A variety of gorgeous blooms and berries not only catch the eye but also offer a delightful taste. Personally, I take great pleasure in gathering elderberries, the delicate blooms of common blue violets, the vibrant blossoms of redbud trees, and the autumn olive berries.
Fortunately, these treasures are within easy reach of my home. They thrive abundantly in various parts of North America, making it possible to harvest them responsibly without depleting their populations.
One of the most enjoyable methods I’ve found to preserve their exquisite beauty and delicious flavors for the winter months is by crafting homemade jelly. If you’re eager to embark on your own journey of creating these vibrant wild preserves, it’s essential to begin with a solid understanding of proper identification and the edible parts of these plants.
If you ever find yourself in doubt, don’t hesitate to acquire a trustworthy field guide or seek the guidance of an experienced foraging companion. Exploring the world of foraging can be a delightful adventure, but it’s crucial to ensure your safety and the sustainability of these natural wonders.
Wild jelly suggestions:
Elderberries, scientifically known as Sambucus canadensis, are perennial shrubs that can reach heights of up to 15 feet. These deciduous bushes start the season with clusters of fragrant white florets in late spring, which eventually transform into green berries. As we move into mid-to-late summer, these berries mature into a deep purple hue. Elderberries are renowned for their immune-boosting properties.
These berries thrive in moisture-rich soil, so you can spot them near waterways, often forming thickets. If you prefer, you can also cultivate these shrubs in your own garden. However, when foraging in the wild, exercise caution to avoid confusing elderberries with potentially toxic look-alikes, such as pokeweed.
When it comes time to harvest the ripe, dark berries, the simplest method is to snip the branches and store them in the freezer until frozen solid. Once frozen, gently tap the branches over the edge of a bowl, allowing the berries to fall neatly into the container. You have the option to refreeze the berries for later use or process them immediately to create delectable jelly.
To prepare the juice needed for jelly-making, you have a few options. You can use a manual or steam juicer, or even an Instant Pot. For a steam juicer, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which typically involve placing water in the bottom container and berries in the top. Alternatively, you can make juice by combining 1 quart of berries with 1 cup of water in a stockpot. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
After turning off the heat, allow the mixture to sit for an hour, then blend it into a purée and strain it through a jelly bag or mesh cloth. In the case of an Instant Pot, add 1 quart of berries and 2 cups of water, then process using the pressure setting for 10 minutes. Allow it to depressurize naturally, remove the mixture, and blend it with an immersion blender or masher. Remove any solids by straining the mixture through cheesecloth. If necessary, add water to reach a total of 5 1⁄2 cups of juice. You can freeze this juice for future use or proceed to make jelly, following the instructions provided at the end of this article. Elderberry jelly is characterized by its rich, deep-purple color and intense flavor.
Wild violets, scientifically referred to as Viola sororia, grace us with their delicate bluish-purple blooms in early spring and sporadically throughout the summer. Among the 100-plus varieties of violets that are edible, I’ve found the common blue violet to be the most delectable.
Historically, violets have been valued for their medicinal properties, with both the flowers and tender, young leaves recognized for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and blood-cleansing qualities.
These perennial plants, which hug the ground, can be discovered flourishing in the wild along streams, in wooded areas, and even in sunny spots—perhaps even in your own lawn.
To gather them, simply pluck the flowers when they are in full bloom. You’ll need a minimum of 2 cups of these blossoms for a single batch of jelly, and there’s no need to remove the stems. Place the freshly harvested blooms into a preheated quart or half-gallon glass jar, and pour in 4 cups of boiling water. Seal the jar with a lid and allow the mixture to steep for 30 minutes.
Afterward, strain out the solid matter and measure the liquid. Add sufficient water to make it a total of 6 cups. If you’re ready to create violet jelly, follow the instructions under “Basic Jelly How-To” on Page 18. The resulting jelly will possess a delicate sweet taste and display a light pinkish-purple hue.
These same steps can also be applied to craft jelly from other blossoms, including elderflowers, dandelions, and rose petals.
The Eastern redbud’s blossoms boast an exceptionally high concentration of vitamin C, making them a valuable source of this immune-boosting nutrient. These blossoms showcase a lovely pinkish-rose hue and bear a resemblance to pea blossoms.
For those looking to harvest redbud blossoms, early spring is the ideal time. As the tree typically has a shrubby growth, you can often gather them without needing any specialized equipment. When these blossoms are in full bloom, you can collect them by either plucking handfuls into a basket positioned under the branches or gently running your hands down the branches to gather them.
Much like the process for preparing liquid for violet jelly, you’ll want to gather a minimum of 2 cups of redbud blossoms. Place these delicate blooms into a preheated quart or half-gallon glass jar, and pour in 4 cups of boiling water. Seal the jar with a lid and allow the mixture to steep for 30 minutes.
Afterward, strain out any solid materials, measure the liquid, and add enough water to reach a total of 6 cups. Now, you can follow the instructions provided at the end of this article to create your own redbud jelly. This delightful jelly has an amber hue and boasts a sweet, fruity flavor.
These substantial deciduous shrubs have the potential to reach a towering height of 20 feet. They are often considered invasive in many regions, and it’s safe to say they aren’t disappearing anytime soon. Elaeagnus umbellata, commonly known as autumn olive, is prolific in providing sustenance for both humans and wildlife. The drupes, characterized by their red hue adorned with tiny speckles, are notably rich in vitamins.
Autumn olive drupes form in clusters and can be conveniently gathered by gently running your hand down the branches. However, do be cautious of thorns while harvesting. While these drupes can be picked anytime after they turn red, their sweetness is enhanced after the first frost, making them an excellent substitute for cranberries in various culinary applications.
Once you’ve collected your harvest, take a moment to remove any leaves or branches from the fruit. Don’t worry too much about a few tiny stems; they won’t pose a problem. If you’re unable to process them immediately, rest assured that the drupes can be stored in the refrigerator for several days or frozen to preserve their freshness.
To prepare the juice required for making autumn olive jelly, you have a few methods at your disposal. You can utilize a steam or manual juicer, or simply process the drupes in your Instant Pot. Start by adding 1 quart of drupes and 2 cups of water, then set your Instant Pot to the pressure setting for 10 minutes. Afterward, strain out any solid components. If needed, add water to reach a total of 5 1⁄2 cups. The resulting juice can be refrigerated for several days or frozen until you’re ready to craft your jelly.
When you decide to embark on your jelly-making journey, follow the instructions below. Autumn olive jelly boasts a vibrant red color and offers a delightful tart-sweet flavor reminiscent of cranberries.
Lonicera japonica, more commonly known as honeysuckle, is a versatile and fragrant vine that adds charm to gardens and landscapes. These climbing vines can reach impressive heights and are prized for their sweet-scented flowers, which attract hummingbirds and pollinators.
Honeysuckle is considered invasive in some regions due to its vigorous growth. However, its persistence has made it a valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies. The blossoms are often used to make herbal teas, infusions, and syrups for their pleasant flavor and potential health benefits.
To harvest honeysuckle blossoms, it’s best to gather them when they are in full bloom. You can easily pluck the flowers by hand, being careful not to damage the vine. Many honeysuckle varieties produce tubular, trumpet-shaped flowers that are typically white or yellow, although some may be orange or pink.
After collecting your honeysuckle blossoms, it’s a good practice to remove any leaves or stems. A few small stems are not a cause for concern. If you can’t process them right away, you can store the blossoms in the refrigerator for several days or freeze them for future use.
To prepare honeysuckle syrup or jelly, you’ll first need to extract the juice. You can do this with a steam or manual juicer, or by using an Instant Pot. Begin by adding 1 quart of honeysuckle blossoms and 2 cups of water to your chosen juicing method.
Process the mixture for about 10 minutes in your Instant Pot, then strain out any solid particles. If necessary, add water to reach a total of 5 1⁄2 cups of juice. You can refrigerate this juice for several days or freeze it until you’re ready to make your honeysuckle jelly or syrup.
When you’re prepared to transform this fragrant juice into jelly or syrup, follow the instructions below. Honeysuckle jelly or syrup carries a delightful floral aroma and a sweet, honey-like flavor that captures the essence of these charming vines.
Wood sorrel, scientifically known as Oxalis acetosella, is a delicate and enchanting plant often found in woodland settings. This perennial herb features trifoliate leaves that resemble clover and delicate, heart-shaped white or pale pink flowers. Wood sorrel has a lemony, tangy flavor and is a delightful addition to salads and other culinary creations.
While wood sorrel is not invasive, it’s important to be mindful of its habitat and forage responsibly. These charming plants are well-loved for their refreshing taste and can be enjoyed in moderation.
To harvest wood sorrel, seek it out in shaded forested areas, where it often carpets the ground. The leaves and flowers can be collected when they are young and tender, typically in the spring and early summer when they are at their peak flavor. Simply pinch or snip the leaves and flowers from the plant, leaving the roots undisturbed to allow for future growth.
After gathering wood sorrel, it’s a good practice to rinse it thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris. Once cleaned, you can use it fresh in salads, sandwiches, or as a garnish for various dishes. Its tangy, citrus-like flavor adds a unique twist to culinary creations.
Wood sorrel is a delightful addition to your foraging repertoire, offering a burst of fresh, lemony flavor to your meals. Just remember to harvest it responsibly and in harmony with its natural habitat to ensure its continued presence in the wild. To make wild jelly, follow the instructions below.
Other wild plants that produce delicious jelly include dandelions, wild roses, elderflowers, and wild plums. (Never harvest plants where they may have been sprayed, such as along roadways and power lines.) This is a wonderful way to add food to your pantry from nature’s bounty. So, get out there and pick some wild jelly.
Basic “How To”
If you’ve ventured into foraging and want to convert your bountiful harvest into delightful homemade jelly, follow these steps. You can also opt to freeze your filled jars for convenient storage for up to a year. Keep in mind, that it’s best not to double the recipe, and be aware that processing times may vary depending on your elevation.
- 3 1⁄2 cups of granulated sugar (divided)
- 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 1 package of pectin (1.75 ounces)
- Your flower-infused liquid or berry juice, already processed and measured as mentioned earlier
Yield: This recipe will yield either 8 half-pint jars or 4-pint jars of delicious jelly.
Begin by preparing your jelly jars and rings. You can either sterilize them, which will shorten the processing time, or wash them thoroughly in hot, soapy water, followed by a good rinse. Keep your jars and lids in a large stockpot, covering them with hot water to keep them warm until you’re ready to fill them.
Next, combine 1⁄4 cup of sugar, lemon juice, and the contents of the pectin package in a mixing bowl. In a 4-to-6-quart stockpot, add this sugar-pectin mixture to your infused liquid or juice. Stir everything together until well blended.
Heat the mixture over high heat, stirring continuously, until it reaches a boil. Once boiling, add the remaining sugar and bring it back to a rolling boil. Allow it to boil vigorously for 1 minute while continuing to stir diligently. Then, remove it from the heat.
Carefully take out the jars and place them on a towel-covered workspace. Ladle the hot jelly into each jar, leaving about 1⁄4 inch of space at the top. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, dry cloth, ensuring they’re free of any residue. Seal the jars with lids and finger-tighten the canning rings.
In the bottom of a water bath canner, set up a canning rack, a folded dishcloth, or a silicone mat. Add hot water to nearly reach the height of the jars. Gently place your filled jars into the canner, and pour in more hot water until the jars are covered by about 2 inches. With the canner lid on, bring the water to a gentle boil over medium-high heat.
Process your pre-sterilized jars for 5 minutes or unsterilized jars for 12 minutes in the boiling water bath canner.
After processing, remove the canner from the heat and carefully lift the jars out using a jar lifter. Place them on folded towels on your countertop. Allow them to sit undisturbed for at least 8 hours. Check the seals, remove the rings, label your jars, and store them in a cool, dark place for up to a year.
Now, you’re all set to enjoy your homemade jelly crafted from your foraged treasures.
Useful resources to check out: