This lilac syrup has a bit of a story behind it—the other day as I was pulling out of the driveway to head to the market, something caught my eye. It was a small bunch of lavender peeking out from over the fence of our yard, and it filled me with pure and utter joy. Our lilac bush has been in our front yard long before we even owned our house. When we moved in, the butterfly bush next to it was completely overgrown and smothering the lilac, so much so that it barely had any flowers on it. After lots of delicate pruning, it’s been in really good health the past couple years.
This winter, however, the butterfly bush tilted into the lilac a bit because the ground got so soft, and there’s quite a bit of dead butterfly bush branches blocking the way to the lilac bush. I’ve been meaning to prune it but haven’t gotten around to it quite yet. The lilacs in Portland proper bloomed about 3 weeks ago, so I assumed that I somehow missed ours blooming since I couldn’t get to it easily, or that it just wasn’t having a great year due to said lack of pruning (sorry, bushes).
So, when I saw that it was loaded with flowers and looked healthy and vibrant as ever, I was beyond excited. As soon as I got back home, I grabbed my clippers, waded through the pokey butterfly bush branches, and went to town gathering the lilacs into my basket. I wanted to savor their lightly floral flavor through the season, and there’s no better way to preserve the taste and smell of this delicate bouquet like a good ol’ fashioned simple syrup.
The flavor of a good lilac syrup can be described in one simple sentence—it tastes like it smells. In another reimagining of the sentence, it’s the flavor of heaven. As for utility, this lilac syrup can be put to use in a variety of drinks + sweets. I’ve been using it in my morning matcha latte and it’s been senselessly good, but you could also put it in cocktails, other tea/coffee beverages, iced teas, and the like. You can also use it to flavor desserts like cobblers, whipped cream, and custards. The options for this lilac syrup are pretty much endless, as they should be because its delicate flavor works well with nearly any sort of fruit or sweet. Lilac syrup is also stupefyingly easy to make—it just involves bringing some water and sugar to a boil, letting it cool for a few minutes, pouring the syrup over the flowers, letting them sit, and then straining it. That’s it! It probably requires about 20 minutes of active work, the rest is just waiting for the infusion to cool.
A Few Things to Note
It’s very important that you know the source of your lilacs to make sure they’re organic and don’t have pesticides on them. If you’re getting them from the florist *make sure they’re organic* and food-grade, you don’t want to ingest any chemical stuff. I also recommend infusing them for 2 to 3 hours, but not longer. Because of the heat of the syrup and the sugar content, it can spur the natural decomposition bacteria on the flowers and result in a syrup that tastes like an old flower vase if you over-steep them. While instinct might make you think that the longer it sits, the more potent the syrup will become, nature disagrees with you. These flowers have a very delicate flavor, and it’s best to only infuse for a few hours to keep that bright fresh floral note that it has at its first whiff.
In terms of the flowers, this recipe calls for 3 cups of packed lilac flowers. This means that the small individual flowers need to be pulled from the cutting. I recommend doing this over a large bowl, you can grab a few at a time and pull and they come off very easily. Just try not to get any green bits, stem pieces, or dead flowers in the bowl. It goes by really quickly, just throw on some music or a podcast and go to town pulling away!
This is such a wonderful way to preserve the flavors of spring. I love adding this syrup to my morning matcha latte, but I think it would be wonderful in all manner of hot tea and coffee beverages, as well as a flavor booster for whipped cream, pancakes, and lots of other goodies.
A couple things to note, though: only use lilacs from a source that you know isn't using pesticides on their flowers. If you get them from a florist, there's a solid chance they've been sprayed, so make sure to check with the florist before you prepare them for consumption. If they're in your garden, you're good (presuming you're not using pesticides. If so, please stop! It's terrible for honey bees + the environment.) Also, don't over-steep the flowers. They can begin to decompose quickly because of the heat and the sugar, so as long as you stick to the directions below you'll be fine. Enjoy, my friend!
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 3 cups water
- 3 cups tightly packed organic lilac blossoms flowers only, no stem or green bits attached
Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring every few minutes.
Allow the syrup to boil for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes.
Place the lilac blossoms in a large heat-proof pot. Pour the syrup over the blossoms, then stir to make sure they're covered in syrup. Place the lid on the pot and let the mixture infuse for 2 to 3 hours. I'd be cautious about letting them infuse for too much longer, as the sugar in the syrup combined with the heat can speed-start the decomposition process of the flowers, and the delicate aroma and flavor of the lilacs can turn into the smell and taste of an old vase of flowers, unfortunately.
Pace a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl and pour the syrup and lilac mixture into it, straining out the blossoms. Compost the blossoms in your yard or bin. Pour the syrup into clean glass containers and seal tightly.
Refrigerate the syrup, and use to add a little flavor of spring to your sweets + beverages. I especially love this with my morning matcha latte! The syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.