Springtime Syrups — A Redbud Recipe
Many things signal spring’s arrival: daffodils poking out of the ground, cherry blossoms opening, the vivid chartreuse of new leaves emerging. But one of my favorite heralds of the changing seasons are the early magenta flowers scattered about forest edges and in people’s yards. Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are small native trees that are some of the first colors to emerge, covered in thousands of incredible pink flowers just waiting to be visited by a variety of pollinators. These trees are somewhat unique in their cauliflory, where flowers form directly on trunks and mature branches, instead of solely on new growth. Their zigzag branches produce heart-shaped leaves that give way to delicate gold in the fall, and are a favorite of the native leaf-cutter bees that chew off small circles to line their nest walls.
Another reason I adore redbuds are their versatility in the kitchen. That’s right—these buds are edible! From sprinkling them on salads to baking them in treats like muffins and scones, red bud blossoms are a welcome seasonal addition to many dishes, only to be limited by your creativity. One of my favorite ways to use these foraged flowers are in syrup, complete with the beautiful pink color seen on the trees themselves. The recipe below can even be modified for other edible flowers like elderflower, honey locusts, violas, and lavenders. Have fun experimenting with ways to use the syrups!
1 cup flowers
4 cups water
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
Pick flowers and clean them by rinsing in cold water. I found it helpful to float the flowers in a large bowl, letting other materials sink, then scooping out the pink flowers and buds. Do your best to remove stems as too many will impart a bitter flavor and throw off the color of the syrup.
Bring flowers and water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepot. Remove from heat, cover, and refrigerate overnight. At this point, you essentially have a redbud tea-like drink! If the color is off, slowly add lemon juice drop by drop, and watch the color change before your eyes! Remember, less is more with the lemon juice—we don’t want to overpower the delicate floral flavor.
Strain the flowers out, add the sugar, and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer, stirring constantly. Cook time depends on the consistency you want. At 30min, I saved some of the thinner liquid for cocktails (I love adding a splash to prosecco!), and stored in a jar in the fridge. The remaining syrup, I boiled down to the consistency of maple syrup, for use on pancakes! (Try sprinkling some remaining flowers on top after using the syrup).