This Homemade Elderberry Jam Recipe is the perfect way to preserve the luscious taste and health benefits of the prized elderberry. Use fresh or dried elderberries to make a jam you can enjoy year round, even when the berries are out of season!
It's absolutely that time of year again when a simple visit to the playgroup, daycare, or classroom can put the whole family under the weather for a week.
And every time this happens, I chide myself for not having dosed us all up sooner with a generous helping of Elderberries, or any of these other common immune-boosting superfoods.
Hands down my favorite go-to plant for staying healthy during cold and flu season, Elderberry is a powerful little berry jam-packed with antioxidants, and well studied for its protective effects from viruses. A smart little berry indeed, Elderberry flavonoids trick flu viruses by binding to the proteins on their viral envelopes. Those nifty proteins are the ones that viruses use to bind to our cells and cause infection. Successfully duped, the viruses are thus deactivated from reproducing in the body and are then easily flushed out by our body's natural immune defenses.
Although I love Elderberry, and although my little one will readily consume anything tasting even remotely sweet, I'm not quite thrilled about pumping my child full of sugar in order to get this lovely berry to do its job. Furthermore, sugar has been shown to lower the body's immune response, so it just seems silly to give an overly sugary syrup to a sick child.
Vegetable glycerine is highly processed and refined, and can be sourced from different plants (with soy, palm, and coconut being likely contenders). It's not the best source but just something to know.
Although there are many ways to introduce herbal preparations to children, I particularly appreciate food-based herbal recipes that are also low on the glycemic index. Hence my quest for the perfect sugar-free Elderberry jam recipe.
Caution About Elderberries
1. First and foremost, Elderberries must always be heated, since in their raw form, they contain a constituent similar to cyanide. Although some sources say that fully ripe elderberries and dried elderberries are okay to consume raw, I prefer to be on the safe side and treat my berries to a nice, hot bath.
2. Ripe Elderberries are lovely to the point of being intoxicating, however they can be hard to source unless you know your plants, and are confident with your identification skills. It could be easy to pick a poisonous berry instead. No thanks. I just bought these Organic Dried Elderberries a few months ago and will be using them :)!} Luckily, Elderberries retain much of their potency when dried, and can easily be rehydrated to make a delicious jam.
1. Juice Options
Apple juice is a popular choice for making jams, and will also serve as a natural sweetener for the jam. Other good ideas are pear, mango, and grape. My juices of choice are unsweetened berry juices because they are high in antioxidants, and give the jam a deep purple color. However, unsweetened berry juices will generally result in a jam that is less sweet.
Pure blueberry juice is a great option. Use lemon or lime juice for a low-carb option.
2. Sweetener Options & Notes
A couple of low-glycemic syrups are yacon syrup (glycemic index of 5) and Brown Rice syrup (glycemic index of 25). Stevia is also a great choice since it has a glycemic index of 0, but this will also impart its own flavor to the jam. I personally don't like the taste of stevia, but most people don't seem to mind. Another great option is to sweeten your jam with a dried fruit paste, which can easily be made with dates, apricots, figs, or raisins.
The popular agave syrup has been featured in numerous reports questioning whether it is indeed a safe and healthy choice. Although it has been shown to have a low glycemic index, questions have surfaced around whether its effects on the body are actually equivalent to that of high fructose corn syrup.
Furthermore, agave nectar is produced through a highly refined chemical process in which the starch of the root is reduced to syrup; it is not actually derived from the natural sap of the plant, as the word "nectar" would have us believe. Since there are lots of other safer and more natural sweetener options, I generally steer clear of this one.
Any sweetener can be used for this, but you will almost always use the same amount of another sweetener when substituting for the date paste.
Jerusalem Artichoke Syrup is another option choice. I've read it is a pre-biotic sweetener (helps your body's gut) and has a glycemic index of only 6.
Originally this post stated that this jam could be canned for up to two years, however, since then, we have learned that elderberries are low in acid and care really needs to be taken when canning them and if you are going to can this jam, then you need to use sugar instead of the date paste. Here is how it should be done:
- For Jam: the 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 you need to use at least 18.9 ounces of sugar.
- For Jelly, the ratio of elderberry juice to sugar must be less than or equal to: 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. Adding more sugar than that is fine, but less is not.
- Lemon juice will not reduce the pH sufficiently apparently, but it is good for the end product.
- Honey cannot be used as the sugar source.
- Low-sugar or no-sugar added pectin cannot be used. (source)
I have not investigated this topic, and I think that the lemon juice could of course reduce the pH but other things could as well. However, this seems to be crucial information and regardless, the pH needs to be at a safe level (4.6 or lower) for canning.
Typically, a homemade jam that is canned can last up to two years if unopened. Once opened, it should be refrigerated and should last to about 3 months. (source) It can possibly even extend its shelf-life when refrigerated for 6 to 12 months considering that the lid is tightly closed and the jar is undamaged. (source)
- 1/2 cup dried elderberries (or 1 1/2 cups fresh)
- 3/4 cup filtered water
- 1 1/2 cups apple juice (see recipe notes for alternatives)
- 3 teaspoons sugar-free pectin
- 1/2 cup date paste (see recipe for date paste below or use 1/2 cup this low carb sweetener for lower-carb, or see notes for other alternatives)
- 1 cup dates
- 1 cup water
- If using dried elderberries, soak them in enough water to cover overnight.
- Bring berries, water, and juice to a boil.
- Remove one cup of jam mixture from heat, add pectin and date paste or syrup, and blend until smooth.
- Return blended ingredients to pot and bring to a boil once again. Reduce heat slightly and keep stirring for 10 minutes.
- Remove pot from heat and pour jam into canning jars. The sugar-free pectin will harden the jam as it cools.
- Soak dates in water overnight.
- Separate the dates from water, and place dates in blender or food processor.
- Blend on medium speed adding date water as necessary to form a thick paste. You shouldn't need more than ½ cup of the date water, and even less for a thicker paste.
- Store in fridge or freezer. Dates can be substituted with other dried fruits, however you may need to boil tougher dried fruits such as apricots and figs for 30 minutes before blending.
Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and is merely an approximation. Optional ingredients are not included and when there is an alternative, the primary ingredient is typically used. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of the nutritional information given for any recipe on this site. Erythritol carbs are not included in carb counts since they have been shown not to impact blood sugar. Net carbs are the total carbs minus fiber.
What do YOU use to boost your immune system?
Mélanie Pulla is an herbalist, mamma, radical homemaker, and entrepreneur. She has a BSc in Wellness and Alternative Medicine, holds several diplomas in herbal medicine, and is the founder and editor of Herb Geek, an online educational resource for natural healing. Mélanie is happiest when exploring the natural world, crafting herbal concoctions in her kitchen, and sharing her herbal musings with the world.