Elderberries have a very short season, and they barely have time to ripen before they’re gobbled up and carried away by the birds. If you have a keen eye and watch closely, elderberry bushes produce huge harvests of medicinal berries each year. Those berries make a quick and easy elderberry jelly that preserves their goodness all year long.
We often preserve them as elderberry oxymel, which is a honey-based probiotic cough syrup for winter colds. Elderberry mead is another one of our favorites. Both of those aren’t the best for young children, so this year I made a special batch of elderberry jelly for my jam loving babies.
Though I made it for the little ones, elderberry jam is now one of my very favorites. It tastes like a cross between blueberry and blackcurrant jam, with the sweet berry notes of blueberry, and them something a bit deeper and earthier like black currant.
The hardest part about making elderberry jelly is stemming and juicing the elderberries. If you pop the bundles of elderberries in the freezer for a few hours, the frozen berries fall from the stems with a quick comb of the fingers. Since the berries are frozen, they won’t mash as easily and you’ll be less likely to stain your hands purple. This is optional though, and you can simply comb the berries from their stems while fresh.
Once the berries are stemmed, they need a quick simmer to extract the juice. this year I juiced the elderberries in my instant pot because I could set it and forget it. Add 2-3 pounds of stemmed berries to the instant pot, along with 1 cup of water, and cook on high pressure for 30 minutes. You can also juice elderberries on the stovetop.
Either way, now you have juice mixed with pulp and seeds. At this point, the quickest way to extract the finished juice is with a jelly strainer stand and jelly bag. Pour the mixture in, suspended over a bowl and allow the elderberry juice to strain overnight. A jelly bag is efficient and will result in a very clean jelly, but it requires patience.
For the impatient, try using a fine mesh strainer and a spatula. Press the berries into the strainer screen and stir them around until all the juice and pulp goes through but the seeds remain.
When you use a fine mesh strainer instead of a jelly bag, the result is more of an elderberry jam than a jelly. Much of the elderberry pulp ends up in the juice, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
At this point, all you need to do is simmer the juice with a bit of sugar, add pectin and can it up!
Elderberry jelly, like most jams and jellies, needs a headspace of 1/4 inch. That means you’ll be filling the jars very near the top before capping with two-part canning lids and processing in a water bath canner for 5 minutes.
For sweetener, you have a few choices. A honey-sweetened elderberry jelly makes sense from a medicinal perspective, but cooking the honey kills most of the benefits. Still, honey is a tasty choice which will add a lot of flavor to your jelly.
White sugar or maple syrup also works as a sweetener. For the cleanest flavor, go with white sugar because any other sweetener will add its own flavor to the finished jelly.
I generally use Pomona’s Pectin because it works with any sweetener, and it’s flexible for low sugar recipes. While most pectin types require high sugar levels to activate gelling, Pomona’s is activated by the addition of calcium water that comes with the pectin powder. It’s all natural and citrus based, so that’s a plus too.
The thing I don’t like about Pomona’s pectin is that the recipes included tend to make a rock-solid jelly that you have to chip out of the jar. I like a looser, spreadable jelly. I want it to still hold together on the spoon, but I don’t want to be able to cut it with a knife like jello.
The “make your own recipe” instruction has you add 4 teaspoons of pectin to every 4 cups of juice, which is way too much in my opinion. I’ve ruined a few batches of grape jelly following that instruction. I cut that in half and it makes the perfect jelly.
Elderberry Jelly Recipe for Canning
This elderberry jelly recipe goes from juice to canned in no time.
- 4 cups elderberry juice (from 2-3 pounds elderberries)
- 2 cups sugar, honey or maple
- 2 tsp Pomona's Pectin Powder
- 2 tsp Calcium Water Included with Pomona's Pectin
Juice the elderberries by simmering them with a bit of water and straining them overnight through a jelly bag. It takes roughly 2 pounds of stemmed elderberries to make 4 cups of juice. You can also add a bit of water or other fruit juice to reach 4 cups.
Add 4 cups of elderberry juice to a pot and bring it to a boil along with half the sugar. Add the calcium water included with the Pomona's pectin and Simmer for a few minutes.
Mix the pectin powder into the remaining sugar, honey or maple syrup. If you add the pectin directly to the juice it will clump, so this is an important step.
Add the pectin and sugar mixture into the simmering juice and simmer for another 2-3 minutes.
Pour the jelly into prepared canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in a water bath canner for 5 minutes.
Recipe yields 4 half pint jars.