Early Summer Sensory Explosion

Right now, the weather has been heating up here in NWLA, although we have had some amazing rain storms that have resulted in ridiculously lush gardens and general vegetation.  It’s around this time that I start to miss the cleavers and chickweed and other tender wild greens of springtime that have long since withered or disappeared entirely from the landscape. However, there’s a few trees and plants that are literally making my life right now!

  1. Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)mimosa
  2. Elderflower (Sambucus canadensis)

  3. Bee Balm (Monarda spp.)

    IMG_0812

    Monarda punctata <Spotted Horsemint>

  4. Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

    Magnolia-reduced.jpg

    photo credit: http://www.atlanticavenuegarden.com/

Runners up in the plants who make this time of year amazing contest goes to gardenia, citrus blossoms of all types (kumquat and ponderosa lemon are two that are blooming right now in my yard) and various and sundry seasonal fruits (blueberries, blackberries and peaches)

While spring may be succulent mild tasting greens, digging juicy roots, early wild dewberries, mulberries, loquats and more, this early summer period is all about the flowers. While that means that on a practical level, it’s less about procuring nutritional sustenance from the landscape, and more about pure sensory experience. Maybe we could even go so far as to call it Beauty Medicine. First off, the smell! This is an incredibly aromatic time of year- when trees are in bloom! We know that some of these scents have been captured for millennia as fragrance and in cosmetic use. Citrus blossom (neroli, for example), magnolia and gardenia all are exquisite. Less well known may be the thymol rich and intense scent of Monarda, or bee-balm.  Elderflower has a very delicate scent that is both incredibly hard to define and very distinctive. Mimosa has a delicate cotton candy vibe to it and is very aromatic.

Added to that is the way that these plants all bloom at the same time a year. Mimosa can be very invasive, and elder is also quite weedy, and so in a wet environment, these two can absolutely thrive and form dense thickets, which are spectacular to behold.

How then, can we make use of this incredible abundance right now? Here are some ideas:

Mimosa

Here’s why I love mimosa blossoms- they are a delight to the senses- the trees smell incredible, they look like the famed Truffula trees in the Lorax, they have a flavor akin to honey cotton candy. With all that gorgeousness, it isn’t hard then to believe that mimosa (both the blossoms and the bark) have been used medicinally, especially in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. It is known and used to bring in a lightness of spirit, and it is known as the Tree of Collective Happiness. It is a joyful tree, and it isn’t a stretch to see how it can bring in that quality through it’s physical medicine.

-syrup

This is my recipe for Mimosa Blossom Syrup

  • one pint fresh mimosa blossoms
  • one pint filtered water
  • one pint demerara sugar

Bring water to the boil, and add sugar. Stir briskly to melt sugar. Turn off the heat, add blossoms and cover. Let steep for a few hours or overnight. Strain and jar. Store in the fridge.

While this syrup is made with sugar, you could definitely try making it with honey instead. This syrup recipe is not quite shelf stable, and I wouldn’t keep it in the fridge for more than a few months.

Use this syrup anywhere you want something delicious- in sparkling water, iced teas, drizzled on a bowl of berries and cream, cocktails, on cakes- I promise you won’t have to think hard in order to use it all.

Makes approx 1 pint. 332

-cordial

Fill a jar with fresh mimosa blossoms. Cover with equal parts brandy and local honey. Let steep for 4 weeks. Strain, store in a beautiful bottle and enjoy until the mimosas come back next year.

IMG_0374

-wine

I haven’t made a wine or a ferment of any kind using mimosa. Well, I have used mimosa syrup in the second fermentation for kombucha. Apparently though, mimosa blossom wine is a thing:

http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/request235.asp

-tea

Use the dried blossoms all year to add to your herbal tea blends for a pick me up.

Elderflower

Elderflower is a classic European edible and medicinal blossom. It is still very common in many different countries in Europe to see sodas, cordials, liqueurs and more flavored with this beautiful white umbel flower. Elderflowers (like elderberries) have a market diaphoretic action, which means that it allows the pores to open and the body to sweat. It has been used since antiquity as an effective treatment for colds and flu alone or with complementary herbs.

-cordial

Fill a jar with elderflower blossoms. It’s a little tedious to take the blossoms off of the stems, but you can do it. Just be mindful that it will take a while. Do it as a family, or get a group of friends together for maximum enjoyment. Add equal parts brandy and local honey. Let sit 4 weeks, strain, bottle and enjoy. Lasts indefinitely and can be used as medicine in the case of colds and flus. This is strong food medicine.

-wine

Elderflower wine is a classic, and actually quite easy. We made our first batch last year, and it was drinkable! We are hopefully going to make another lot this year and see if we can tweak it (or wait longer) to be even better.

Here’s an elderflower champagne from forager and accomplished author Leda Meredith:

http://ledameredith.com/elderflower-champagne-recipe-wild-edible-plants/

– syrup

Fresh Elderflower Syrup

  • one pint fresh elderflower blossoms
  • one pint filtered water
  • one pint demerara sugar
  • 1tbsp. lemon zest

Bring water to the boil, and add sugar. Stir briskly to melt sugar. Turn off the heat, add blossoms and lemon zest and cover. Let steep for a few hours or overnight. Strain and jar. Store in the fridge.

While this syrup is made with sugar, you could definitely try making it with honey instead. This syrup recipe is not quite shelf stable, and I wouldn’t keep it in the fridge for more than a few months.

Use this syrup in exactly the same ways you would use the mimosa syrup- ice cream, cocktails, sparkling water, iced teas…

-fritter

Fried whole fritter blossoms- like elderflower funnel cakes!

http://deeprootsathome.com/recipe-for-old-fashioned-elderflower-fritters/

 

You can also dry elderflowers for tea, or infuse them in honey for a quick way to preserve and use them.

Monarda

Ah, Bee-Balm. This plant in all of her glorious forms has been a principle plant ally of mine for a while now. I wrote a monograph on her during herb school, and I would like to post that here sometime soon.  That said, Monarda is such a versatile and important plant to have in any herbal first aid kit. Monarda has high levels (higher than thyme) of the strongly antimicrobial constituent Thymol. There are a number of different species of Monarda that are native to Louisiana, and there is much variation between them. Monarda is also a wonderful plant to grow in the garden, where it is a perennial and even can get a little weedy! It’s great to cut it back and make medicine when it starts to get out of control.

IMG_2847

Beautiful Bee Balm

-respiratory steam

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, throw in a handful of dried Monarda leaves and/or flowers. Cover and let steep/cool for 5-10 minutes. Grab a towel, and carefully open the lid, cover your head with a towel and breathe in. Be extremely careful not to scald yourself, depending on a lot of different factors, even 10 minutes may not be sufficient for the liquid to cool enough to safely inhale. Please do not do this without being extremely careful and checking the temperature thoroughly before.

This steam is wonderful for respiratory infections like bronchitis, and really helps to open up the sinus cavity to breathe fully when you are stopped up and feeling yucky.

As Monarda has antifungal properties, this could even be used as a foot soak for athletes foot.

-tea

For best results, you want dried bee balm. Use 1 tbsp. leaves and/or flowers for around 1 pint of tea. It will be strong, but deliciously oregano like and a wonderful wellness tonic to drink once in a while or if you feel like you are getting sick or already are sick.

-food spice

When I make dishes that call for oregano, I almost exclusively use bee balm instead. The leaves have an oregano like taste and I just love to use it whenever I can.  Used with chili powder and cumin for taco meat, added to spaghetti sauce, blended into pesto or chimichurri, it is an extremely versatile wild spice.

2283

Monarda fistulosa

Making an infused honey is a wonderful and easy way to use your fresh blossoms. Fill a jar with blossoms, cover with local honey, let steep for a month and strain. You can dry the honey coated blossoms in a dehydrator for an instant (and free and all natural) cough drop that really works. Use your infused honey in place of regular honey in recipes or enjoy by the spoonful for sore throats.

Magnolia

Oh magnolia blossoms. Such a quintessential Southern spectacle. And also the state flower of Louisiana. I grew up with a magnolia tree in the front yard, and each spring my mother would place a blossom in a bowl of water on our coffee table, replacing it each day until there were no more blooms. That is pure aromatherapy there, no essential oils required.

-pickled magnolia blossoms

A few years ago, we fermented slightly unripe magnolia blossoms in brine with a little kimchi juice as an innoculant for the ferment. It worked very well, but we have missed the season for it this year. We don’t have a great place to collect any magnolia blossoms right now, sadly.  We did that year though, and I would make these again in a heart beat. You don’t use a lot of it, as the flavor is quite pungent and aromatically floral, but a few slices of pickled magnolia blossoms on a Ploughmans lunch plate, or blended into a piquante thai sauce, or rolled into sushi is perfect.

-infused vinegar

So easy- add a few roughtly chopped blossoms into a jar and cover with apple cider vinegar. Let sit for a few weeks and then strain. Use in salad dressings, sprinkled on cooked greens. You could even add sugar or honey and create your own magnolia blossom shrub soda.

-leaf as spice

Our Deep South Magnolia grandiflora is in the Laurel family, along with bay leaves. While magnolia leaves are huge, you can substitute part of a leaf for bay leaf in any recipe. I use them in stews and broths and they definitely make an acceptable substitute.

That year we found ourselves with an abundance of magnolia blossoms, we also distilled a hydrosol, or flower water, from the flowers. I used that in a spray bottle as a face toner, and found it to be calming to the skin, anti-inflammatory and slightly astringent.

I feel like I could do an entire post on each of these plants themselves, and perhaps I should have in retrospect. I hope you get out there and make something that brings you joy! Ask the plants for permission, harvest with respect, and enjoy the incredible gifts that this time of year offers.

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