Forsythia Syrup

When I was young, we had a huge lilac bush in the backyard, and nothing said “springtime” to me more than the heady scent of lilac drifting into newly opened windows. Here in the Hudson Valley, “spring” is all about forsythia, the yellow flowering shrub that seems to burst into color overnight, and nearly as quickly, loses its blooms and sprouts the first pale green leaves of the season. 

While researching recipes for this month’s Can Jam, the focus ingredient for which is herbs (including flowers), I came across this recipe for Lavender Syrup in The Glass Pantry.  And while I do have dried lavender in the pantry, it got me to thinking: surely there must be something blooming now that would make a nice floral syrup?  One glance out my front door and I could hardly avoid the huge, blooming yellow forsythia bush that overhangs our stairway. “But are forsythia blooms edible?” she asks, not wanting to inadvertently poison herself, her husband or her devoted readers.  Neither of my foraging guides (Wildman Steve Brill’s and The Peterson Guide) mention forsythia, but some Googling led me to a few sites that suggest the blooms are edible and sometimes used in Spring salads. Apparently the fruit of the forsythia is important in traditional Chinese herbal medicine and is purported to treat various types of infections or inflammatory conditions. Furthermore, forsythia is not on the lists of poisonous plants or flowers that I consulted, so I conclude that it is safe to eat.

The syrup could not be easier; it is essentially a simple syrup (1:1 ratio of sugar & water) steeped overnight in fresh blooms.  Then filter and store.  Dress it up in some pretty bottles and you have a unique, and thrifty, gift. The syrup itself is lovely, a beautiful pale gold color with a fresh, subtle, floral flavor of forsythia; springy, bright, it tastes like forsythia smells. We made forsythitinis with some ice cold vodka and about two tablespoons of syrup; I also made a virgin-tini with just soda water & syrup which was delicious.  In addition to cocktails, I can see using this to sweeten tea, over pancakes, or stirred into yogurt; with a store-bought pound cake, some forsythia syrup & a sprinkling of yellow blooms, you could turn a ho-hum dessert into a showpiece.

Want more forsythia syrup ideas? Check out cranberry forsythia scones, honeydew melon jam with forsythia & citrus, and my personal favorite, peach preserves with forsythia & chile. 

Adapted from Lavender Syrup in The Glass Pantry by Georgeanne Brennan

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Forsythia Syrup

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups filtered water
  • 3 cups granulated sugar (I used white sugar for this, to preserve the color of the flowers)
  • 3 cups, lightly packed, forsythia flowers

METHODS

  1. Add the water and sugar to a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves.  Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat.
  2. Rinse the forsythia flowers under cool water; add to the syrup, stir to coat, cover and allow to steep overnight.
  3. In the morning, strain the syrup through a very fine sieve lined with several layers of damp cheesecloth.  Store in pretty bottles or jars (sterilize for maximum storage time) and refrigerate for up to 3 months.

Yields about 3 cups.

OPTIONS

  1. A word to the wise: I’ve been unable to find any definitive source that says forsythia blooms are safe to eat. I can say that I’ve eaten the syrup in  many concotions, and fed it to many other people, for nearly a year now without ill effects; but proceed at your own risk. I will continue to search for any reputable information and will update here if I find something.
  2. The original recipe called for a thinner syrup; 4 cups of water to 2 cups of sugar, and also either 1/2 cup fresh lavendar flowers or 2 tbsp dried.  I increased the amount of flowers as forsythia has a much more subtle scent (and presumably, flavor) and decreased the water to make a simple syrup consistency.
  3. This should work with any edible flower; experiment with rose petals, nasturtiums, wisteria, dandelions, chysthanthemum. Make sure to check a reputable source to ensure that your flower is edible; see the NC State listing of edible flowers (which does not list forsythia) and poisonous plants. See the Epicurean’s guide to edible flowers and What’s Cooking America’s guide here for detailed listings of uses of edible flowers.  It goes without saying; avoid roadside flowers (noxious fumes from car exhaust) and any flower that might have been sprayed with pesticides (public parks,municipal areas, friend’s yards, etc.).
  4. I’m not really sure if this is safe water bath canning due to a lack of acidity; I recommend refirgerator storage.

STORE

Refrigerated for up to 3 months. 

SEASON

Spring.

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34 comments

  1. local kitchen

    Not dead yet, but I’m not sure I’ve consumed enough for a limit test. I think more cocktails are in order! :)

  2. Cathy Wilkinson Barash

    Wisteria is definitely poisonous!!

    I have researched edible flowers for four decades, and one of the most significant discoveries I’ve made is that just because one part of the plant is edible (or as you say in the case of forsythia, the fruit used in herbal medicine), that does not mean any other part is edible. One of the best examples is the members of the nightshade family – tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants – the fruits (and potato tubers) are edible, but the rest of the plant is toxic.

    When I wrote Edible Flowers from Garden to Palate, I had Dr. James Duke, ethnobotanist and author of numerous field guides, check the list for safety. He eliminated several flowers because of potential risks – one a potential aboretefactant (obviously nothing a guy would have to worry about) another with a high oxalic acid content that could close people’s throats.

    If you want a definitive list of safe and delicious flowers,
    email me at bloominggourmet@mchsi.com

    Cathy Wilkinson Barash

  3. Hi Cathy, and thanks for your comment. The reason I included wisteria in my list of edible flowers is because it is listed in both of the foraging guides I have; I should have clarified that the SEEDS are quite poisonous but the flowers themselves are edible. The Peterson Guide suggests that wisteria blooms make excellent fritters, while Steve Brill includes them in a mid-spring wild blossom salad.

    What’s your take on forsythia blooms?

  4. I too associate the smell of lilacs with spring – that and honeysuckle. We had huge ones of both on the street where I grew up, and the memory sticks.

    I like your idea of flower-blossom syrups. How long do they keep? Can they be made in small quantities? But yes, proper research is needed for me! So off to a good reference book it is….

  5. Hi Mangochild,

    The lavender syrup recipe suggests 3 month storage refrigerated; I would guess the syrups would last even longer than that, assuming careful filtering and a sterilized bottle (there isn’t much to go bad, is there?).

    The recipe is a simple 1:1:1 ratio, at least for this bloom, so you could easily cut it down to any batch size. Certain flowers may take some testing out to get the right proportion, but if you make a syrup that tastes too strong, you could always cut it with a little more simple syrup.

    Let me know if you find any good reference on forsythia; I trolled the Interwebs in vain looking for a plant/encyclopedia/university source. I certainly did not find it listed among any poisonous plants, and found suggestions that the leaves, fruit & blossoms are edible, just nothing from a ‘definitive’ source.

  6. I think this is just brilliant, personally. What a fabulous idea! Forsythia. Of course! And I do believe you can can syrups as well. I don’t see why you can’t do this one, too. Maybe I’m missing something, though…

    Lilacs are a total indication of spring for me, too, even if they come after forsythia. Lilacs say to me that spring is definitively here. Forsythia is just a sign that spring is about to come. At least that’s how I see it…I can’t believe that the lilacs are in bloom already. So, what’s next: lilac wine?

  7. Mmmmmm lilac wine. :) Sadly, I don’t really have a good lilac source; none in our yard, and none in the park across the street (where I could “borrow” some). More reason to buy a house some day and plant my own big, fat lilac bush.

    I don’t see why you couldn’t can this; it’s not acidic, but there are no actual flowers in the syrup, so seems like it would be safe.. but I didn’t really do the research. Also I wanted to store it in pretty bottles and they didn’t have sealable lids (being the geek that I am, I DO have some lovely, cannable, squat bottles, but they are currently all full of strawberry liqueur!).

    The lavender syrup recipe I have says to store refrigerated; one of these days I’ll sort that out.

  8. forsythia syrup! ok, yoiu kinda amaze me. this looks incredible!

    i made lavender syrup last summer from said recipe and it came out great, so i can only imagine what this is like.

    …and lilacs mean spring to me also. they seemed to be everywhere around my berkshire neighborhoods last spring.

  9. Andrew

    Tried it last night. Tasted like cooked broccoli syrup.
    Ideas: 1) It was a wrong cultivar?
    2) It was just after a rain so that which gives it a floral flavor was washed out?
    3) Flowers were too old? only new ones are fragrant?

  10. Andrew,

    Hmm. Not sure there. Maybe your blooms were too ‘green?’ Did they just burst forth? Your rain theory sounds plausible. I haven’t made any yet this year, so maybe it is from our funky Spring weather? Don’t have much to tell you. It is definitely a floral/grassy flavor, and not as sweet as say lilac or hyacinth, but boiled broccoli? Blech.

    I’ll report back once I’ve made this year’s batch and let you know if mine tasted off.

    • Andrew

      Would like to see how things go on your end. Though with the rain idea wouldn’t washing them have the same effect? I only got one lady bug out of them, the last time I tried to make rose jam there were so many ants and other small critters.

      Going to try again when there hasn’t been rain, I didn’t get any smell from these.

      The Forsythia have been in bloom for a few weeks so not too young.

      • Andrew,

        I did make a batch a few days ago. I definitely noticed that the forsythia blooms themselves were not as fragrant as last year; there were not nearly as many of them either (usually our bushes are full and solidly yellow, this year a little thin and sparse, so maybe it’s just not a great forsythia year?).

        I specifically smelled my various bushes and tried to only cut stems that had nicely fragrant blooms. Also, I don’t think I specified this above, but I include ONLY the yellow part of the bloom, not the little green stem/cup that attaches the bloom to the main branch.

        The flavor of my syrup this year was definitely less floral, and a bit more grassy/vegetal, than last year. But I wouldn’t call it cooked broccoli. Of note, though, before I strained out the flowers it smelled awful, and yes, much like over-boiled broccoli. Once I strained out the flowers, however, and tasted it, the floral notes were able to come through.

        Does any of that help?

        • Andrew

          It did smell better after I took the flowers out, but still tastes like broccoli syrup. I get frustrated taking the green bits off and only took about half off. I made the mistake of washing them before that, it’s really hard to handle them wet.

          I’ll try the lilac next, that has got to be working better for me.

  11. Casey

    Ohhhh, someone mentioned honeysuckle! When I was a kid we’d pluck the flowers and suck on the stems to get that teensy little drop of sweet. (Were we poisoning ourselves? Who knows. We’re still here…) I bet this syrup would be divine with honeysuckle.

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  15. Caroline

    I can’t wait to make this with some local northern cali flowers…. You made me really miss the lilacs and forsythia from where I grew up in upstate new york! I planted two lilacs here a couple years ago and they haven’t bloomed yet (even tho the dude at the garden store told me they’d bloom the first year = thanks guy). lovely post :)

    • I didn’t even bother this year: our forsythia smelled like NOTHING. No fragrance whatsoever. :( Such a bummer. I may have to become the neighborhood lilac blossom sneakthief….

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  17. Katharina Sachs

    I researched the question on a German website (I am German). I went right away on the poison center site (you can call, if your child has eaten something dangerous). They say forsythes are entirely poisonous, but the flowers would be only slightly poisonous. It may happen you will get sickness, a painful stomach or diarrhea. Hope that helps.

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