Forsythia Flower Syrup
Mid to late March in Appalachia, most of the trees and spring ephemerals are still a few days or weeks off from popping, but forsythia is here in its sunny highlighter-yellow glory. Global attention has turned to herbal medicine in the past few weeks as coronavirus has spread to over 100,000 confirmed cases and conventional medicine has become less accessible and available. One corner of the herb spotlight has shined down on sweet forsythia, the show-stopping ornamental herald of spring in so many rural and urban areas.
Chinese medicine traditionally uses the steamed and de-seeded fruit of the forsythia bush or 'golden bell' for clearing heat and expelling wind. It has an affinity for the heart, lung, and galbladder meridians. Pneumonia, flu, and bronchitis are three of its indications, and it is especially used along with honeysuckle. It is one of the three key ingredients in a formula that has been widely used in the Chinese COVID-19 outbreak, Shuang Huang Lian.
I've been experimenting this week with making a syrup of the flowers, since they're abundant around me right now, won't be available much longer, and I'm positing - based on anecdotes, a couple Chinese medicine text references, and taste - that they have some similar, though not identical, properties as the fruits. The flowers are labor-intensive to pick, but after enlisting my three-year-old's help we were able to pick over a cup of flowers in 20 minutes or so of delightful, meditative 'work'.
Forsythia Flower Syrup
1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh forsythia flowers (Forsythia suspensa)
1 1/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup honey or agave (or other sweetener of choice)
Don't omit the most important step: inhaling the signature scent of your flowers once they're all gathered together. Is it not spring in a cup?!
Now that your olfactory senses are tickled, add your freshly plucked forsythia flowers to a clean glass jar and pour the boiling water over them so that they are covered. Steep covered 12 hours or overnight (once cooled down to room temperature, you can steep it in the fridge if you like), then strain and squeeze, discarding or composting the spent flowers. Add the honey or agave, stirring it into the liquid until it is well combined. Store in the fridge. Alternately, you could preserve it with a little alcohol (brandy or vodka would be nice) to make a shelf stable version (enough to make it at least 25% alcohol).
I'm freezing half my syrup and keeping half of it on hand in the fridge to sparingly stir into oatmeal, smoothie bowls, tea, or whatever else strikes my fancy. The taste is somewhat floral with a definite bitter edge. It's medicine. Foodie medicine, but medicine indeed.