A Bewitching & Beautiful Spring Love Spell from my Stillroom
To my darlings, Fable and Auphealia….It’s lilac season right now in Scotland isn’t it? For all of my young friends here in America, it will be lilac season very soon! I hope you’ll all have some fun making these delicious and magical confections and then invite your mothers to tea! There’s some Brambly Hedge magic for you as well and a walk through the New York Botanical Gardens glorious lilac collection! I hope you enjoy it!
"I made wine from the lilac tree ~Put my heart in its recipe~It makes me see what I want to see~And be what I want to be" ~ Nina Simone
I'm a Midwestern girl through and through and there is nothing that captures the memories of an Ohio spring like the extraordinary scent of a glorious French lilac in bloom! Alas, it's also one of the hardest of scents to capture in perfumery, because unless you are working with a botanical perfumer, most of the lilac perfume that you will encounter isn’t anywhere near as good and if you really love the sweetly sensual scent of the lilac, you WILL immediately know the difference. I’ve heard it said that with their sweet fragrance and heart shaped leaves, they are “Natures love letter to Spring”.
A vase of freshly-cut lilacs placed in your bedroom chamber will enhance your dreams and dreamwork. The sweet fragrance of lilac will also aid in divination and intuition. A vase of lovely lilac flowers placed upon your desk or anywhere that you find yourself working is said to help increase your creativity.
They are just such beautiful shrubs…In New England there has been a longstanding tradition to always plant them by the front door as a sign of welcome. I’ve often thought that this is why you encounter so many in Ohio, given that until 1800 we were part of the Connecticut Western Reserve. Lilacs can live for a very long time and don’t require that much care. In fact I have one on my property that I’m sure was planted when our home was first built in 1926 and it is planted right by the front door and still as happy as can be. When I open up my office window when this particular bush is blooming, I am 8 years old again, playing happily in my fathers gardens.
Often when you are traveling through a wooded area you will come across one that surprises you with it’s presence. It’s often there because there was originally a front door there, so very long ago. Remember that, the next time you see one on a walk in the woods… that there was possibly once upon a time a homestead there, babies born there, lives well lived and ended there. You can look for clues and often you’ll find bits and pieces of a home that has since vanished into the mist of time, bits of crockery , brick and basketry.
Lilacs are the spring flowers that hold the most precious memories for me. My mother had a beautiful crystal vase that was her mothers that I now own. Every spring she would fill it with huge and overflowing stems of the purple and white lilacs that my dad grew for her and put it on the dining room table. You could smell them all through the house. I thought that fairies lived within the blossoms and I still do.
I’m always sad when lilac season is over, but I've discovered that one of the best carriers for this elusive scent is good old fashioned cane sugar, so when the lilacs are blooming I beg , borrow and steal enough of the fragrant blooms from all of my friends and neighbors to create a sweetly perfumed lilac treat. The end result is a beautifully tinted and infused lilac sugar that I can use to make jellies, syrups, love spells and tea sugars.
The process is simple. Take as many lilacs (make sure they haven’t been sprayed!) as you can find and pick the blossoms off of the stems. Always pick the freshest blooms and make sure that they haven’t yet turned brown. Put them into a bowl and add a bag of white sugar. Toss and cover and allow the blooms to infuse the sugar. The next morning take the cover off of the bowl . The sugar will smell amazing, but it will be damp. Place all of the sugar and lilacs evenly on dehydrator trays (or cookie sheets if you are using a low oven) and allow it to dry for about 2 hours and then put all of it back again into a covered bowl. Pick another large bunch of lilac blossoms and put them into the dehydrator for about 3 hours (no sugar this time). When they have begun to really dry but not yet lost their scent, take them out and stir them into the already infused sugar.
Let it air dry (or you can use a very low oven but be careful, you don't want caramel!) for about 6 more hours and put it all up in an air tight jar. The scent is astonishing and the sugar is delightful when you use it in tea or sprinkled on cookies, cakes or other confections. It makes a gorgeous gift packaged in a pretty cut crystal or porcelain sugar bowl. I wouldn't use metal because you don't want any sort of bitter reaction , a common chemistry problem between metal, sugar and flowers.
One warning...really make sure that you dry it properly..keep checking the flowers. It takes lilacs a while to dry properly. You want the color and scent to still be there but not too much of the moisture, otherwise your sugar will end up with a brownish tint!
If you don’t want to use cane sugar, you can make a lovely lilac honey. Just pick several cups of lilac blossoms and check them for insects. Don’t wash them! Take a mason jar and fill it halfway with some raw honey. Add a cup of the lilac blossoms and tamp them down with a chopstick. then add more blossoms until the jar full. Pour in more honey and then let it sit for awhile. In a few hours the flowers will shrink in size and move to the top of the jar. Cap the jar and let it infuse for several days stirring it occasionally. This will keep in a cool pantry for a couple of months. I love the taste of the flowers so I don’t remove them, although you can if you prefer. You can use this honey in tea or if you wish, why don’t you stir it into some soft organic butter and enjoy it on warm scones with some clotted cream?
“A long favored celebration of spring’s arrival, the NYBG Plein-Air Invitational has introduced talented artists to the Garden’s beautiful and varied collections since 2016. Visitors are invited to explore the landscape not only with their eyes, but also through the lens of the painter. This celebration of botanical interpretation began with the 2016 artist-in-residence, James Gurney. While best known for his illustrated book series Dinotopia, Gurney has also created breathtaking paintings and sketches of NYBG’s collections, and has served as a mentor for other aspiring plein-air artists.
While the Garden remains temporarily closed, you’re welcome to join us virtually during during lilac season as we revisit our 2019 Plein-Air Invitational with Gurney.
Plein-air painting takes the artist’s studio outside. It is a sensory practice that is dependent on surveying unfiltered, natural beauty. Gurney himself notes that “observation fuels his imagination.” While the landscape may be shared by all of us who encounter it, plein-air painting allows the observer to interpret nature’s beauty and make it their own.
This video, Sketching Lilacs at The New York Botanical Garden, was shot in May 2019 by Gurney, and features his creative process as well as the joys, trials, and tribulations of painting outdoors. We hope this video will permit you to bring a little nature into your living room. Should you like to try your own rendition of lilacs at home, please view this recent video of the Burn Family Lilac Collection for inspiration. Enjoy!”
Just for fun:
“It's Wilfred Toadflax's birthday and everyone in Brambly Hedge is busy preparing for His surprise party. Will Primrose get him to the party without giving away the secret - and where is the hamper containing Wilfred's birthday cake and presents?”
"In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash'd palings, Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green, with many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love, With every leaf a miracle - and from this bush in the dooryard, With delicate-color'd blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green, A sprig with its flower I break." ~ Walt Whitman
Do you have any wonderful memories of lilacs? Favorite recipes? I’d love to know about them. Drop me a note in the comments or DM me on LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook.