Making Safe Elderberry Syrup, Jam and Jelly
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Its summer and berry season. Most of our berries are safe to preserve as jams, jellies, syrups or just alone, but recent research on Elderberries has shown that they are a risk due to varieties being low in acid. A low acid food is a risk for botulism and currently, the recent variety tests have indicated that the average pH of the fruit was 4.92 which is higher than the safe pH level of 4.6. This means that elderberries are low in acid and cannot be safely canned into syrups or other jam and jelly berry recipes.
There is one exception if you are able to carefully weigh ingredients and follow these special precautions, you can preserve elderberry jam or jelly. (University of Wisconsin-Maison-Elderberry)
- For Jam, the weight ratio of elderberry pulp to sugar must be no more than: weight of fruit/ weight of sugar = 47/55 = 0.85. For every 16 ounces (1 pound) of fruit pulp for Jam, your recipe must include at least 18.9 ounces, by weight, of sugar. It is not acceptable to use dry measure cups or assume that a 1-cup measure of fruit or sugar weighs 8-ounces, it will not. You must weigh ingredients.
- For Jelly, the weight ratio of elderberry juice to sugar must be no more than: weight of fruit juice/ weight of sugar = 45/55 = 0.82. For every 16 ounces (1 pound) of fruit juice for Jelly, your recipe must include at least 19.5 ounces, by weight, of sugar. A lower ratio is acceptable; this means that you are adding more than the minimum amount of sugar and that is great for safety.
- Lemon juice added in some jam and jelly recipes is to help pectin form a gel; it can not be relied on to provide a pH low enough to prevent botulism but is essential for a quality product. Besides fruit/juice and sugar, add lemon juice and pectin if you are making elderberry jam or jelly.
- Do not use honey as a sugar source.
- Do not use low-sugar or no-sugar added pectin or vary these weight proportions of fruit/juice to sugar, an unsafe product may result.
Our traditional recipes for jam, jelly and syrups were developed before this current research on the acid levels and are no longer recommended as safe preservation methods. You can try this Elderberry Syrup recipe from the University of Vermont. You will need to store in refrigerator since it cannot be safely canned.
There are many variations for elderberry syrup that can be easily found on the internet or in herbal recipe books. The basic foundation of all elderberry syrup recipes are elderberries (fresh, frozen or dried) and enough water to cover the berries, cooked down, and strained. This recipe adds ginger and cinnamon as optional warming ingredients and flavoring. Other herbs such as Echinacea, Lime, Spilanthes, or Elderflower can be added depending on your tastes and intent.
Ingredients for a Basic Syrup:
- 2 cups elderberries (either dried or fresh are usable)
- 5cups water
- 2 Tbsp grated ginger (optional)
- 1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
- Simmer berries in water for1/2 hour or so
- Mash the berries a little with a potato masher or something similar
- Strain the liquid off of the cooked berries using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth to separate out the seeds. Compost or discard the seeds.
- Add 1/3 – 1/2 cup honey (depending on your sweet tooth) to the liquid while syrup is warm.
- Pour into container(s)
- Keep containers in the refrigerator to preserve.
(Created by Suzy Hodgson, UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture)