Imagine if there was a plant that grew well in both wet and dry soil and thrived in both full sun and partial shade. Now imagine that this versatile shrub produced thick habitat for small animals, a beautiful white spring flower attracting bees and other pollinators, and seasonal red leaves in the fall. And what if somewhere between those white flowers and beautiful autumn colors, its branches drooped from the weight of berries that were not only an excellent source of food for birds, bears, and rabbits but were also considered a superfood offering high-antioxidant benefits for humans?

That all sounds too good to be true, but this super shrub is real, and the benefits don’t stop there.

Chokeberry fruit

Black chokeberry, or Aronia melanocarpa for the plant nerds, is an adaptable shrub native to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Its pollinator-attracting abilities and tolerance for wet soil make it a popular choice for rain gardens. Like most native plants, the black chokeberry requires very little maintenance, which makes it even more impressive that its berries are known to contain higher levels of antioxidants than any other berry! The only problem is that even when ripe, the dark purple fruit from the chokeberry packs a bitter punch that makes our sour candy-loving eight-year-old daughter pucker up! But have no fear; you can get all the health benefits and none of the astringency by turning the berries into a range of delicious foods, such as smoothies, muffins, syrups, and, the topic of today’s story, homemade jelly!

Freshly jarred black chokeberry jelly

On a mid-July morning walk around the backyard, I noticed that our chokeberry shrubs were nearly hanging to the ground from the weight of hundreds of beautiful dark purple berries. A few hours later, I glanced up from the computer to see our daughter standing there with a mason jar full of berries and a smile stretching from ear to ear. She spent the first half of her summer racing out to the raspberry bushes every morning, but the raspberries were long gone, and I guess she was missing this important part of her routine. So I grabbed the camera and headed to the kitchen. It was time to make some jelly!

What you need:
4 cups of black chokeberries
2 tbsp pectin
1.5 cups of honey
1/2 c of lemon juice
Large pot
Medium sauce pan
Fine metal strainer
Small bowl

Step 1: Get busy picking

Harvesting chokeberries

It’s worth noting that we were a little overzealous with our mid-July berry harvest. Most chokeberries are ripe and ready for harvest in late August or early September; however, our July jelly turned out just fine. In fact, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Look for berries that have lost all of their red hues and turned to a very dark purple. Once picked, be sure to rinse your berries with water!

Collected chokeberries, ready for rinsing.

Step 2: Boil your chokeberries

Chokeberries simmering in our pot

Place 4 cups of fresh berries in a large pot and cover with water. Turn your burner on high and bring the water to a boil for 30 minutes or until soft.

Step 3: Muddle, muddle, and muddle some more

Muddling the chokeberries after boiling them

Grab the strainer and sauce pan. Place the strainer over the sauce pan and pour the berries and any leftover water into the strainer. Now grab that muddler and get to work slowly pushing the softened berries through the strainer. Keep doing this until you have nothing but a fine berry pulp left in the strainer. The material that made its way into the sauce pan should be a thick burgundy paste. Don’t be shy about giving it a taste at this stage! I liken it to pomegranate juice.

Step 4: Home stretch

Add your honey and pectin to your chokeberries.

Add 1.5 cups of honey and 2tbsp of pectin to the chokeberry paste in the sauce pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Allow your jelly to cool before carefully pouring it into a food-safe jar.

Step 5: Enjoy

There’s nothing quite like enjoying a homemade treat that you watched grow and worked hard to create at home. Homemade chokeberry jelly packs a healthy punch in a delicious package. Whether you spread it on bread or eat it right out of the jar, if your house is anything like ours, it will go quickly regardless of how you decide to enjoy it.

So there you have it! You CAN have a beautiful native plant that helps clean our water, provides pollinator and wildlife habitat, and makes for a delicious snack!