Springtime in the Forest

On this beautiful Earth Day, I'd like to share with you the wonders of my part of the planet. Subtle scents permeates the air in the Pacific Northwest at this time of the year: Soft tassels of new growth fir and spruce trees - their scent reminiscent of citrus and fresh-cut grass. Fiddleheads emerge from the damp forest floor. They spiral towards the light and their shoots are tender and delicious. Miniature galaxies of elderflowers, with their blackcurrant-like aroma dot the forest like little fragrant stars. And last but not least: the balsamic sweetness of the budding black cottonwood trees, which envelop the forest trails with a promise of sweet, warm sunny days. 

All of these are nature's reminder to steer away from the floral cliches and celebrate spring with other plant-parts. If you are like me, spring is the time of year to rediscover the classic Fougeres in your wardrobe, and discover new plants that are coming to life, as well as discover new wild plants to forage and bring nature home, literally, after our long hibernation.

1. Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads are the budding, coiled “leaves” of ostrich ferns  (Matteuccia struthiopteris). The fiddleheads are present in early spring, and are considered a delicacy. They have a very similar to asparagus in both flavour and texture - but a lot more tart. 

Perhaps it's the fiddleheads - spring to me is the best season to enjoy fragrances from the Fougère (fern in French) family. Namely, l'Herbe Rouge. You might also want to try my idea for an Edible Fougère Recipe: Fiddleheads in Lavender Butter

2. Fir Buds & Violet Leaves

A wonderful way to enjoy the scents of the forest all day long is place a few of these conifer buds in your water bottle. Douglas Fir is the most delicious of all - and the needles can be used that way year-around. You'll stay hydrated and also benefit from the vitamin C that is naturally occurring in these leaves (the only local source of those until the summer berries ripen). They smell like a Christmas tree and have delicious, slightly tart lemon-tangerine aroma.   

Rainforest perfume captures the scent of the temperate Pacific Northwest forests - the largest of the temperate forests in the world, and with the most productive biomass. It combines the fragile, crisp cucumber notes of violet leaf with damp forest floor with sprucejuniper and pine
Rainforest also makes use of my very own wild-harvested elderflowers essence - which is our next topic! 

3. Elderflowers

If you've ever visit my studio in April and May, you'll be served the fragrant and refreshing elderflower"champagne" - effervescent soda infused with wild-foraged elderflowers that I make at home. You can create your own by following my recipe on SmellyBlog. Also, you may enjoy a subtle nuance of elderflowers in Sandal Ale - where it adds a fruity aroma to balance the sweet apricot and funky hops notes.

4. Cottonwood & Balsam Poplar Buds

I'm yet to try this Cottonwood Bud Oil Recipe, an infusion that has healing properties for muscle aches and damaged skin; but I've been inspired to capture this scent in a perfume by tincturing it. 
Etrog Oy de Cologne, however, uses a different part of a tree from the same family: balsam poplar buds absolute. It gives it a unique, honeyed aroma that echoes the sweetness of the rare citron fruit. And speaking of citrus - have you heard about the Citrus & Cologne Week-long Course (May 4-8)? It's perfect for beginner students of perfumery, and there are 2 spots available. 

For more ideas on how to celebrate the beauty and diversity of this planet with local, handcrafted perfumes made with wild-harvested botanicals, visit ayalamoriel.com

Fragrant Gift from the Forest

Yesterday we foraged for fragrant elderflowers in Stanley Park. It was a typical spring day: incidivisive weather, ranging from trickling rain, pounding hail and at long came the beautiful sunny afternoon I was waiting for, so I can go pick elderflowers.

Elderflowers are my new fling: we've only just met at the farmer's market on Saturday, and I'm already smitten with its delicate, berry-like aroma. And it took me only one time of enjoying the fresh cordial (or shall I call it iced flower infusion), to be convinced that these are worth traveling the miles for and risking a dirty shirt and a slip in the rainforest swamp for it.

It was beautiful, and I remembered seeing many of the shrubs along the trails I frequent on my weekend strolls; so I went wearing my best clothes without realizing how adventurous humans get when searching for food. White cashmere sweater is not a proper attire for such an adventure; and neither is a skirt; unless you want your bare skin to get kissed by cold wet moss. I was very glad that at least I had the forsight to put on good hiking boots though, which prevented me from slipping into the many mini-swamps that crawl alongside most of Stanley Park's trails.

A few tips about picking elderflowers: shake them well from the many little bugs that inhabit them before you take them home. You might still need to shake them again before using them for your infusions; but it will be a lot less messy.

Elderflowers are supposedly more fragrant before noon. If your weather allows, go for it and head out in the morning. I had to wait till late afternoon and they were still very fragrant and beautiful. Also, I find that the smell better after they are picked than straight on the branches, where at times their honeyed berry scent is overpowered by animalic nuances reminiscent of wet dog coat and skunk spray. Which might be why I never was tempted to forage them till this year. Thank the farmer's market for exposing me to the picked flowers!

As for the uses - you can make cordials and liquors with them, and once you've got your hands on the flowers - the process is simple. You can make it in two concentrations - a concentrated syrup-like cordial, or an infusion that can be drank fresh as it is. Below are the recipes for both:

Making Eldeflowers Cordial

Fresh Elderflower Infusion:

1.5L boiling water

1/2 cup evaporated cane sugar

30 elderflower clusters

2 organic lemons, cut into 8 wedges

Boil the water, and pour into a pitcher over the flowers, sugar and lemon.

Infuse overnight (or for 12 hours), covered in a cloth.

Refrigerate and use within a week (there is no need to strain the flowers and fruit, they will continue to infuse the water with their aroma).

To serve: pour half a glass of the flower infusion through a strainer, and half a glass of San Pellegrino or other unsweetened soda. Add ice cubes if desired. Enjoy!

Elderflower Cordial:

Most recipes call for citric acid (which is a preservative, but also kills the delicate floral aroma, in my humble opinion). My recipe won't last as long, but is true to the flowers.

1.5L boiling water

1kg sugar cane

40-60 elderflower tops

2 organic lemons, cut into 8 wedges

Dissolve the sugar with the boiling water.

Add the lemon wedges and the flowers. Cover with a cloth and infuse overnight (or for 12 hours). Strain through a fine sieve or mesh cloth, and store in sterilized containers, in the fridge.

This cordial may be used to taste (it's very concentrated) in soda water, in addition to iced teas, lemonades, poured over ice cream, and used in cocktails.

You may also use elderflower to make your own elderflower liquor - I haven't yet, but will this weekend, and if it goes well I will share with you my recipe.

White Spring at Lighthouse Park

I went for a hike today at Lighthouse Park, and stumbled upon some beautiful white flowers, not all of which were fragrant, but all the same beautiful:

The white lilacs were on the way to the park on Beacon Lane. Crisp looking and befitting a bridal bouquet in appearance alone... Their scent is just a tad cleaner and less sweet than the purple lilac.

Within the park, blooming tall shrubs of what looks like a wild pear judging by the flowers and leaves, but is more likely to be Saskatoon (which will turn into not too small-apple shaped berries later in the summer).

Red elderberry's flowers (aka elderflowers) are described in Plants of Coastal British Columbia as "White to creamy, small, with a strong, unpleasant odour; muberous, in a rounded or pyramidical parasol-like cluster". Admittedly, they did not smell all that bad to me... Not any worse than blackcurrants. But my nose is more tolerant than my taste buds, and I'm still not quite sure if I like elderflower cordial or not.

And last but not least, the pristine lily of the valley blooming by the rocks in the lighthouse keeper's garden. A feast to the senses and a pleasant surprise to find them in the forest by the sea!

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