Autumn Olive Jam and Why You Should Make It

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Autumn olive jam, made from a foraged edible wild plant

Autumn olive jam

This autumn olive jam is thick and delicious, and full of health-promoting anti-oxidants. I use the old fashioned cook down method, boiling off a lot of water. That helps prevent separation into a watery layer and a pulpy layer, which happens to autumn olive jam when you take a short cut and add pectin. Autumn olive is a great edible wild berry for jam, because it’s nice and tart. And also because the boiling process kills the seeds, preventing propagation of this invasive plant.

Native to Asia, Eleagnus umbellata goes by the common names of autumn olive and, more generously, “autumn berry”. Because it is an invasive, non-native plant, autumn olive is an ecological problem here in North America. Conservationists spend a lot of time, effort, and money poisoning it. You can help reduce the chemical warfare by eating the nutritious and delicious berries.

If you live in eastern or northwestern North America, chances are good that you have autumn olive growing right under your nose. For information on how it identify it and where to forage for it (as well as its health benefits), read this.

BUT, if you don’t have it in your area, please do not plant it. Instead, purchase frozen autumn olive berries from this company, which harvests them from the wild, for sale to you, and to restaurants. I wholeheartedly agree with their vision: “…by turning this invasive species into a useful commodity, we can transform land that is overcrowded with autumn olive trees into productive, diverse, and profitable forest farms.” Amen! Now isn’t that better than chemical control?

About autumn olive jam

  • After boiling and straining, you can put the remains in the compost without worrying about spreading the plant, because boiling the berries kills the seeds.
  • A couple of under-ripe apples are used because their high pectin content helps the jam to set. I use under-ripe McInthosh apples because they soften quickly when cooked and go through the food mill easily, and because I grow them in the backyard.
  • I used 1/2 cup sugar for every 1 cup of juice/pulp, because I like the tartness. But in the past I have used 3/4 cup sugar for every 1 cup of juice/pulp, to get a more typically sweet jam. Use whichever you prefer.

Autumn olive jam recipe

Makes a little more than four 1/2-pint jars

  • 7 and 1/2 cups ripe autumn olive berries
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 unpeeled, under-ripe apples (preferably McIntosh – see above), cored and chopped, to add a natural source of pectin
  • 1 and 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 cups sugar
  1. Simmer the berries, apples, and water in a large pot for about 15 minutes, gently mashing the berries, and stirring frequently.
  2. Put the hot mixture through a food mill to remove the seeds and apple peels, pushing through as much pulp as possible. You should have about 4 cups of juice/pulp. The pulp tends to separate into a watery layer and a red pulpy layer, as you can see in the photo.

    Autumn olive jam

    Pulp/juice after running the boiled berries through food mill. Note how it tends to separate.

  3. Add the juice/pulp to a large pot, with the sugar and lemon juice.
  4. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring frequently (constantly towards the end, to prevent scorching), until it sheets off the spoon, or reaches desired thickness. It will take 15-20 minutes. Do not use temperature to test for doneness. It gets quite thick well before the “jelling point” of 220 degrees F, and sets into a firm jam as it cools.
  5. Pour into sterilized half-pint jars, leaving appropriate head space.
  6. Cover with sterilized lids, screw on the rings, and process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
Autumn olive jam, made with an edible wild berry you can forage

Autumn olive jam

Do you have autumn olive in your area? Have you made anything with it?

Shared On: Homestead Barn Hop, Thank Goodness it’s Monday, Natural Living Monday


Autumn Olive Jam and Why You Should Make It — 46 Comments

  1. I have not heard of Autumn Olive Berries, but according to your description of them, they’d be right up my alley! I will have to see if they are something I’ve overlooked, and if so, I’d be more than happy to help stop their invasive propagation. 😉

  2. Looks yummy! I will try this with my next batch of berries. I picked some this week but just got done making fruit leather with my first batch. The good thing is that they stay in season so long that there will be plenty more opportunity to try different things! I made wild grape freezer jam last week, with nothing but wild grapes, boiled down until thickened. It came out pretty good! Thanks for all the great info and tips!

    • Hi again, I did make the jam with my last batch of autumn olives. It’s really good! My kids still prefer the fruit leather, though, but more jam for me to enjoy! Some of my favorite trees are already bare– seems earlier than last year to have totally dropped. I have another spot I haven’t been to on a few weeks, and I’m afraid they will all be gone, until next year! Hope you are finding plenty. I’m in metrowest boston, too, not too far from you.

  3. I don’t think I have ever heard of Autumn Berries, but then I live in California where they probably haven’t invaded yet. The jam looks delicious. Thanks for the information.

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  6. I attempted this recipe and it failed miserably. It looks like this recipe calls for 5 times the amount of water as other recipes on the Internet and I followed the instructions exactly.

    • I’m sorry it did not work for you, Erika. I have been making this jam with approximately the same ratio of berries to water since 2007, and it hasn’t failed yet for me. If you’d like to explain in what way it failed, I’d be happy to discuss it.

      • I also had a problem getting the jam to thicken. I cooked it for over an hour after running it through the food mill. It could be that I didn’t use a good pectin apple – I actually just used apples growing on a tree in a random parking lot. Also the apple didn’t cook as fast as the berries and wasn’t soft enough to make it through the food mill.

        • I don’t know what to say about that other than wonder if you are certain you ID’d the plant correctly and used autumn olive. There are some look alikes, namely amur honeysuckle. My experience with this jam is that it becomes quite solid very quickly. If anything it’s too solid – I would actually like it a bit softer so it’s easier to spread on bread.

          The apples should be under-ripe. I use McIntosh because I have them growing in the backyard. McIntosh do cook down to soft mush very quickly and so go through the food mill, so I wonder if that’s what makes mine work so well. I will edit the recipe to suggest under ripe McIntosh. Thanks.

  7. Yes, thank you! We have a big stand of these in Edgar Evins State Park and I’ve been looking for ways to use the berries. Not fond of them raw. Luckily a beaver family moved into our problem area and is flooding it, gnawing down the Autumn Olive and privet as he goes! I am thrilled to see a company putting an invasive exotic plant to use! I’ll have to give this recipe a try.

  8. I had no idea that they are invasive in the US. We just planted one (in Germany) because they fix nitrogen and are beneficial for the plants around them. But i guess too much of everything isn’t good. I have a wonderful book by Martin Crawford ( where he talks about his favorite plant: the autumn olive =) Isn’t it funny how the same plant can be both?

    • That was interesting – thanks. Yes, I have seen autumn olive promoted by permaculturists, even here in the US, despite its invasive nature here. Personally I think the plant has great potential as a resource, but that’s just me.

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  12. thanks for the recipe! have 2 autumn olives close to the house begging to be harvested-will try jam, maybe the fruit leather, too! blessings

  13. This is my first time ever cooking up jam or preserves.

    I, too, got a very watery batch though I followed the recipe fairly exactly. Where I think I faltered was by hand-pressing the initial mixture through a strainer as I don’t have a sieve or food mill (not enough pulp?), and then I used apples that were too ripe (not enough pectin?).

    I’m researching recipes to fix runny jam. What I’ve come up with suggests boiling water, sugar, lemon juice and powdered pectin, then adding it to the berry soup which will be brought to another hard boil and then simmer.

    Any advice you can give would be appreciated, as it’s now just sitting in a liquid state in the pot cooling off.

    • Hi Adam, yes, hand pressing through a strainer doesn’t get enough of the pulp through. I just tried that this year, and ended up putting it through the food mill anyway, because I couldn’t get enough of the pulp through the strainer. If you used just a strainer, you would end up with a much higher ratio of water to pulp, and hence a very watery jam.

      You can certainly make jam by adding pectin. It’s faster because you don’t need to cook off as much of the water. I haven’t tried making autumn olive jam with added commercial because I read that while the jam looks good initially, it tends to separate into a liquid and pulp layer over time.

      Tart, under-ripe apples are essential to my old fashioned “cook down” method because they are much higher in natural pectin than ripe apples.

    • If I were you, trying to save a runny jam on the spot, I’d just cook it more till more of the liquid boils off. I’ve never had to boil all that long to make autumn olive jam, but I’ve boiled for up to 45 minutes to make jam out of other watery fruits.

  14. Thanks for this Janet. I am going to try try making some here in CT, because we have a lot of the Autumn Olive bushes, and they’re loaded with berries. One question: Once the fruit is initially boiled in the 3 cups of water, is the water that remains from that boiling to be included with the milled pulp mixture going into the large pot? Thx!

    • Bob – Yes, as the berries boil, most will burst and release a lot of juice which will mix with the water that you added. I’ve made this recipe quite a few times with no problems, but seeing as some people are ending up with runny jam, I’d try using less water. The amount of water really isn’t critical – you just need enough in the pot so you don’t scorch the berries before they release their own juice. But if you stir and mash as you heat the berries, they will burst quickly and release enough juice to prevent scorching. So I’d start with 1 cup of water for 7-8 cups of berries. Add more if you need it, but best not to add more if you don’t need it. Hope that helps. Oh, and be sure to use under ripe apples, and use a food mill, not a strainer, to be sure you get the pulp through.

      • Thanks Janet! I’ll try the reduced water to start. We have some abandoned apple orchard trees up the street (left to grow wild), and I picked off some totally green apples off of one of the trees. I will try them out.
        Also, since the short stems came with a potion of the olive berries when plucking them off the bush, can I leave those on for the initial boiling and food milling? Or, do the berries need to totally stemless? One more – do I strain the seeds out from the mill mash? Thx!

        • Well, I try to get most of those little stems off, but usually a few berries here and there still have them. So I would say I clean them till mostly stemless.

          Yes, you need to remove the seeds – that is the reason for putting it through the food mill. You want to push as much pulp as possible through the food mill, but the seeds are relatively large and will remain in the mill and should be discarded. Some people eat the seeds, but I find them large and hard enough to be unpleasant.

  15. Just found these-again. Someone tried to introduce these to me last year, tried them, very bitter, thought they were crazy. Must have been too early in the season. Loving them this year-even found some in our yard. Not a lot of berries on them but plenty growing wild elsewhere in central Mass. Enjoying them tossed in my oatmeal. Just chew up the seeds but will experiment with the mill soon.

  16. Just made the jam! It came out wonderful. I’ve seen other recipes for autumn olive fruit – this is one is easily shared with others, especially my conservation buddies! They’ll get a kick out of it as they all know this is a plant that needs to be controlled if not eradicated. because I did half a recipe, I just used a strainer rather than a food mill and it worked very easily. Thanks!

  17. I love Autumn Olive/Russian Olives, and eat them mostly raw, but have made jam which I love. Do you know, the seeds to you have to chew them to gain the nutritional value? I’ve searched and most don’t say, and them mix on seeds, some you need to chew others, are gained whole…thank you!

  18. We’ve found the trees are bountiful some years, than sparse other years. We have enough trees on our one acre to always have enough to pick each year so we’re in good shape. I do have a question; have you noticed the tree dies easily if you prune it? We’ve removed dead limbs only to find the tree half dead the next summer. We’ve pruned in the winter, early spring, and late summer and the time of year doesn’t seem to matter. I’d love some information about this.

    • Hi Teresa, no, I’ve pruned quite a bit and have never had one die. It sounds like yours might have been dying anyway, if limbs were dying. I have pruned living limbs quite a bit, to bring to our chickens and rabbits, and this does not seem to negatively affect the shrub at all.

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