Skip Navigation

Rowan jelly: how to find and make it

Rowan, with its gleaming bunches of fiery red berries, is difficult to miss at the moment.

As summer turns to autumn, it’s a tree that really stands out. Its red berries are a reminder of its fascinating association with folklore and witchcraft. Trees were often planted near houses, farms and in churchyards in the hope that the red berries – apparently the best colour to battle evil – would protect and safeguard them.

Wildlife loves it – its berries are an important food for many species of birds such as thrush and waxwing. It’s also a favourite among foragers, too. The berries are bitter and inedible when raw, but make a deliciously deep orange jelly, perfect with cheese, game and lamb.

As with all wild harvesting, forage safely and sustainably. Follow our foraging guidelines.

Photo: Crispin Sheridan/Alamy
Photo: Crispin Sheridan/Alamy

Where and how to find rowan berries

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) is also known as mountain ash, witch wiggin tree, keirn and cuirn.

It’s a compact, deciduous tree that can grow to 15m, though it’s usually smaller. It’s a widespread tree found throughout the UK in both town and country. It’s often planted in urban landscapes, in parks and gardens and along streets. In the wild it’s more common in dry woods and rocky places, especially in the north and west, where it can grow at higher altitudes than many tree species.

Rowan has clusters of berries that range in colour from orange to bright scarlet.  (Photo: Crispin Sheridan/Alamy)
Rowan has clusters of berries that range in colour from orange to bright scarlet. (Photo: Crispin Sheridan/Alamy)

Rowan identification

Its bark is smooth and silvery grey. Leaves are pinnate (feather-shaped) and have 5-8 pairs of leaflets along a central stalk with a single leaflet at the end. Each leaflet is 2-6cm long, oval and toothed around the edge.

Its clusters of berries, each with several seeds inside, ripen to bright scarlet. But there are some cultivated varieties whose berries come in different colours – from paler orange to bright red.

Don’t confuse with

The only other two native UK trees with pinnate (feather-shaped) leaves are ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and elder (Sambucus nigra). Rowan’s leaflets are serrated and more or less pointed at the end than both of these, and neither ash nor elder have red berries.

Whitebeam (Sorbus aria) has clusters of red berries at this time of year, and is also often planted as a street tree. But its leaves aren’t pinnate like rowan - they have just single, oval leaves.

Get a full description with identification images. See our rowan guide.

Picking tips 

Don’t collect too close to roads because of pollution, or too close to the ground, especially where dogs are walked! Cut clusters of berries from trees and knock to remove insects, then wash and pick off stems.

Pick clusters of berries from trees and knock to remove insects, then wash and pick off stems. (Photo:  Curtseyes/Alamy)
Pick clusters of berries from trees and knock to remove insects, then wash and pick off stems. (Photo: Curtseyes/Alamy)

Rowan jelly recipe

Rowan jelly is best made with a pectin source, otherwise the jelly will be too liquid and won’t set. Crab apples can provide this, and luckily the two species are often found growing near each other. If you can’t find crab apples, the cores of Bramley apples will work just fine. It’s easy to scale this recipe up or down depending on how much fruit you have.

1.5kg rowan berries
1.5kg crab apples (or Bramley apple cores)
White sugar - 450g for every 600ml of strained liquid
Juice of 1 lemon

  • Chop crab apples (no need to peel or core) and put into a large, heavy saucepan or preserving pan with rowan berries.
  • Just cover the fruits with water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer until the fruits are really soft and broken down. It takes about 20 minutes.
  • Lay a muslin cloth or any soft, clean cotton cloth, over a large bowl.
  • Tip the pulpy fruits and liquid into the cloth and gather the edges of the cloth up together.
  • Tie the cloth above the bowl. You can suspend from a chair on a table or a beam.
  • Allow the liquid to drip into the bowl for at least 4 hours or overnight. Don’t squeeze the cloth or the jelly will be cloudy.
  • Measure the juice in a jug, then pour into a pan. For every 600ml of fluid, add 450g sugar. Add the lemon juice and bring it all to the boil.
  • Boil rapidly for about 10 minutes and then test for setting point. Spoon a little jelly onto a fridge-cold plate, let it sit for a minute, then push the blob with your finger. If the surface of the jelly wrinkles then it has set. If not, boil for a few more minutes and test again.
  • Once your jelly has reached setting point take off the heat, pour into clean, sterilised jars and seal.
The berries  make a deliciously deep orange jelly, perfect with cheese, game and lamb. (Photo: Selwyn/Alamy)
The berries make a deliciously deep orange jelly, perfect with cheese, game and lamb. (Photo: Selwyn/Alamy)

Get close to nature and go foraging

Find a wood near you