Preserving the Herbal Harvest with Herb Jellies

Preserving the Herbal Harvest with Herb Jellies

This piece was developed and written by Kathleen Gips and appears in The Pleasure of Herbs: A Month-by-Month Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying Herbs by Phyllis Shaudys (©1986 by Storey Communications, Inc.; published by Garden Way Publishing).

Herb jellies capture the essence of fresh herbs in a delicate base of fruit juice or an herbal infusion. The glittering, colorful jars of sweet herb condiments appeal to the sight as well as to the taste, and can be enjoyed for long after the herb garden is dormant.

The endless combinations of herbs and spices with fruit juices are a challenge to the herbalist’s imagination. Traditional uses for tangy tarragon with poultry or fish, rich rosemary with roast meats, and green mint with lamb are commonly known and used. But those who enjoy the herbal flavors will seek new taste experiences such as rich basil on hamburger, rosy rose geranium with peanut butter sandwiches, delicate orange rosemary on muffins, fennel jelly with grilled fish, sherry rosemary with cream cheese and crackers, or even lemon verbena jelly on a sundae!

General Directions

Fruit juice jelly when made with apple juice will have enough natural pectin from the apples to gel without the addition of commercial pectin. When water or other fruit juices are used as a base for the infusion, however, commercial pectin (either powdered or liquid) must be added to obtain proper consistency. Liquid and powdered pectin are not interchangeable in recipes, however.

Although fresh are preferable, dried herbs or seeds may be used. A general rule is 1 cup fresh, 1/2 cup dried, or 1/4 cup seeds. More or less may be used according to taste. The herbs should be gathered in the early morning after the dew has dried from the leaves, but before the hot sun has evaporated the essential oils from the foliage. Wash the herbs by swishing in a basin of cool water, being careful not to bruise the leaves. The herbs for the infusion may be chopped and put in a cheesecloth bag, or the stems tied in a bunch, or, as I prefer, chopped and put into the liquid, then strained before using. Bruise
the leaves with a wooden spoon or a potato masher when the herbs are infusing into the juice or water. This, along with the heat, will increase the release of the essential oils into the liquid. If desired, 1/4 cup of fresh chopped herbs-not those used for the infusion-can be added to the jelly batch before it is poured into the jars. To prevent floating herbs, stir the jelly for 5 minutes before ladling into jars.

A fresh sprig of herbs should be added to each hot jar before the jelly is poured into it, to add flavor and eye appeal. Jelly jars and lids should be sterilized in either boiling water or in the hot cycle of the dishwasher. Screw-top canning jars are preferable to paraffin seals, since new information indicates that the mold which sometimes forms when paraffin is used can be harmful. The jars and lids should be boiling hot when filled and capped. To do this, run the jars through the hot cycle of the dishwasher and leave closed until the jelly is ready. Or keep the jars hot, after boiling, by placing upright on a cookie sheet in a 250° oven. Boil the lids for at least 5 minutes, and leave them in the hot water while making the jelly. Fill the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace to allow room for a vacuum and, therefore, a proper seal. Turn the lidded jars over, after filling with jelly, to coat the lids. place them upright on a folded towel for about 8 hours, until set. Jelly will thicken as it cools.

Measurements must be accurate when using jelly recipes. Too little sugar will cause the jelly to be thick and rubbery; too much sugar will cause it to be thin and watery without a proper “set.” It is important to remember not to exchange the liquid and powdered pectins called for in the recipes; for success you must use the form listed. A large enamel or stainless steel pot should be used when making jelly for correct heating of the sugar mixture and to allow room for the rolling boil. A few drops of vegetable food coloring can be added to the mixture before boiling, if desired, to enhance the color of
the jelly. Choose from the colors red, yellow, or green, but use sparingly – just a few drops are needed. Vinegar can be substituted for all or part of the lemon juice when it is desirable for the jelly to have a tangy, sweet flavor. Use this variation for meat accompaniments with herbs, such as tarragon or fennel. One half teaspoon butter or margarine in the boiling jelly will prevent or decrease foaming, thus eliminating or lessening the skimming process.

Basic Herb Jelly Recipes

First select the recipe you will follow, choosing either apple juice, powdered pectin, or liquid pectin. Assemble the ingredients including the herb and fruit juice or herbal infusion combination that you have chosen from the chart that follows, or from your own imagination. Have on hand sterilized tongs and very clean oven mitts or hot-dish-pads for handling the very hot jars and lids. Make your herbal infusion following the directions below, and then proceed with jelly recipe instructions.

To make an herbal infusion:

In a covered saucepan, combine fruit juice or water with the herbs. Heat to the boiling point, but do not boil. Remove from heat and let steep, covered, for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid through a coffee filter paper or jelly bag, squeezing the herbs left in the paper or bag to include all the flavor. Discard herbs. This is the herb jelly liquid base.


Herb and Fruit Juice Combinations

BASIL (opal)/basil infusion (this will be a lovely rose color without food coloring)

BASIL (sweet)/basil infusion (add 2 T. cloves to infusion for spicy flavor; strain)

CINNAMON/cherry juice (make infusion with 1/4 cup crushed cinnamon; strain)

CLOVE/tangerine juice (make infusion with 1/4 cup crushed cloves; strain)

FENNEL/fennel infusion (add vinegar for all or part of the lemon juice, if desired)

LEMON BALM/red grape juice

LEMON THYME/white grape juice


MARJORAM/grapefruit juice

MINT/mint infusion or apple juice

PARSLEY/parsley infusion or dry white wine (add fresh chopped herbs to the finished jelly)

ROSEMARY/orange juice or sherry

SAGE/cider or apple juice

SAVORY/cranberry juice

SCENTED GERANIUM/apple juice or scented geranium infusion

TARRAGON/white wine or tarragon infusion (use vinegar instead of lemon juice)

THYME/purple grape juice


Recipe Using Powdered Pectin

  • 3 cups fruit juice or water
  • 1 cup fresh herb
  • 1 T. fresh or frozen lemon juice or vinegar
  • 1 package powdered pectin (1 3/4 oz.)
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 t. butter or margarine
  • 1 fresh herb sprig for each jar
  • 3 or 4 drops food coloring (optional)

Mix the prepared herb infusion with the lemon juice or vinegar, food coloring, pectin and butter. Mix well. Put over highest heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a full rolling boil. Mix in sugar. Continue stirring, return to full boil and boil hard for exactly 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir and skim off foam with metal spoon. Immediately pour into hot, sterilized jars with herb sprigs in the bottom. Seal.

Yields approximately 40 oz.


Recipe Using Liquid Pectin

  • 2 cups juice (bottled or canned), white wine or water infused with
  • 1 cup herb (or proportion of spices suggested above)
  • 3 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 pouch liquid pectin
  • 1/4 teaspoon butter or margarine (optional)
  • 1 fresh herb sprig per jar
  • food coloring (optional)

To the prepared herb infusion add the lemon juice, food coloring, sugar and butter. Mix well. Over highest heat, stirring constantly, bring mixture to a full rolling boil. Mix in pectin all at once, and return to full rolling boil. Stir constantly and boil hard exactly 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir and skim off foam with metal spoon. Add herb sprigs to hot sterile jars. Pour and seal immediately with hot caps.

Yields approximately 48 0z.


Recipe Using Apple Juice

  • 4 cups apple juice
  • 1 cup herb leaves
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 t. butter or margarine
  • 1 herb sprig for each jar used
  • Few drops food coloring

Stirring constantly, bring infusion of apple juice and herbs to a rapid rolling boil; boil hard for 5 minutes. Add sugar, butter, and food coloring. Stirring constantly, boil about 10 minutes until reaching 222° on a candy thermometer, or until jelly stage is reached. Test by placing a spoonful on a dish that has been chilled in the freezer. It should harden to jelly in a few minutes. Remove from heat, skim, and fill jars with herb sprigs in the bottom. Cap and seal.

Yields approximately 28 oz.


Herbal Jelly Flavor Combinations

Being a cooler month, October is an excellent time to make herb jellies- especially since apple season is upon us. For treats for you family and friends all winter long, spend a day or two making a variety of herb jellies. Here are some ideas for jelly flavors and colors, and what to use them with:

Mint Jelly. Spearmint; dark green. Nice in pear or peach halves to accompany ham, lamb, or pork.

Thyme Jelly. Light green. Use a sprig-wonderful with beef or fish meals.

Rose Geranium Jelly. Slightly pink. Lovely with cream cheese on hot biscuits; divine on angel food or pound cake with whipped cream frosting!

Orange Mint Jelly. Yellow and red. Orange mint leaves and fresh or dried orange peel; marvelous with Chinese foods or baked chicken.

Lemon Balm Jelly. Yellow. Exquisite with fish and poultry.

Sage Jelly. Slightly yellow. Delicious with Turkey, chicken, or pork.

Basil Jelly. Dark orange. Excellent on hot rolls with any meal.

Rosemary Jelly. Leave natural amber color. Use a sprig. Perfect with beef.

First, make apple jelly according to the directions. Then, add food coloring (as suggested for each combination) after skimming off the foam from the boiling jelly. Finally, pour into the hot, sterile jars which contain 2 or 3 leaves of the suggested herbs, according to your taste.

If you try several different flavors and hues, it will be difficult to hide the results away in a cupboard! The rainbow of your garden creations will be mouth-watering just to look at.

This piece was developed and written by Kathleen Gips and appears in The Pleasure of Herbs: A Month-by-Month Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying Herbs by Phyllis Shaudys (©1986 by Storey Communications, Inc.; published by Garden Way Publishing).

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