Common Lilac – Syringa Vulgaris: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Candy of Wild Plants

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Lilac is not native to Ontario, but it’s pretty easy to find having been a favourite hedge of many homesteaders. It’s more of a candy to our native insects than nutritive (as a native plant would be). With that and the folk name “nose-candy”, candied petals, etc., “candy” seemed an apt title.

My extensive library has a surprising zilch on common lilac (syringa vulgaris). I’ve heard by word of mouth it’s medicinally like elderberry lite, and if that’s truly the case it’s likely to stay in the shadows. Foraging-wise, the floral taste lends it to being more of a novelty garnish.

This shrub from the olive family is not native, and it can escape into the wild. Hybrids may be less likely to escape. But note some varieties certainly can be invasive; driving through West Virginia I saw Korean lilac taking over the roadsides and even noticed purple spots very high up the mountains! Lilac is a little uncommon around Haliburton county, but where people homesteaded and spread you’ll stumble upon lilac fairly regularly. Some dusty old roads have hedges like this:

Common lilac hedge (syringa vulgaris)
Common lilac hedge (syringa vulgaris)

Edible Uses of Common Lilac

The petals are very bitter and flowery tasting. In recipes, they usually are included more for colouring and decoration purposes. Candied blossoms, flowers in baked goods and beverages, purple jellies and syrups for instance.

Medicinal Uses of Common Lilac

Lilac is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Astringent. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes, as an astringent, it may be used as a pleasant smelling ingredient for some skin tonics.

Have you heard of French lilac? Metformin was originally developed from natural compounds found in the plant known as goat’s rue or French lilac (galega officinalis L.). It’s used to lower insulin and is presently hyped up for longevity. Despite being called lilac, it’s not really related; French lilac is from the pea family, not the olive family.

Alternative Uses of Lilac

It’s occasionally used for bonsai.

Common lilac hedge (syringa vulgaris)
Common lilac (syringa vulgaris)

Growing Syringa Vulgaris

While lilac blooms the sweet scent lures moths like our many daytime sphinx spp. Butterflies including skippers, and various bees will flock to it. It’s a popular nectar source, that’s for sure!

There are plenty of sweet smelling, more beneficial native plants too. A similar native being New Jersey Tea (ceanothus americanus) – a plant featured here and more recently in our pollinator diaries. It’s sometimes called “wild lilac”.

There are mixed opinions on lilac in native gardening circles, or that is, mixed opinions on whether you should keep any nonnative plants. More about the lilac debate can be found in our swallowtail diary. Some of the compromises include planting a hybrid instead, or cutting the seed heads off the common lilac after it blooms to prevent spread into the wild by seed. Ask your local native plant group for suggestions on pleasant smelling native alternatives and you’ll get plenty of recommendations!

By the way.. do YOU pronounce it Lie-Lack or Lie-Lock?


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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