Berberis darwinii – Barberry Jelly Recipe

by Ciaran Burke

barberry- Berberis darwinii

A Chilean native, discovered by the god father of evolution, Charles Darwin in 1835 and introduced by the great plant hunter William Lobb for the legendary Veitch plant nursery Berberis darwinii was brought to Europe in 1849 by legends of the horticultural and scientific worlds. Since then this evergreen barberry has deservedly been a popular choice with gardeners who value it for its bright orange flowers and spiny holly-like evergreen foliage. the drooping racemes of blooms are also much loved by bees, they buzz around the shrub in a droning symphony of sound that is their soundtrack to their busy work days collecting nectar and pollinating the flowers. The ovary of the flowers will then grow and swell to become a berry, dark plum coloured with a whitish bloom , the size of small peas.

Berberis darwinii -flowers

My first encounters of this spiny shrub were as a horticultural student,  I did some gardening jobs at weekends and during the holidays. I helped a lady in Clontarf, a desirable suburb of Dublin, with her garden. She was a keen gardener who grew Trilliums in her raised beds and coveted her unusual perennials. Her front garden was hidden from the pedestrians by a tall dense hedge of Berberis darwinii. I used to trim it with a hand shears. The cutting was no problem but I did need a stout pair of gloves when collecting the trimmings and bungling them into large plastic sacks for the bin men to take away later during the week. The bags and my gloves invariably ripped each time but I always admired its floral display each May and respected its sturdiness, and the lady was never troubled by anyone sitting on her garden wall!

Over the last few weekd I have been admiring these fruits and was eventually tempted to pick them and make them into a jelly or jam. And, I am so glad that I did, it is delicious. If you have ever tasted bilberry jam, well, it is something like that!

the holly-like spiny leaves of Berberis darwinii

Our shrub grows in the dappled shade of a hawthorn tree and still flowers brilliantly and berries abundantly. At present it stand at about 1.8m high and having pinked most of the fruit, i left a few for the birds, I got 900g from the plant. Following the recipe below I got two good sized pots of jam. I will have to take some cuttings of B. darwinii so as to have more fruit to harvest in future years…

Ingredients:

  • 900g of ripe Berberis darwinii berries
  • 2 Litres of water
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • juice of one lemon

Method:

  1. Cook the berberis berries in the water until they have softened.
  2. Sieve the berries and liquid to remove the skins and many seeds. What I did was mash them through a sieve then squeezed the remaining pulp through a muslin cloth, made a bit of a  mess but it made sure I got as much as possible from my little harvest. I had 3 cups of berry pulp and liquid (1.5L)
  3. Heat up the berries, add the lemon juice and as it heats stir in the sugar a cup full at a time.
  4. Cook on a high heat for about 25 minutes until the jelly starts to set.
  5. Spoon into sterilized jars and cover.

NOTE: I sterilize jars by washing them well in soapy water, then rinse and dry. Place jars in a cool oven and heat to 140 degrees Celcius for about ten minutes.

My harvest of barberries

Barberry jelly on my scone.

3 Responses to “Berberis darwinii – Barberry Jelly Recipe”

  1. Thanks for this – I was planning on giving my berberis darwinii a severe pruning but now I’ll be doing a harvest instead and making jelly!

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