Loving the Lilac – Saving the Scent

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Sadly, no scratch and sniff available!

I do love Lilac. There is something both old-fashioned and comforting about it. It brings to mind family teatimes enjoyed outside, beneath jolly bunting or inside blanket wigwams, with cake, scones and cream and pints of tea or lemonade.

It’s that wonderful, abundant, lush time of year in the garden.

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Our inherited common lilac (Syringa vulgaris)

I can’t remember ever having a garden without a lilac tree (never planted by me though). My parents have one. My Grans both grew them. And tellingly, if we didn’t have one I would definitely plant one. They make brilliant small trees, looking gnarly, old and interesting early on in their lives. And for two, maybe three weeks of the year there is absolutely nothing that compares with their scent.

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A Lilac Welcome for visitors to our gate!

This photo is of the purple lilac at our front gate, taken two and a half weeks ago. There’s a white lilac just behind it, which flowers a smidge later. Our neighbours have three, so you can imagine the smell around here now!

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The individual florets are surprisingly varied in their purple colouring

In fact the one drawback to lilacs, as far as I am concerned, is that the flowers deteriorate rather rapidly to brown, which sadly then stay put on the tree. White lilacs tend to look shabby much faster than the purple.

Two weeks is too short a time to enjoy that perfume though, so I was curious to see if I could save the scent, the essence of the flowers. It turns out lilac is one of those special flowers that are considered edible … And there are various recipes to preserve them. Lilac jelly looks fun, for instance. But I decided to try my hand at making Lilac syrup and Lilac honey.

Lilac Syrup is good for instant gratification. It is ready to sample within a few hours. It can be used to flavour cocktails, lemonade and sodas. It’s a lovely colour when diluted down. Very potion like! Here’s how to make it:

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Stripping the lilac florets from the heads

By volume you will want twice as many units of flowers as sugar and water. The recipe I followed suggested

4 cups lilac florets (fresh)
2 cups sugar (white granulated)
2 cups water

  • The flowers should be in full bloom and picked in the morning. Pull off the individual florets, taking care to remove all the green bits (which can make the syrup bitter). Rinse the flowers to remove dust etc.
  • Prepare the syrup by bring the sugar and water to the boil at a medium heat. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the lilac flowers and simmer for a further five minutes. Turn off the heat.
  • Cover the pot and leave for about 6-8 hours. Taste from time to time to decide if it is strong enough for your purposes.
  • Strain the syrup into a glass container and refrigerate. The syrup will keep for ~2-3 weeks, ready to make for delicious floral drinks or as pretty, scented drizzle for ice cream, yogurts etc.

The syrup can look a little brown, even though it will be a pale lilac on dilution, so a tip I found was to add 3-4 blackberries or blueberries to the pan. I was too enthusiastic and added a handful of blueberries, which has resulted in a maroon cordial. Not so subtle or magical, but still wonderfully lilac scented!

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Simple lilac syrup

Lilac Honey is probably my favourite of the two methods to preserve and enjoy lilac scent weeks later.

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  • Prepare the flowers as before, but note that you won’t need nearly so many. Fill a small, clean glass preserving jar
  • Pour a mild honey (something like acacia) over the flowers to cover. This may take some time as the honey will gradually filter down through the blossom to the bottom of the jar. Cap the jar. Over a few hours the flowers will shrink and float to the top of the honey.
  • Leave the flowers to steep in the honey for 2-4 weeks, stirring daily or as often as you remember.
  • After this time you can use the honey, either scooping or filtering out the flowers, or you can just eat them too!

I’ve filtered mine since I didn’t like the look of the embalmed flowers after three weeks.

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Lilac infused honey

So that is it for my lilac scent experiments. Already the flowers in the garden are passed their best … but happily I will have my lilac fix for weeks to come:

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About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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7 Responses to Loving the Lilac – Saving the Scent

  1. shoreacres says:

    Oh, do I envy you! I loved lilacs, and lived with them for years. Now, it’s been so long since I’ve been around them, I no longer can remember their scent. I’ve tried various soaps and such, but nothing quite replicates what I remember as an intensely sweet — but not cloying — scent.

    • They do tend to evoke lots of memories. We had our honeymoon in France at just the right time of year for the lilacs to be in blossom and the streets and gardens were full of their scent.

  2. Eliza Waters says:

    Thanks for sharing these recipes, Allison. I’ve never heard of lilac honey or syrup. Ours are still budding up, so I might be able to try a batch.

  3. Cathy says:

    Two wonderful ideas which I will note for when my lilacs have grown a little as they are still fairly small shrubs. 😃 Thanks for sharing!

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