These bright berries are often the first tree berry to show themselves in early autumn or late summer. The Rowan Tree – or Mountain Ash (Sorbus) is a hardy, deciduous one, thriving in northern climes.  

There is much folklore and mysticism, surrounding Rowans and according to my mother - who is very practical and not mystical at all - every garden should have a rowan tree for good luck. 

Always cook rowan berries, as raw ones can be toxic – though they taste so bitter I can’t imagine you’d want to.  

Always NEVER over pick from one tree or one area. Although the Rowan is a small tree – many of the berries are high, so luckily we can never ‘over pick’ from one tree, and I always make sure there are plenty left for the birds. 



This recipe depends on the number of berries you pick, you can make it with any amount of berries, after boiling and draining them just measure the liquid you get to determine how much sugar to add. 



  • Rowan berries - depends on how many you pick.  see below for how to adapt recipe.  
  •  - 1 large basket is about 3.5kg & makes about 15 jars.
  • Water (needs about 4 litres for 3.5kg berries)
  • Sugar – granulated or castor. (needs about 3kg for 3.5kg of berries)
  • Sterilized jam jars & lids. (see below)
  • Jam pan – or other large pan.
  • Jam thermomter – if possible, but not necessary, just do the ‘saucer test’ (see below)
  • Wooden spoon, sieve and muslin. 

rowans b

Picture shows berries with leaves & large woody stems removed.


Cooking & draining the berries:

  1. Add cold water to half way up the berries and bring to the boil.  Let it simmer away as you stir & crush the berries with a wooden spoon to the side of the pan, so it becomes a soft mush of berries, if it looks too dry add more water.   
  2. After about 20 minutes or when the berries are all soft & cooked, drain them. 
  3. I use a normal sieve lined with muslin – though you can buy jelly bags (which are never big enough) or you can create your own ‘jelly bag’ - a piece of muslin on a tripod. 
  4. If you want very clear jelly then just leave it to slowly drip through, but as this is rarely my priority I pushed it through with the back of a metal spoon to get every last drop of rowan out - OR leave a weighted plate on top.


Adding the Sugar:

  1. Measure your liquid and pour it back into a clean pan.  
  2. Rule of thumb is: for every 1 litre of liquid add about 800 grams of sugar – you can add more for taste - though bear in mind that rowan jelly has a naturally bitter almost acrid tang that is very different from redcurrant jelly or crab-apple jelly. 
  3. Bring this to the boil – a rolling boil for about 10 minutes so it reaches setting point of 106C.  
  4. You can skim off the scum - though not neccessary.
  5. If you don’t have a jam thermometer then do the saucer test. (Saucer test = after 10 mins of boiling, take off the heat, drop a drop of liquid onto a cold saucer & put it in the fridge for a minute, then if the surface wrinkles when you push it with your finger it’s done – if not boil again and repeat the test.) 
  6. Pour into the sterilised jars, WATCH OUT it's HOT - use a funnel if you want & take care.
  7. Seal with a wax disc and label. (see below for how to sterilise jars) 



EATING: Leave it a couple of weeks before eating the jelly, as the particular taste of rowan is at first too bitter, it’s not until later that the subtle flavours develop. It lasts for years unopened – probably due to its high levels of natural Sorbic acid, which is a preservative. 

It’s delicious with any meat or cheese, but especially with game, maybe  that’s something to do with where the wild rowans grow? 


Sterilising jars: Over the year I collect all sorts of jars and bottles, never knowing which size will come in use.

To clean: First soak them in hot soapy water to remove the labels, certain labels may need a little bit of white spirit to remove the glue from them and then wash it off with soapy water.

To sterilise:There are 2 options, either:

 1: In the dishwasher, this also cleans them and the heat from the drying programme sterilises them.

2: Or hand wash thoroughly in hot soapy water, rinse and put them in the oven to heat and dry on a medium heat – not too hot to crack the glass.