In the village that I live in in the interior of BC there is an absolute overabundance of lilac bushes flowering like crazy! The deer don’t seem to like them much so they prosper in the village. I had a desire to teach myself about what can be done with them, these are 4 things I found while perusing resources.
*Before we begin, though, I wanted to preface these experiments with a some tips:
- Make sure that you don’t strip a plant of flowers as it could lead to ill health for it; and cut, don’t rip, the flowerheads off with a clean and sharp tool.
- Ensure you are harvesting from a non-contaminated site away from heavy traffic or pollution (i.e. road runoff or chemical herbicides/fertilisers).
- Use a glass or non-reactive metal container for these concoctions, not plastic or reactive metals like aluminium.
- Aim to harvest on a drier day so that the flowers aren’t soaked with water resulting in a watered down and potentially unsafe result. It is preferable as well to harvest earlier in the morning when the flowers have not been beat down upon by the sun for too long.
- With the exception of the fermented cordial, the flowers can be rinsed and dried to wash off potential dirt and bugs. However you must ensure that the flowers are quite dry before continuing with these projects. Often leaving them in an open weave basket in a cool spot for a little bit offers a decent chance for most bugs to skedaddle.
- Always be sure to thoroughly vet the ID of the plants used in culinary concoctions!! And as with everything herbal, ensure that no reactions will occur when the concoction is consumed (i.e. my husband’s tongue goes numb when he eats nettles).
Lilac flowers, once cooked or processed in some manner, have a tart and slightly bitter flavour which is balanced very well by the sweetness of these concoctions. Folks have reported that different colours of lilacs provide varying levels of aroma and flavour. Feel free to experiment with varying the amounts that I’ve listed here as everyone has their own particular taste. Some might enjoy a touch of bitterness while others, not so much! As well, don’t be afraid to add spices or other flavourings (fruit, etc) to these recipes. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to this; it’s really all about one’s own palate preferences!
Another big thing I want to mention is that these ideas can be transferred to any edible flower one can think of! Lavender, chamomile, calendula, marigold, anise hyssop, violas/johnny jump ups, pineapple weed, even nasturtiums if you want a unique, spicy concoction. The herbal world is an experimental culinary heaven!
Lilac alcohol infusion and/or liquer
If you enjoy imbibing in a little boozy nip every so often, this is a very simple recipe to tackle. The most important thing to remember is to not leave the blossoms in the alcohol for longer than recommended as the astringency and ‘green’ flavour will come through and overpower the desired floral notes.
- Mason jar large enough for total amount of flowers and alcohol
- Destemmed lilac flowers
- Enough alcohol to cover flowers; can be gin, vodka or other complimenting spirit
Stuff the mason jar full of the amount of destemmed flowers desired (but don’t pack too tight as the alcohol needs to move freely through the blossoms; believe me, I’ve made this mistake before!). Pour alcohol over the blossoms, ensuring that they are as submerged as possible, or shake the jar to cover blossoms with alcohol. Place somewhere dark and cool for 6-12 hours (some say up to 24 hours), shaking the jar every once in a while. Strain and taste.
If desired, you can double or triple infuse additional batches of blossoms into the alcohol for more floral punch and flavour. Once completed and strained, it’s best to let this infusion age for several weeks to allow the flavours to mellow and smooth out. Optional: Once the intended flavour has been achieved, add up to an equal amount of simple syrup (1:1 water: sugar) to make this a liqueur!
This will have a fairly long shelf life so it’s lovely to save for the deep of winter when dreams of summer heat and flowers dance in your head.
- Urban Huntress is foraging lilacs and talks about how to make the infusion, with information on the herbal benefits of lilac flowers.
- Diane has the whole 5 day process of making the infusion outlined here.
Lilac syrup (aka Syrenersaft in Sweden)
For those who prefer a non-alcoholic option. This is a sweet concoction that can be watered down with plain or sparkling water, at about a 1:4 or 1:6 ratio. However if you do partake in cocktails, I’ve read that this is delightful with gin! Makes about 3 litres (halve the recipe if you don’t have a big enough container).
- 40-60 flower heads (approximately 200-300g of flowers)
- 2 kg of sugar
- 3 lemons, sliced
- 2.5 litre of water
- 60 g of citric acid (optional, though recommended for longevity)
Destem the flowers; place them and the lemon slices in a glass vessel. Bring water to a boil, then dissolve the sugar in the water. Take the water off the heat and stir in the citric acid until dissolved. Pour this hot mixture over the flowers and lemons. Stir everything well, cover the container and then place aside for 3-5 days, ensuring that all the solids stay submerged as best as possible. Stir at least once daily with a clean spoon. After 3-5 days strain the liquid off the solids into a clean container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months or in the freezer.
- The Black Forager shows us how to make a flower infused simple syrup.
- Semiswede talks about their love of syrenersaft and provides the above recipe.
This concoction is probably the easiest of them all to make! It involves layering sugar and destemmed lilac flowers in a jar and letting them mingle for at least a week until the flowers are dry. That’s it. Really! I’ve included a few links below for those who appreciate recipes, however, again this is a matter of personal preference in intensity of floral flavour.
A few things to keep in mind though: if washing the flowers, dry them really, really well. There will already be a fair bit of moisture in the jar from the flowers themselves, so try to minimize it overall. And speaking of moisture, it is imperative to the shake the jar frequently (1x a day or more) to break apart the clumps that will form as the sugar pulls the moisture from the flowers.
Fermented lilac cordial
With this concoction, mix together equal parts sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved, add a splash of lemon and then stir in the flowers. (Remember to not wash the flowers as it is the wild yeast on them that will kick-start the bubbly fermentation which adds a slight alcoholic level to the finished product.) Cover with a breathable cloth or paper towel and set in a warm spot away from direct light. Stir two to three times a day with a clean spatula or spoon.
When the liquid reaches the desired level of bubbliness or taste, strain the flowers out with a mesh strainer and/or a coffee filter. This cordial can either be consumed right away or left to ferment for a few days more. Store in the fridge once bottled to halt fermentation and avoid any potential bottle explosions!
That’s it! Have fun with your experimentations! Do you have any ideas about culinary flower creations you’d like to share?