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PHOTO: Elizabeth Scholl
Now that lilacs are in bloom
She has a bowl of lilacs in her room
And twists one in her fingers while she talks.
—T.S. Eliot, Portrait of a Lady
Every spring, I have the opportunity to embrace the intoxicating fragrance of lilacs in bloom thanks to the lilac bush growing right outside my office window. I often gather a bouquet to give to a friend with spring birthday or for Mother’s Day if the timing is right.
I’ve always wished I could capture the luscious fragrance of the blossoms, as breathing it in makes me feel dreamily serene. The only lilac products I’ve found were made with a synthetic lilac fragrance—not only do they not smell like the real thing, they are made from toxic chemicals I go out of my way to avoid. Being an herbalist and loving all things plants, I set out to find out the history of uses for lilacs, as well as how to capture the botanical fragrance. Almost every plant has some kind of medicinal use, and many flowers, including lilacs, surprise me by being edible, as well.
Lilacs (Syringa spp.) are in the olive family. Native to the rocky hill slopes of Eastern Europe, the shrubs generally grow between 4 and 5 feet high, though they can grow as tall as 20 feet. The flowers are edible, but with their floral, astringent and slightly bitter flavor, they generally work best as edible garnishes.
However, lilac blossoms are delightful in fritters, made similarly to the more traditional elderflower fritters. Here’s a recipe you can wow your friends and family with. I adapted it from an old fashioned elderflower fritter batter:
- 3/4 cups flour
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 T. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 10-12 lilac blossoms with leaves removed, washed and patted dry
- oil for frying I use sunflower oil, as it is light and has no flavor
- confectioner’s sugar for dusting
In a large, shallow bowl, whisk the flour, eggs, milk, sugar and salt into a thin batter.
In a deep frying pan over medium-high heat, heat oil until a drop of water sizzles when it hits the oil.
Dip the flower blossom into the batter and remove. Holding over the bowl of batter, shake off the excess batter. Place the batter covered flowerhead into the oil. Turn if necessary, so all sides brown. Once a golden brown color, remove and place on a dish covered with a paper towel to absorb the excess oil.
Dust with powdered sugar, or drizzle with honey. Serve while warm.
Lilac Facial Toner
Medicinally, lilac leaves and flowers have traditionally been considered a tonic, a febrifuge (meaning they can help lower a fever), a vermifuge (to expel worms and parasites) and an antiperiodic (preventing the return of a disease), and it has been used in the treatment of malaria.
Externally, lilac is beneficial for the skin and can be used in the same way as aloe vera. To make a simple facial spray, simply fill a jar with lilac blossoms, and pour very hot water over them. Allow the lilacs to steep in the water for 30 minutes, and then strain into a bottle. Apply to face after washing using a cotton pad, or transfer into a spray bottle and mist the face and neck. It should last about 2 weeks if kept refrigerated.
You can make a slightly more involved, but still very easy, lilac facial toner with lilac blossoms and witch hazel. I like to use organic witch hazel, which has low alcohol content (usually 14 percent), so it’s not too drying and has no other added ingredients. The bit of alcohol helps to preserve the solution and helps prevent it from getting moldy.
What You’ll Need:
- 16-ounce mason or other type of jar with cover
- lilac blossoms
- witch hazel to fill jar
Allow lilac blossoms to dry overnight on a paper towel, to let most of the moisture to evaporate. They will be slightly wilted.
Cut or chop wilted lilac blooms into small pieces and put into your ason jar. You may include flowers, stems and leaves. Cover plant matter completely with witch hazel.
Cover jar, and label with date and contents. Allow to infuse for 2 weeks, occasionally giving the jar a gentle shake to mix the contents. After two weeks, strain into a bottle and label. Compost the solid plant matter.
Apply lilac facial toner to your face after washing using a cotton pad or soft cloth. Keep refrigerated if desired, though the alcohol in the witch hazel acts as a preservative.
Lovely Lilac Oil
Pick lilac flowers, and allow them to dry overnight on a paper towel. Do not wash the flowers, as this can result in the oil becoming rancid. If there is any unwanted organic matter, simply shake the blossoms to get it off.
Place wilted lilac blossoms in a jar, and cover with the oil of your choice. Make sure the flowers are completely covered with oil; push down with spoon or chopstick if necessary. Cover and label jar with contents and date. Allow the oil to infuse in a warm place for four to six weeks.
Strain flowers from oil, bottle, and use as a facial, body or massage oil.
Lilac Infused Honey
Remove individual flowers from the lilac flowerhead, and place them in jar. Cover with honey and infuse overnight. No need to strain, as lilacs are edible. Enjoy on fruit, toast or in tea.