what elderberries actually looked like. This jelly looks absolutely amazing!

  22. Emily

    Elderberries make one of the finest jellies to be had! Make sure you can identify it accurately beforehand though, as the berries bear some resemblance to the very toxic poke weed.

  23. Amanda

    Be cautious! The stems, leaves and roots of elderberry are poisonous. While eating a single stem is certainly not dangerous, crushing a lot of leaves and stems with the berries can lead to poisoning.

    They are toxic which I mention in the post. ~Elise

  24. Sharon

    Another great one Elise! I used to make wine with these lovely but tedious berries but don’t have the time anymore even though they are very plentiful in my area. (The blossoms are so sweet smelling, I do still sometimes stop and grab a handful for a bouquet) My contribution is that I recently saw bottles of elderberry juice at my local health food store. They were very small bottles selling for $18.00 which makes sense since it takes so much time to harvest them. Just the fact that the juice was being sold for its health benefit was an eye opener to me. WHO KNEW?

    I buy a cough syrup made from elderberry syrup for about 20 dollars a small bottle. It’s anti-viral and so far be drinking this cough syrup and taking Omega 3 fish oils I’ve managed to stop any colds for over a year. My mother reminded me about the anti-viral benefits of elderberries when I was making this jelly. Cool eh? ~Elise

  25. Jessica

    I have a full appreciation for the amount of time it takes to clean the berries from the stems. Last fall my father was the proud recipient of 40 pounds of elderberries from a family friend (or so he said he was). It took us three days of cleaning berries after work to get through them all. We found if you have any stems that get by you in the cleaning process they not only add a bitter taste but create a gummy mess if you are making wine. Shortly after that endeavor my father realized we had tons of elderberry bushes that are growing the length of our property. I made countless batches of jelly and as much as I hate to admit it, it is worth the work. Elderberry jelly is by far one of the most popular jellies I make. My father is counting down the days until ours are ripe this year.

  26. Jim

    A fork definitely works well for removing the berries, you just comb them off the stems. Last summer, I made an elderberry liqueur: 2 quarts fresh washed and stemmed elderberries put into 3 1-quart sterile canning jars. Fill the jars with 100 proof vodka, cap off, and leave in the garage for a couple of months. Strain out the (now pale green) berries and add 2-3 cups sugar to each jar. Shake every day for a week, or until the sugar dissolves. Store in a dark place for a couple more months to mature. Drink as a slightly bitter aperitif, or add one ounce to four ounces of champagne to make an elderberry-royale cocktail. I also make Italian sodas using 2 oz of the liqueur.

  27. patty phillips

    Absolutely wonderful recipe!!! I remember my dad making elderberry wine when I was a kid and him letting me have a small glass when it was ready. So when I found this jelly recipe I was very excited because I have an enormous elderberry tree on my property that I picked the berries from. I live close to Yosemite in Mariposa California and we have these trees everywhere.

  28. Tracey

    Thanks for the inspiration. I just finished my first batch of elderberry jelly. It turned out great!

    Music to my ears, that’s awesome! ~Elise

  29. chammer

    Oh…my…gosh! I was bowled over when I saw the words “Elderberry Jelly”. One just doesn’t hear about Elderberries, much less recipes for them. This is too cool.
    Anyway, I read a couple entries here that mentioned they know someone that makes Elderberry Pie. My mom used to make it when we lived on the farm and it is one of two of my FAVORITE pies, next to Rhubarb, yummy! I would love to get a recipe for Elderberry pie. My mom has passed away and I don’t have that recipe. I would love to hear from anyone who has one.

  30. Heiko

    Easy and less messy way to destalk your elderberries is to freeze them as soon as you come home, then remove them from their stalks frozen with a fork.

  31. Roberta

    WOW! Does this ever bring back memories. When I was a child (50 some years ago) my mom and dad and my brothers and I would drive out to the country to pick elderberries and when we got home my parents made elderberry jelly. We always had a lot and the jelly lasted well into the winter.

    I will keep this recipe and go looking for elderberries next summer and make some jelly myself.

    Thanks for the memories. :)

  32. Dorothy

    In the past 2 weeks I have made 5 batches of Elderberry Jelly using the above recipe except with JEL EASE pectin. All but one batch came out a little firm. The other batch is runny. I opened the sealed jars, reboiled for another 2 minutes and recanned. Still I have syrup. Is there a way to test the hot syrup before I seal it in jars again?

    My friend Hank had trouble with getting his elderberry jelly to set too. It might have to do with the ripeness of the berries. I allow a few half-green ones in the batch, just because unripe fruit tends to have more pectin. I don’t know about Jel Ease. I have found that jellies tend to firm up over several weeks, so that some jellies might be a bit runny at first, but a couple weeks later they are well set. So I don’t know what to tell you. If I were in this situation, I would just wait and see if they firm up on their own, and if not, enjoy the canned elderberry syrup (great on ice cream, good as a cough medicine, perhaps good with a little soda water added as a spritzer?) ~Elise

  33. John L Scott

    I made one batch of elderberry jelly two years ago and 2 batches last year. The 2007 batch had a slightly burnt aroma and flavour but was eaten and while one of last year’s batches was superb, the other batch made from the same bulk berries was burnt, astringent-tasting and quite inedible.
    I am an experienced jam maker and use only a microwave for heating, so the burnt flavour and aroma was certainly not due to the mix “catching” on the pan. Occasionally batches of jams are insufficiently set or over-set but I have never had the kind of taste problems described with any other jam…
    Can’t believe I’m alone in this.

    Has anyone experienced this and do you know the cause and cure?

    I don’t know about your microwave, but my microwave heats unevenly, even with a rotating plate. It’s also harder to monitor, 1 minute in the microwave turns out to be a lot more than 1 minute on a stovetop. That might be the problem. The other thing that could cause this is the juice going in. It is possible to burn the berries when you are first juicing them, if the heat is too high and you aren’t stirring enough to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. ~Elise

  34. Kari

    Re the way to test jelly jell-ness before canning; put a saucer in the freezer. Once it is very cold, ladle some of the hot jelly onto it. Wait a moment and run your finger through it. If the jelly keeps its shape and doesn’t ooze back together, you are good to can. If it does, keep on boiling! Also, you may need to add more sugar as the pectin needs a certain amount of sugar to do its thing.

    Of course! The chilled plate is what I always use when making jellies without pectin. I’ve just never had a need to worry when I’ve added commercial pectin. Thank you for offering that suggestion. ~Elise

  35. Hazel Higdon

    I just made my first batch of elderberry jelly. I used Splenda with(SUREJELL PREMIUM FRUIT PECTIN FOR LESS or NO SUGAR NEEDED RECIPES)
    It truned out so good. Thanks for all the good info.
    I also made a batch of elderberry syrup and I added a few drops about 1/4 tsp of Grapefruit Seed Extract to my syrup, good, good, good.

    If you are not using sugar, then please make sure to either water bath can the jars of jelly for at least 10 minutes, or keep the jars chilled or frozen. ~Elise

  36. mike

    I just picked some elderberries today. I am going to try freezing them to save time getting them off the stem. Thanks for the tips!!!

    Elderberry pie is my favorite ever!

  37. grace

    I live in Eastern Canada, and I bought an elderberry bush at a greenhouse about 8-10 yrs. ago. I loved the white flowers on it, and no-one told me that the berries were edible. A Dutch friend noticed it in our yard, and told me he had never seen one in our area before. He had eaten elderberry pie years before, and told me he would make one for us to sample. It was delicious! He now gets his berries from me every year–our tree is loaded this year.
    Now, I am getting my berries stemmed, and plan to make jam tomorrow. All my friends are very curious about it all, and I can’t wait to give them samples to try. Thanks for the recipe!
    (I’d like to know how to prepare the syrup for medicinal purposes.)

    You can also make elderflower cordial from the white flowers. As far as preparing the syrup for medicinal purposes, you don’t have to do anything beyond making the syrup. Even the jelly is medicinal, in that the elderberries are naturally anti-viral. I use a cough syrup that is basically just elderberry syrup, don’t think there’s much more in it. ~Elise

  38. Phil

    Maybe someone else already mentioned this, I haven’t read every single comment, but here’s a useful tip for de-stemming: use a fork! Just pull the fork through the ends of the stems gently. A bit like pulling a comb through knotted hair.

  39. marti

    I found that freezing the clumps of berries on a cookie sheet or flat box than putting the clumps in a large plastic bag and than you can just gentle tap on the clumps and the berries fall off into the bag. Of course, you have to have enough freezer room to do this.
    Marti

  40. ed. roberts

    Tonight my wife and I are starting to make up jelly from the ten gallons of berries I picked about a month ago. We did three gallons last year. The jelly was wounderful. Growing up in California I never tasted elderberries what a secret was kept by those that new. I now live in Missouri. Our great neighbors turned us on to the berries. We pick the biggest berries in late August. Back to the canning.

  41. Chris

    I just mentioned this at Hank’s blog, too, but it seems like it is SO much easier to de-stem elderberries when they’re frozen. I only tried de-stemming a few in the field back in August. I had too many other projects going on at the time, so I just frozen the berries on the stem and de-stemmed them later. Took me 15-29 minutes to de-stem about a gallon’s worth of berries and I didn’t get my fingers stained. And they’re still waiting for me in the freezer…

    I think it really depends on the batch. The last batch of elderberries I picked was from a tree up in the Sierra foothills. They were plump and ripe and fell off easily when I ran my fingers over them. The batches I got from the American river in Sacramento held on to the stems much more. I think it was because they were drier, not as much moisture going into the plant. The problem with freezing is that you really do want to rinse the berries first, to get rid of any wandering wormies, spiders, or berry bugs (every batch I’ve done has plenty of bugs). But you don’t want to freeze wet berries, so you have to let them dry out before freezing, which adds to the overall processing time. If you just freeze the berries without soaking/rinsing them first, then when you go to pluck them off their stems invariably you’ll get some frozen bugs in the bowl of berries too. Berry bugs can look a lot like the berries, they are hard to spot unless they are moving. ~Elise

  42. Alicia

    Thanks for the great tutorial! Elderberries are also proven anti-virals that help minimize flus and colds. We just used homemade elderberry syrup to deal with H1N1 and my kids were only sick for 2 days.

  43. Jersey Girl

    Hi Elise. Can you put the raw berries and very small stems through a Foley food mill (before cooking) to remove the seeds without the danger of getting the toxins from the stems added in? I did this and then realized that it might not be OK to do. I am a seasoned canner, but have never worked with Elderberries before. I did make a batch of low sugar jelly with them, but it is too “earthy” for my taste. I will need to find someone who likes it. Thanks much.

    Great question. I have no idea. I’ve only stripped the elderberries by hand. ~Elise

  44. Deedee

    Growing up my sisters and cousins and I use to eat elderberries all the time. The first time I made jelly I thought I was in heaven. Now I have turned my girls into elderberry jelly hounds. It is my youngest daughters favorite jelly. I can’t find enough berries to keep her in jelly. We use to have alot of them around here in little ol’ Weyerhaeuser, WI., But, the DNR and other land owners have decided to clear out the land. So now they are scarce. Hopefully someday I will be able to find more bushes. I keep looking, and won’t give up.

  45. Gina L.

    I stumbled over your site in my search for elderberry recipes. My Mom used to make tons of elderberry juice when we were kids, because it lowers fever, and we would get it with some cream of wheat and a ring of elderberry juice around. My Mom had a steam juicer, (in Germany), and I finally found one here online, this would be very helpful with other fruits and veggies too.
    http://www.canningpantry.com/a12.html
    Since I haven’t bought one yet, I will just gently boil mine then extract the juice and add sugar. I have some old fashioned bottles in which I keep the juice .
    I live in NC and I ordered my elderberry bushes 3 years ago, last year I let the birds eat what little fruit there was. This year it looks to be a nice crop. It is not even July yet and some of them are already drooping and ready to be picked.
    I read on another site, a gentleman just freezes some of the fresh berries, then when he needs them when he has a cold he adds them to hot tea. Just a few berries will release enough vitamins to help the body.
    I really love your page and all the pictures are so very helpful. You would love the steamer, no more de-stemming.

  46. David Y.

    Talking about elderberries reminds me of a summer about 40 years ago when my mother saw an abundance of wild elderberries growing beside the country roads of Southern MS and couldn’t bear to see them go to waste. She loaded up with children and some big containers and we went elderberry picking. As I remember we ended up with several large garbage cans full of berries. Now, if it took Elise 1 1/2 hr to pick off 4 lbs, imagine what a job we had ahead of us. Well as they say, “necessity is the mother of invention” and thankfully we found a way to get this job done quickly and easily. Put a piece of 1/4″ or 1/2″ hardware cloth over a large container and drag the bunches of berries across. The berries come off the stems very quickly and without being smashed. This sure takes the dread out of making this delicious jelly.

  47. Ann P

    A few elderberries will not make healthy people sick, if my example is typical. For many years an elderberry bush grew behind a favorite summer ice cream stand here in central Massachusetts. In season I bought my ice cream cone (usually ginger), then walked to the elderberry bush and shook a spray of berries over the ice cream. My own personal sundae!

    The elderberries added a delicious though modest kick to the ice cream, and neither I nor any friend I talked into trying my treat experienced any after effects.

    Sadly, the bush is no longer behind the ice cream stand. But this year I was delighted to find an elderberry bush (more like a tree here!) on my own lot! I intend to let it grow, to use most of the berries in jelly or pies, but to sprinkle some of them on dishes of ice cream. Do try it!

  48. Mike B.

    I have just made juice from the elderberries I collected. The juice has a bitter taste to it. Can someone tell me how to get rid of the bitter taste?

    Elderberries need to be sweetened with sugar. If the taste is still bitter, and not something that adding sugar will help, it could be because a berry bug got processed with the berries, in which case I don’t think there is anything you can do. ~Elise

  49. barbara

    I added water to my berries and followed this recipe of course it did not jell but what I would like tp know is can I salvage this by reboiling and adding more sure jell?

    Maybe. I would recommend letting the canned jelly sit for a few weeks before retrying to get it to set. I found that my last batch of elderberry jelly needed at least a week to set properly. Right off the bat it was a bit soupy. But now it’s lovely. BTW, the three things you need to have for this to set properly, other than the elderberry juice, are 1) enough sugar, 2) enough pectin, and 3) lemon juice or some other acid. People sometimes skimp on the sugar, and then wonder why they don’t get a good set. Or they don’t add the lemon juice, which really helps the pectin do its thing. ~Elise

  50. Barbara Branstetter

    I use to make elderberry jelly but I put rhubarb in it. I can not find my receipe. Has anyone made it this way? Please help if you have the receipe. It was the only jelly our kids would eat

  51. Sheila

    Thank you so much for posting this recipe for elderberry jelly. I have never made any type of jelly before. I was offered the opportunity to pick some elderberries at a local farm and I decided to make jelly after hearing everyone talk about how wonderful it was.

    I made it yesterday, and so far, it hasn’t set. It’s been over 24 hours. It is definitely thicker than it was, but not jelly like.

    Having never made jelly before, I have no idea how long it takes to gel? Can anyone help me on this one? Thanks so much!

    The last batch of elderberry jelly I made took a week to get a good set. The batches I made a year ago set up immediately. Same recipe, different year, different berries. ~Elise

  52. Beverly Moore

    I have been making elderberry jelly for 6 or 7 years. I have never had my jelly not set, but I always buy brand new sure jell pectin and I make sure I cook it for the entire minute with a real rolling boil.
    As far as removing the berries from the stems…I have spent hours in years past stemming them. This year however, my husband bought me a steamer juicer from Amazon. It was $70 and it was the best money I ever spent. I made enough juice to put up 10 batches of jelly and 5 qt of juice for winter colds. And yes my family will eat it all. I made it 2 weeks ago and we have eaten 8 full half pint jars so far. And although I did not remove all of the stems before steaming it, no one has had any problems with stomach pain or other problems mentioned.
    My question is—I wanted to make some elderberry jelly for my diabetic dad and I was told by Kraft foods, maker of the pectin I use, that they do not support elderberry jelly with splenda so they would not give me any amts. Do you just use the splenda in place of the sugar in the regular recipe?? The no sugar recipes have different amts of fruit and sugar than the regular recipes for those they have.

    Since sugar is an essential part of the jelling processes, you need to get a special extra strong pectin that will work with low sugar recipes. Pomona pectin is one that I’ve used, it’s available online. Note that low sugar jams will only last a few months on the shelf. As for jamming with sugar substitutes, I haven’t done it so can’t make recommendations. ~Elise

  53. Robin

    I have eaten elderberry jelly my whole life. My mother has made it since I was little and I finally had to learn how to make it because I can’t do without it. I am pretty much in charge of making it for the whole family now. So we make a ton each year. We have always made elderberry apple jelly. The apples help lighten the strong flavor just enough and help to lighten the color. I just cut up a few apples and boil them with the elderberries. I always use sure jell, but the recipe is no longer in their instructions. You have to go on the website to get it. Luckily I have my mother’s from 10 years ago. It definately is a softer set, but that never seemed to bother us. Our tradition is eating them on potato pancakes. (This will remind of my mother the rest of my life.) Recently, I tried a new recipe. elderberry peach preserves. OH my goodness….YUMMY!!!!! With the fresh peaches in season this jelly is to die for. I am still getting the exact recipe down to make sure is has a nice set. Once I get it down, I will list the recipe. It is definatley worth it.

    Thanks Robin, please do let us know about it when you get it down. Sounds great! ~Elise

  54. debbie

    Absolutely delicious!……I made a batch…set up perfectly…..3 jars are already eaten…..I am making another batch right now…..deb

  55. Beth L

    I discovered by accident that if you pick your berries – place them in the freezer – stems and all and wait a couple weeks, the berries almost fall off the stems as long as you work with them very frozen. Saves lots of time when making jelly. Not so good if you are making pie – you will still have to pick off each one seperately. I have everyone who likes elderberries filling their freezers when the berries are ripe and then working on them when they get the time.

  56. Jackie

    I live in Edinburgh Scotland, our Elder bushes are simply drooping in berries just now in all the ancient hedge rows. Trying to find some that are far enough away from roads can be a bit difficult though. I have been looking for a recipe like this for years, and I am off, this weekend, on a hike with my bags to gather all I can carry home! I will let you know how I get on, as they are all very ripe just now. Thanks for the great recipe.

  57. Rachael

    I have picked my own, frozen the heads (non-compacted) and then forked them off as mentioned above. This year, our wild elderberries were not prolific, so when a friend offered me some, I jumped at them. Her friend had frozen the heads and my friend needed freezer space and couldn’t process them. When I got them, they were frozen still but had been so crammed into the bag that they form a nearly solid mass. No forking off the berries from that block. Can I just thaw them and run them though a conical food mill? I realize stems contain an alkaloid and I don’t want to simmer them with the stems on. Do you have any advice? Thanks in advance!

    I would just thaw them and then strip them away from the stems. Of course that might end up being a great big mess too. A friend of mine suggests putting them in a kitchenaid mixer to destem. I haven’t tried that but it might work. ~Elise

  58. terry pierce

    I love your site and am in the process of making 24 jars of Elderberry jelly and want to let the people out there know a easy quick way of getting the berries off the branches.The way to do this is freeze them and put on plastic gloves and roll them back and forth after they are frozen and the berries fall off easy as pie.

    Yes, this works… BUT, you need to take only a few stems out at a time, so none thaw before you destem them. Once thawed, the berries get mushy and are a pain to destem. ~Hank

  59. Rebecca Rogers

    I would like to make some elderberry wine, but since I have heard that the berries are toxic if not cooked, I am not sure about making the wine from fresh berries. Does any one know if the fermentation process kills the toxic in the berries or if I have to do something different then other berry wines to kill of the toxic? Or Are there only certain types of Elderberries that may be used to make wine? I know there are different types advertized and there are wild berries, Can anyone tell be if it is oaky to make wine out of the the wild Elderberries that grow in North Carolina?

    Normally to make elderberry wine, you would simmer the berries first for a few minutes. This will help with the juice extraction. It will also make the berries much easier to digest. BTW, the stems are much more toxic than the raw berries, so make sure the berries are completely destemmed before cooking. ~Elise

  60. Patricia

    Can anyone tell me if it is alright to eat the elderberries raw or do they need to be cooked first. Also the same with sloe berries. from Pat.

    Some people are more sensitive to raw elderberries than others. A few nibbles won’t hurt, but it’s best to cook them. As for sloe berries, aren’t they plums? ~Elise

  61. jane harris

    have eaten a lot of elderberry jelly down through the years. in the community where i grew up everyone used half elderberry juice and half apple juice for this recipe. it cuts the strong taste and about always jells due to the pectin in the apples. think if you find the taste just a little overpowering this will make a big difference. good luck

  62. Laura Vreeland

    I have just over 2 cups elderberries from a friend who gave them to me one week ago. I tasted a few (after reading the above notes) and they do not taste bad. I was tasting them to see if they were good enough to make into a pie. They do not smell bad nor do they have any mold. They just seem a bit darker red than they were when I got them. Do you think they are ok to cook in a pie?

    I’m assuming that you’ve kept them refrigerated? If they don’t smell bad or have any mold, they should be fine, especially since you will be cooking them. ~Elise

  63. Marco

    Could you inform me where can I order elderberry jelly or marmelade?

    No idea. ~Elise

  64. ken

    I grew up in western pennsylvania, we ate elderberrys straight off the bush, probably stems also. Although we were told never to touch the larger branches without washing our hands. We never got sick from them or known anyone that did. I dont understand why people are thinking they are poison. My cousin and i ate them for years as did my sisters. I’ve never tried the jelly but it must be good too.
    Now i’m wondering if there are different kinds of elderberrys that might be poison.

    I think the berries themselves are just mildly toxic, which means you would have to eat a lot of them to get sick. Also it may be that some people are more sensitive to them than others. ~Elise

  65. Joel A.

    I live near the American river in el Dorado county and I just discovered what elderberries look like and decided to try them out since I found a few groves.
    Like other people who commented, I found that freezing them right away not only preserves them and makes them easy to remove from the stems, it also helps to keep the berries round and retain their juice while being rinsed. I found that rolling the clusters between my hands released almost all of the good berries and very few of the over ripe (wrinkled and tiny or hard) and under ripe berries.
    Then before quickly rinsing in a colander, I filled up a pitcher with water and 1-4 inches of berries on the bottom. Gently mixing the berries in a nearly full pitcher brings nearly all remaining hard berries to the surface as well as the blossoms, stems and less desirable berries. The pitcher can be filled the remainder of the way and the nasty stuff will flow right out with a little help.
    I hope this helps some people enjoy working with elderberries more! I now have a half gallon of elderberries ready to use in my freezer and I’m ready to find more!

  66. julia

    Thanks for this great site! I’m in the midst of making the jalapeno pepper jelly right now and am preparing to make the elderberry jelly later this week – just realized today that both the recipes i chose were from your site!

    I was curious about the function of butter in the recipe. I thought I had read somewhere that butter shouldn’t be used for canning.

    Thanks!

    It’s just the tiniest amount of butter. The purpose is to keep the jelly mixture from foaming up too much and overflowing the pot. ~Elise

  67. Louise

    FTO: Marco

    Hi Marco, I live in England and our shops are full of elderberry jam, jelly, cordial, etc. I’m not sure where you live, but would suggest you look for a ‘British Store’ and ask them to order you some. Wish I could send you some jars of the jam & jelly I made this summer (we have bushes in our garden.) Best, Louise

  68. miriam

    Elderberries are easy to remove by using a fork. First wash the clumps of berries in cool water. Then take a clump, hold it over a bowl, hold the main stem with one hand, and with the other hand scrape the berries off the tiny stems they are attached to. The riper they are the easier they will come off without pulling off some tiny stem pieces too.

  69. Jamie

    How many cups of elder berries? I don’t have a scale.

    • Elise

      Hi Jamie, the next time I make them, I’ll try to remember to measure them out. If you don’t have a scale, do you have a bag of something in your pantry that is 16 ounces (1 pound)? Try to get a rough measurement by comparing a plastic bag filled with elderberries and a bag of something whose weight you know.

  70. Dwayne

    I tell folks they taste like a cross between a blackberry and a grape with a hint of dark cherry.

  71. Dave Cottrell

    Here is a quick and amazingly simple tip for destemming elderberries: Freeze them, stem and all. As soon as they are frozen, simply knock the frozen berries into a bowl. It only takes a few minutes to destem and entire large bucket of berries this way.

    • Elise

      Hi Dave,
      The reason I have not done that is so often our elderberries have berry bugs in them, which you can only remove if you see, and since they look a lot like the berries, you can only see them if they are moving! If you freeze the berries, the bugs will freeze too and will be difficult to spot. That said, I know many people swear by freezing the berries first.

  72. Dave Cottrell

    Hi Elise. We get bugs here, too. I am sure some get missed, but I submerge the clusters in water for a few minutes before freezing them, which seems to work well. Most bugs come to the surface, where they can be scooped away. Then the berries need to drain for a few minutes before freezing to get rid of excess water.

    This year has been an amazing year for elderberries, here (we grow them in our garden). I tried something different and hope it turns out. I cut out all the bigger stems with clips as I pulled the clusters out of the water, and just simmered them like that, just long enough to get them to drip. I got plenty of juice and the jelly is excellent.

  73. Pattie

    Should never Nash with a potato masher as the seeds fragike and bitter if crushed. Just cook andcstrsin through cheese cloth.

    • Elise

      Hi Pattie, I guess that depends on the strength of your arms! I only mash to break up the skins. I don’t work it so hard as to break up the seeds. No problem with bitterness.

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