Lilacs are hardy perennial shrubs or trees, known for their beautiful scent. They belong to the olive family (Oleaceae), which includes over 25 species and 1,000 varieties. Lilac flowers can be white, purple, yellow, magenta, blue, and pink. Lilac bushes are beautiful and sweetly scented, so you may wonder, are lilacs edible? The answer is yes, they are.
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Are lilacs edible?
Yes, lilacs are edible. All varieties are safe to eat, though only the flowers are consumed. This includes the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), Japanese tree lilac, and Persian lilac. They add a subtle floral flavor to any dish.
They are one of the more versatile flowers to be used in cooking and have many uses such as:
- Lilac sugar and simple syrup
- Lilac honey
- Lilac ice cream, custards, and puddings
- Lilac jelly
- In baked goods, such as lilac scones and cupcakes
- Lilac frosting
- In drinks, including lilac tea
- As a beautifully edible garnish or as candied lilacs
A popular way to use and preserve lilacs is to infuse them into a liquid, such as water, honey, vinegar, or alcohol.
Can lilacs be eaten raw?
Yes, lilacs are edible raw. It is not the preferred method of consumption, but there are no dangers to eating lilac blossoms raw.
What does lilac taste like?
When consumed raw, their flavor is more bitter. When infused into liquid or added to a dish, lilacs add a hint of sweetness.
Are there health benefits to eating lilacs?
Not only are lilacs edible, but they also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help with cell damage and arthritis.
They contain carotenoids which are beneficial for eye health. Lilacs may help calm the stomach and aid in digestion.
Where can you find lilacs in nature?
Lilac bushes are native to Europe and Asia but can be found throughout the United States. Most lilacs, such as the common lilac, need a cool winter period to bloom the following year. Yet, there are some varieties and cultivars which do bloom in the warmer southern states as well.
Lilac bushes are often grown as ornamental shrub in gardens and yards but can easily be found growing in the wild. Look for lilacs on the edges of roads or fields and even in the woods.
Harvesting lilacs: our tips
Lilac blooms in the springtime. In warmer areas, they may bloom as early as April. In northern climates, they bloom in May. They don’t last long either, blooming for about 2-3 weeks, so act fast.
The best time of day to gather lilacs is early morning or late in the day. Choose stems where most of the flower blossoms are opened, as they do not continue to unfold after being cut.
Also, ensure the lilacs you want to use haven’t been sprayed by chemicals and are pesticide-free.
Cut the stem below the lilac blossom. Wrap in wet paper towels until you are home and can put them in water or use them immediately. They can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
Once you have found fresh lilacs, rinse your lilac blossoms under running water, or soak and swish, then allow to dry.
Remove the flower blossoms from the stem by hand or with a pair of scissors. Take caution to avoid any woody stems. This process does take some time but is worth the effort.
If you want to keep your lilac blossoms for later, they can be frozen. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, lay out the cut blossoms, and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, put in a baggie and store for up to 6 months.
They can also be dried by hanging upside down in a cool, dry area. Once dried, pull off the lilac blossoms and store them in an airtight container away from light and humidity.
How do you cook with lilac?
There’s no shortage of delicious lilac recipes out there.
One of the simplest ways to use fresh lilacs is to put the blossoms, or even a few stems of lilacs, into a water pitcher, add ice and a hint of lemon.
Another easy method to preserve lilacs is with infused sugar, which can then be used in baking or to sweeten drinks.
To make lilac sugar:
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1/2 cup of lilac blossoms
- Mason jar
(To make a larger quantity, use 2 parts sugar to 1 part lilac blossoms)
Layer the sugar and lilac blossoms in the mason jar. Seal and store in a cool, dry place for up to one week (or until the sugar is dry, as it takes on the moisture from the lilacs). Shake the jar daily to help infuse and prevent clumping. Once ready, sift the sugar to separate it from lilac blossoms.
Lilac simple syrup is another easy way to make lilacs edible and can be used to sweeten your favorite beverage.
To make lilac simple syrup:
- 2 cups of sugar
- 2 cups of water
- 1 cup of lilac blossoms
- A handful of blackberries or blueberries
Combine all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then turn off the heat and allow to steep (the longer, the more lilac flavor). Strain the syrup and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Lilac simple syrup is good for up to 10 days.
Lilac honey is another simple method to preserve and use your lilac blossoms. Use it to sweeten your oatmeal, yogurt, toast, tea, or wherever else you regularly add honey.
To make lilac honey:
- Lilac blossoms
- Mason jar
Add enough lilac blossoms to fill your mason jar. Next, add honey to the top, waiting for it to settle to see if you need to add a little more. Seal your jar and store it in a cool, dry place for several weeks. Every couple of days, stir the mixture by flipping the jar upside down and right side up several times.
Once you are ready to use the honey, you can scoop out the clump of lilac blossoms that has risen to the top or keep them to eat. Lilac honey will keep for several months.
How to make Lilac tea
Another delectable drink to enjoy with lilac blossoms is lilac tea. It can be mixed with other flavors or used on its own. It works well as both a hot or iced tea.
To make lilac tea, add 2 tablespoons of lilac blossoms to 1 cup of hot water, and allow to steep for 10-15 minutes. Put in fridge or add ice to make iced tea.
If you’d like to make a larger and more fragrant batch of lilac tea, multiply ingredients as needed, allow to steep overnight, and store in the fridge. You can then heat it up for hot lilac tea or enjoy cold lilac tea!