Lilac Flowers – an Edible and Medicinal Treat

2014-04-19 16.07.25

Lilac shrubs have always been one of my favorite signs of spring. Growing up in Eastern Oregon we wouldn’t see the blooms until at least May, but here in the Willamette Valley we are blessed seeing them bloom as early as the beginning of April. Vases filled with freshly cut lilac reminds me of family, home, and my grandmother who passed on her green thumb to my mother and then on to me.

Screenshot_3_26_13_8_55_PM

My grandmother Vera Mezger circa 1940

Lilac or Syringa spp. (the common species is vulgaris) is in the olive family and is native to the Balkan Peninsula in Southeastern Europe. People emigrating from Europe brought the shrub to plant in their gardens in order to savor a piece of home. Here, out west, pioneers brought lilacs with them during the 1800’s and now you may find lilac growing wild in abandoned lots and homesteads.

Lilac fragrance is wonderfully intoxicating, however, it is very difficult to capture the scent. Synthesizing in the lab is the only sure way to get a true scent. Here is an interesting recipe on how to capture the scent at home: How to Make Lilac Fragrance.

The flowers are edible and have some medicinal qualities. I have to say eating even a single flower raw is a flavor exploding experience giving my mouth a slight astringency (drying to tissues), bitter, and heavy floral taste. I would say these are best for garnishes and edible flower displays on pastries rather than whole meals.

Medicinal uses are still a gray area when it comes to just the flower. Most resources that I have found (random blogs, pfaf.org, A Modern Herbal) list that the medicinal benefits of Lilac come from the leaves and fruit. Apparently, it was used as a tea or infusion historically, and has been used as a anti-periodic. Anti-periodic basically means that it stops the recurrence of disease such as malaria. There has been some studies that indicate a febrifuge action which may help bring down fever.

2014-04-19 19.24.43

The flowers themselves I can only guess based on my taste observations which include actions of astringency, aromatic, and perhaps bitter qualities.

Astringents tighten, draw, and dry tissues such as skin. So a wonderful application would be a cold or warm infusion to use as a toner on the face. Or using the same method but apply to rashes, cuts, and other skin ailments.

An aromatic action causes irritation to the place that it is touching (think GI tract) and irritation brings blood flow and blood flow equals healing! Eating the flowers raw may help with gastric issues such as flatulence or constipation. Making an herbal infused oil may be a great way to capture the aromatics for healing purposes and to make your own fragrance oil. (*Update* The flower oil I made turned out to be pretty gross. I recommend wilting the flowers heavily before adding to the oil. Remember oil and water don’t mix!)

At the end of the blog I have included some links to great recipes to try with lilacs. I decided to try my hand at two of them that I will share. Lilac honey and lilac infused oil.

2014-04-19 19.29.19

Lilac Honey

Jar size of choice (1/2 pint, pint, quart etc.)
Local, pure honey

Fill jar with freshly picked flowers with a little room at the top. Pour over honey to the top and cap. Allow to infuse for at least 6 weeks. No need to strain afterwards – eat the flowers along with the honey! Great for adding to recipes, spreading on bread, or adding to teas.

Lilac Infused Oil

Jar size of choice (1/2 pint, pint, quart etc.)
Carrier Oil – Olive Oil, Jojoba, or Sweet Almond Oil are options
Optional – Vitamin E Oil for preservation

Fill jar with very wilted flowers (make sure the flowers are as dry as possible to discourage rancidity). Cover with carrier oil and cap. Allow to infuse for up to 6 weeks. After 6 weeks strain and use in salve formulations or as a base for an aroma oil. Try combining with Lavender, Patchouli, or Jasmine Essential Oils.

Here are some ideas for using lilacs in cooking from other recipes online:

Lilac Jelly
Lilac Wine
Lilac Liqueur/Cordial
Lilac Infused Blueberry Syrup
Lilac Ice Cream

One more point of interest. Lilac wood is supposed to be one of the densest in Europe and has been historically used to make musical instruments such as pipes or flutes. We had to cut down one of our lilac shrubs I am sad to say, however we kept all the branches. I will choose one to make a pipe (hopefully one day soon) and will describe the process in another blog post.

Stop and smell the flowers!

Advertisements

Making Dandelion Wine – Part 2

Addendum to Supply List
Candy Thermometer (optional but handy)

Straining Infusion After 3 Day Soak

IMG_20140326_185210916

It’s time to strain the future wine after allowing it to infuse for three full days. Now you will need to grab:

Medium Size Cook Pot
Strainer
Cotton Cloth
Ladle

I have a great large sized strainer that I usually use when I am making jam however the mesh size is still too large so I lined the strainer with the cotton tea towel. You might need another person to help you pour out the infusion through the strainer and into the cook pot since stoneware crocks are pretty heavy. I think I actually ladled out the first half to make it lighter so I didn’t spill it all over the counter. Once the entire solution was poured through the strainer and cloth I used the towel to squeeze the remaining juice out of the flower bits and composted the leftover mass. (FYI my white tea towel is now stained a lovely shade of yellow)

IMG_20140326_190551000

Heating the Mixture

This section you will need:
1 large (or 2 small) Oranges
1 Lemon
Dried Ginger
Liquid Wine Yeast (I used Wyeast)
Candy Thermometer
Stirring Spoon
2 pounds sugar

IMG_20140326_190148771 (1)

Bring the cooking pot to the stove and start heating up the solution. While the pot was heating I sliced the orange and lemon into small thin slices, rind and all, and added to the solution while stirring. Then I added the teaspoon of dried ginger and stirred again.

Lastly, I added the 2 pounds of sugar and stirred well until it was mostly dissolved. After speaking with an employee at one of our local fermentation stores we decided to go with using Dextrose for our sugar. Dextrose is pure glucose derived from plants (usually corn) and does not add any additional flavors to the wine that cane sugar or honey tends to do.

IMG_20140326_190528866

I put the lid on the pot and turned it up a bit more so that it would come to a boil. Once at a rolling boil allow mixture to continue a slow (almost simmering) boil for 20 minutes. Don’t let it get out of control like I did as my boil ended up being more like an intense churning – a simmer is fine.

After 20 minutes I turned off the heat and allowed it to cool a bit before restraining again back into the stone crock. I would recommend using the cotton towel again so that the bits of ginger doesn’t get into the solution. I did not do that and so I have some bits in my fermenting wine.

Pitching the Yeast

Pitching yeast simply means adding yeast to the juice or infusion. Allow the infusion to cool which may take up to an hour to get to a cool enough temperature for the yeast to thrive. This is where the candy thermometer may come in handy to get the temperature down to a specific degree. I had some difficulty determining what was the best temperature to pitch yeast. Some say 60-70 degrees F while others talked about pitching at higher temperatures for different results. I decided to stick with the round number of no higher than 100 degrees F and waited until the thermometer registered 100 or below.

We got a wine yeast packet from the fermentation store that was also recommended by the employee. This was kept in the refrigerator until we were ready then it requires activating the yeast by slapping the bag so that it begins to mix and activate. Each yeast mixture or types of yeast are different so just follow the instructions on the bag. Add the necessary amount of yeast and stir.

Let the Fermentation Begin!

IMG_20140328_195259422 (1)

I really wanted to get away with not having to get a carboy and airlock, mainly because I was lazy and didn’t want to pay for it. So for the first couple of days we just covered the crock with a plate that fit completely over the top so that limited air would get in but the gases could still escape. I finally broke down realizing that I did not want to risk getting wild yeast and other contaminates into my wine and so found a gallon size glass carboy and airlock kit for under $30.00.

The wine can bubble and ferment for as short as a week or for as much as 3 weeks. You will know it is done when it stops its bubbling. So far my wine has been bubbling for a week and half and has barely slowed down at all.

Stayed tuned for part 3 – bottling!

Making Dandelion Wine – Part 1

IMG_20140323_175528831_HDR

Dandelion Wine is the spring classic beverage for wild food and wine lovers alike. For the past 5 years I have been telling myself “This is the year I will try my hand at wine!”, and then the Dandelion Flowers fade away with late spring and my window for gleaning has passed. I am pleased to announce that I have beaten the procrastinator and I did it.

Google has no shortage of variations on wine recipes so I wanted to record my own experience with some tips that would have been helpful for me in the beginning.

Supplies

2 gallon stone crock
Cotton tea towel or cotton muslin cloth (large enough to cover opening of crock)
Medium sized strainer
8 quart (at least) pot
Basket/bowl
1 gallon or larger carboy and airlock
Empty wine bottles with corks or beer bottles with caps

Ingredients

1 gallon dandelion flower petals
1 large orange and 1 lemon
2 pounds sugar (white, brown, honey, or dextrose)
1 package of yeast (wine yeast – follow directions on package)
1 tsp dried ginger

Begin by collecting the flower heads of Dandelions. The first step of this process really only needs the crock, flowers, and water so you have a few days to get the other items together.

IMG_20140323_164644712_HDR

Harvesting Dandelion Flowers

It’s not as simple as just pulling off the heads from the stem! The trick is to get only the yellow petals and not (or as little) as the green sepals as possible because the green parts are quite bitter and will alter the flavor of the wine. My husband and I found two different ways to do this. The first way is mine. With my harvesting basket in hand I go out on sunny days when the flowers are in full bloom.

Side note – the Asteraceae Family have many sun loving plants including the Dandelion. They will actually open in the morning and close up at night. The fancy term for it is “sleep of plants”.

After popping off as many heads as I can in a few minutes with my basket I then grab another bowl to throw the discarded flower bits. Using my finger nails to slice the flower down the middle so that it will open flat I pinch off the petals pulling it away from the head of the flower until nothing is left but the green parts. FYI your hands will get very yellow and sticky!

Matt on the other hand used scissors (nice kitchen shears) to cut the green sepals and lower portions off leaving just the petals. His lack of fingernails made it difficult for the pinch and pull method.

It takes a lot of time and patience to get a full gallon of flower petals so my solution was to gather each evening after I came home from work and put them in a gallon size zip lock then froze the entire bag. It took me probably about 5 days to gather enough during the week then freezing to fill the entire bag full. I am lucky to have plenty of Dandelions in my yard to yield several batches of wine if so inclined. Do be sure you are harvesting from a place that is free of chemicals such as pesticides or herbicides.

Ants love Dandelions and seem to be a major pollinator. We found that if we came to a bunch of flowers crawling with ants to just leave the bowl full of freshly harvested flowers outside so that the ants disperse on their own. Formic acid (from the ants) will probably not be a great additive to the wine.

Once I gathered the full gallon of flowers I emptied the bag into my 2 gallon crock then boiled about a gallon and a half of water. Pour the boiling water over the flowers, stir, and cover with the cotton cloth. Allow the petals to infuse for 3 days.

This concludes part 1 of making Dandelion Wine. Keep an eye out for part 2!

IMG_20140323_181001359