Did you know that magnolia flowers are edible?? This has come as a surprise to many, many people, as we love being a part of that learning journey. From what we’ve read, there are no reported toxic varieties of magnolia, which indicates that all varieties are safely edible, however as with all wild food foraging, it’s up to you as the forager to ensure that what you’re about to pop in your gob isn’t going to harm you, so best do a bit of extra research around whichever variety of magnolia you’d like to try using before you munch on it.
It is the petals that you eat, and the younger petals – when flowers are still buds or just opening out – that are the most palatable: like with most edible wild foods, the older they get, the more bitter their flavour. Different species have different flavours, with the most commonly enjoyed ones seeming to be the bog-standard purple and pink tinted Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia soulangiana). The petals have a delightfully powerful clove & ginger kind of flavour, and they can be eaten fresh, cooked, pickled and even dried and used as a medicinally relaxing tea. Our mate Rob from The Cotswold Forager swears by a fresh magnolia petal wrapped around a piece of chocolate brownie, and this beautiful 6 minute video showcases how many different kinds of delightful and interesting foods can be made with fresh magnolia (variety liliflora) blooms.
While researching recipes to adapt, we couldn’t find and definitive answers on whether it’s safe to eat the stamens and pistil (reproductive parts in the middle of the flower), but enough of the reputable sources we referred to used unopen flower buds – including the centra parts – in a variety of methods, and nowhere was it mentioned that there is any danger in doing so. As such, we felt confident including the central parts of the flowers in the buds we pickled, as they were still soft. We removed petals from more developed flowers, as by that stage, the central parts had become firmer and we felt they would be unpleasant to eat for a textural point of view.
We saw a magnificent tree in a local front yard absolutely bursting with blooms, so we knocked on the door and asked if the owners would mind us picking a few. They didn’t mind at all, so we collected enough buds and flowers to fill about 4-5 jars, and spent an evening getting them into a pickle solution. Pickled magnolia petals have an incredibly potent spiced, gingery flavour, and they can be used in place of straight-up pickled ginger, or dipped in tempura batter and fried, or chopped and tossed through salads in place of a dressing. They only take 2-3 days to be ‘ready’, and will last in the fridge for a month or so, so they’re a great preserve to try as a method of catching and storing energy while they’re in abundance.
10-12 young magnolia flowers or large flower buds
250ml rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup white sugar
A pinch of salt
- Gently wash and dry magnolia flowers.
- Remove any brown papery bracts from around buds, and any bruised petals.
- If using buds, cut stems right to the base of the flower. If using opened flowers, remove petals from centre of flower.
- Sterilise a large jar, then put buds/petals into jar. Using tongs or a flat knife can help squeeze buds in. Rolling individual petals into a rosette will help keep them submerged.
- Heat vinegar, sugar and salt to boiling, then simmer for 5 minutes.
- Pour vinegar solution over magnolias until covered. Seal lid while hot and invert jar for 1 minute (this helps heat air inside jar, and means you’re likely to get a better seal as it cools).
- Allow to cool, then put in the fridge. They’ll be ready to eat at any time, but are better if left to cure for at least 24 hours.
Store in the fridge for 2-3 days before opening, where they will last for 6-12 months.
* You could try dipping these pickled buds in tempura batter and deep frying for a tasty spicy snack.
* Once the flowers have been eaten, keep the beautiful pink vinegar to use in cooking where you want a flavoured acidic hit.
Permaculture Principle 2: Catch & store energy; 3: Obtain a yield; 6: Produce no waste 5: Use and value renewable resources and services; 10: Use and value diversity; 11: Use edges and value the marginal
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