Lilac jelly is a sweet way to enjoy this fragrant springtime edible flower. Simple to make, you’ll be done start to finish in less than 30 minutes.
Gardening with kids can be tricky, especially since seeds planted today won’t be harvested for months. While my littles are still looking forward to strawberries (still a month off) and watermelons much later in the summer, there are plenty of tasty edible flowers to enjoy each spring.
Lilacs are a particular new England favorite, planted in the dooryard of just about every old New England home. You can still see them thriving around old block foundations, literally a century since the house last stood.
Ours greet us for a few weeks each spring with incredible fragrance right beside the front door, and with the windows open, the cool spring breezes perfume the whole house.
My little ones know that most of the blossoms in our garden are edible flowers, but they still always bring the blossoms to me to check before popping them into their mouths.
This time when my daughter brought me a few sprays of lilac flowers asking if she could have them for a snack. Of course, I said yes, but I also started thinking about what lilac flower recipes we hadn’t yet tried.
Unlike dandelions or violets, which are tedious to pick and clean, requiring a few hours commitment, lilac jelly comes together in just minutes. Full sprays of blossoms are quickly harvested with scissors, and it only takes a few to make a full batch of lilac jelly.
Preparing Lilacs for Jelly
After you’ve harvested a few bunches of lilacs, they need to be separated from their stems and sepals (green parts). The flowers, specifically the open blossoms, are the source of the flavor in this jelly.
They’re actually surprisingly quick to separate, and the little trumpet-shaped blooms pull out easily with gentle pressure. No need to do them individually, you can grab them by the handful and pull out the petals.
(Or, gently pluck them one at a time, as was my daughter’s preference.)
However you do it, try to avoid getting anything but the petals, and leave the green flower bases behind.
If you’re harvesting the flowers by the handful, you’ll have to go back and clean them up a bit, removing any stray green flower bases. It’s not the end of the world if a few are in the jelly, but try to minimize it, as the bright floral flavor comes from the fragrant petals alone.
If you’re carefully harvesting them just a few at a time, you won’t have to do a second pass, so perhaps the careful method has its benefits.
You’ll need about 4 cups of lilac petals for a batch of lilac jelly. That may seem like a lot, but really it’s only 5 or 6 sprays of flowers, and takes no more than 5 minutes to separate (even working slowly and carefully).
We harvested a full basket of lilac flowers in about 2 minutes, and then plucked enough for jelly in just a few minutes more. I dramatically overestimated how many flowers we’d need. When working with dandelions, you need about a gallon of blossoms to make a quart of petals once they’re separated out, which just isn’t the case with lilacs.
We still have 3/4 of a basket of flowers for other recipes (or simply to grace our table).
We just measure them right into a quart mason jar, which is convenient for the next step, since the jar is heatproof.
Once you’ve separated the petals, the next step is to make lilac tea. Here’s where the color magic happens!
When you pour boiling water over the lilac petals, the water may turn a turquoise green. That’s what you’re looking for since once lemon juice is added that’ll quickly turn bright pink.
(The pectin also contains citric acid, so you won’t have a choice, it will turn pink/purple even if you’d like to keep that neat green color.)
The same thing happens to violet jelly, and the color compounds in blueberries and blackberries have some of the same properties.
Some of our lilacs don’t give up their color, and white lilacs won’t contribute any color at all. If you still want that beautiful pink/purple color, add a few mashed blueberries or blackberries into the jar before you make the tea. They’ll contribute a deep color that will turn pink once lemon juice is added as well.
(Or don’t worry about the color, and just enjoy the flavor if you don’t mind a light brown/tan jelly that will come as a result of using white lilacs. We eat with our eyes as much as with our mouths, and I think the color really contributes to the experience, but to each his own.)
Allow the tea to infuse for about 5 to 10 minutes before straining the mixture to make the jelly.
Making Lilac Jelly
To make lilac jelly, start with the strained lilac tea in a saucepan or jam pot. You should have roughly 4 cups of lilac tea if you poured it over 4 cups of blossoms in a mason jar. Add the lemon juice and watch the color change in the pot.
This will be roughly the finished color of the jelly, so if you’d like to make any adjustments by adding berry juice, this is the time to do it. My lilacs gave good color on their own, and once the lemon juice and pectin were added the finished color was pretty close to the flowers on the bush.
Bring it up to a boil and add a box of Sure-Jell Pectin (1.75 oz), but don’t add the sugar yet. (If you’re using another type of pectin, just follow their directions for mint jelly.)
Allow the pectin/tea mixture to boil for 1 minute before adding 4 cups of sugar for standard pectin, or 1 to 4 cups of sugar for sure jell low sugar pectin. I’d suggest using low sugar pectin, as it allows you to adjust the sugar level to your taste, and you can still use as much as you would with “regular” full sugar pectin.
Stir in the sugar to dissolve and then bring the mixture back to a boil for 1 minute.
Ladle the mixture into jelly jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace and cap with 2 part lids.
Canning Lilac Jelly
At this point, you can process the jelly in a water bath canner (optional) for 10 minutes for a shelf-stable jelly.
Or, you can simply allow the jars to cool on the counter and then store them in the refrigerator (for up to a month) or the freezer (for up to 6 months). If you’re storing in the freezer, leave a bit more headspace, and be sure to use freezer-safe mason jars with straight sides.
Though canning is completely optional, a single “batch” makes around 5 half-pints, which is a good bit of a single type of jelly to eat in a month, so we usually process our jellies in a water bath canner.
(If you’re not familiar with canning, I’d suggest reading this beginner’s guide to water bath canning before getting started.)
Lilac jelly is a light floral jelly with all the flavors of spring lilacs.
- 4 cups lilac blossoms
- 4 cups water
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 to 4 cups sugar *see note
- 1 box (1.75 oz) pectin (Regular or Low Sugar)
- Separate 4 cups of lilac blossoms from their stems, carefully removing any green parts.
- Pour 4 cups boiling water over the top of the lilac blossoms and allow the tea to infuse for about 10 minutes. It should be a turquoise color (which will change to pink when lemon juice is added). If it's not, you can add a few mashed blueberries of blackberries at this step for color, but that's optional.)
- Strain the lilac tea into a saucepan or jam pot. Add the lemon juice, which will adjust color, but it's also required to balance the sugar in the recipe and help the pectin set, so don't skip the lemon!
- Bring the mixture to a boil and add the powdered pectin, stirring to dissolve. Allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute before adding sugar. (Note: Do not add the sugar at the same time as the pectin, or before the pectin, or the jell will not set.)
- Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve (See notes on quantity). Bring the mixture back to a full boil for 1 minute before ladling into jelly jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
- If canning, process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. Otherwise, allow the jars to cool completely on the counter before storing in the refrigerator (for up to a month) or the freezer for up to 6 months.
A note on sugar...
If using standard pectin, you must use a 1:1 ratio of liquid to sugar. That means for 4 cups lilac tea you'd need a minimum of 4 cups sugar to get the jelly to set. That results in a very sweet "old-fashioned" jelly. To reduce the sugar, simply use low sugar pectin instead and then make the jelly as instructed but using less sugar. I suggest sure jel low sugar, which is very dependable.
Lowering sugar will also lower yield, and the yield of 5 half-pints is for a full sugar recipe.
If using Pomona's universal pectin, the instructions are different as that is a 2 part low sugar pectin. Follow the instructions provided in the Pomona's box for mint jelly.
Edible Flower Recipes
Looking for more ways to enjoy edible flowers?
- Dandelion Capers
- Dandelion and Honey Ice Cream
- How to Eat a Rose (Rose Recipes)
- How to Eat a Peony (Peony Recipes)
Spring Jelly Recipes
Try your hand at more than just lilac jelly this season!