Elderberry jam is a delicious and healthy spread for toast or a topping for yogurt or oatmeal.Jump to Recipe
If you love elderberries as much as I do, you might be interested in turning them into elderberry jam or elderberry juice.
Most people know and love elderberries from elderberry syrup. Full of vitamin C, this syrup has become very popular since it can help boost the immune system. The deep purple color tells us that it is full of anti-oxidants. It is a good idea to take it regularly during the flu season. There are a lot of traditional recipes that make a delicious syrup that even children like to take.
For me, the easiest way is to combine the health benefits of elderberries with something that I can actually eat. A homemade jam is perfect on toast or as a topping for plain yogurt or oatmeal.
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Where to find elderberries
Every year, I set out to find elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra). I have identified and memorized some locations in our area where they grow in the wild. Periodically, I go and check those places. The time of the year when the elderberries will ripen will depend on your particular area. Here in Northern California, I often get the first ripe elderberries in June but in Germany, we used to have to wait until the fall.
A good friend of ours has a huge bush in his yard. Lucky for us, they don’t like elderberries all that much AND want to get rid of them. When the ripe elderberries fall to the ground, they leave dark stains. Therefore, they are always happy to get rid of them.
I suggest that you drive around your area. Elderberry bushes thrive near farms and homesteads. But they also like to be close to rivers. Once you find a few bushes, you will be able to identify good spots for them. But don’t be surprised if people keep the location of those bushes a well-kept secret 😉
Interestingly enough, elderberry bushes are fairly easy to grow in your garden. You can buy small plants in nurseries. Or do it as I have done: simply chop off a good-sized stem and stick it in the ground in the late fall. This way I have been growing my own elderberries for years!
Here’s my most recent beautiful harvest, berries, leaves, stems, and all.
Can you use dried elderberries to make elderberry jam?
If you’re using dried elderberries for your jam, you will need to soak them in a large bowl of water overnight.
Ingredients for the elderberry jam
Next to your elderberries, you will need another few simple ingredients:
- lemon juice or citric acid: I like to add the juice of about 1/2 big lemon to my elderberry jam. It adds extra acidity but also a more complex flavor. If you don’t have it, you can use a small amount of citric acid.
- sugar: most likely you will need sugar since elderberries are pretty tart on their own. How much sugar is a bit of a matter of preference. You can start with a smaller amount and gradually add more if you like.
- pectin: while it is entirely possible to make jam without any added pectin, I like to add it. Its addition helps the jam set sooner so that you don’t have to boil it for so long.
- frozen apple juice concentrate: this is my “secret” ingredient. First of all, it is a natural sweetener. Then it adds a certain amount of natural pectin. But even more so, apple juice brings out the flavors of all fruits without tasting like apple. If you can’t find the frozen apple juice concentrate in your grocery store, you can use regular apple juice. In that case, you’ll have to adjust the amount of sugar and pectin a bit, and possibly the boiling time of the jam.
How to pick the elderberries off the stem
Taking a fork, I carefully pick the raw berries off the stems. I let them drop right into my medium size pot.
Alternatively, you can freeze the elderberry clusters for a few hours beforehand. I simply put them on a cookie sheet. Once they’re completely frozen they will just fall off the little stems.
Helpful tools and equipment
This is what I use for making jam:
a funnel, a jar lifter, a ladle, and of course glass jars (I love using Mason jars!). You can buy these items individually or get them as a set. Some people like to use a potato masher but I find that the elderberries easily pop on their own once you’re boiling them.
For juicing the lemons, I like to use a stainless steel citrus juicer.
I sterilize the jars and lids in a 225˚F hot oven for 10-15 minutes and use the jar lifter to take the jars out of the oven. Alternatively, you can submerge the jars and lids in boiling water for about 10 minutes.
How to make the elderberry jam
Once you have picked all the elderberries off their stems, add them to a medium-sized pot. I started with about 4-5 cups of elderberries. Add the lemon juice, about 1 cup of sugar, and about 2-3 tablespoons of frozen apple juice concentrate or some apple juice. Bring everything to a full rolling boil.
Notice how the white coating disappears as you bring the berries to a boil.
Add about 1 tablespoon of pectin. Continue to boil vigorously for about 5 mins while constantly stirring with a wooden spoon.
You might like to add more sugar until it has the desired sweetness. Elderberries are quite tart on their own so experiment with your desired level of sweetness.
To test for doneness do the spoon test: drop a bit of jam on a cold plate. If it gels, it’s ready. If not, keep boiling for another 5-10 mins and retest.
Using the ladle and the funnel, I fill the jam into the jars (leaving about 1/4 in from the top). Then I screw the lid on with a towel (remember the jar and the lid might still be hot), turn the jar on its head for about five minutes, and then let them cool down sitting upright for about 5 mins. I always check to make sure the jars have a good seal.
However, I have to admit that I don’t always do this last step.
I make sure that I fill the jar until almost full. This helps to create the vacuum necessary so that your jam doesn’t spoil.
Substitutions and variations
- sweetener: most often I use organic pure cane sugar. Sugar is a natural preservative. If you will be eating your elderberry jam fairly soon, you could also use maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, or even stevia.
- making elderberry jelly: the ingredients are the same as for this elderberry jam recipe but you’re only using the elderberry juice. For that, I have been using a steam juicer. Depending on how many cups of juice you get, you might have to adjust the amount of sugar and pectin.
In this article, I am exploring the method, science, and safety of not using hot water bath processing for my jams. For 30+ years I have never used this method, and neither have my grandmother and my mom. You can also read this if you’re more interested in how to prevent and avoid botulism.
I understand that this can be a bit controversial. However, that is why I am including a number of links and studies that I used to educate myself.
Please do your own research and decide what is best for your family!
How to eat your homemade elderberry jam
Spreading it on my bread or toast is how I love to eat my elderberry jam! You could use it as a topping for your yogurt, your morning oatmeal, or ice cream. Rumor has it that I eat jam straight from the jar with a spoon … Yum!!
Let me know in the comments how you like to eat your elderberry jam!
Other posts you might like:
- 4-5 cups elderberries, picked off their stems
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 whole lemon, juiced
- 2-3 TBSP frozen apple juice concentrate or ¾ cup apple juice
- 1 TBSP pectin
- With a fork, pick elderberries off their stems. You can freeze them beforehand to make this easier.
- Place the elderberries, lemon juice, apple juice concentrate, and sugar in a medium pot and bring to a boil over medium heat until the elderberries are mostly popped.
- Add the pectin, stir well, and continue to boil for another 5 mins.
- Do a gel test: drop a bit of jam on a cold plate. If it gels, it's ready. Otherwise continue boiling it or adding a bit more pectin.
- Fill in sterilized jars, leaving about 1/4 inch to the top of the jar. Put lids on and process as desired, such as pressure canning or water bath canning.