White Acacia Tisane

Acacia blossoms mark the beginning of summer in Poltava. White clusters appear on craggy trees that ordinarily get noticed only because their powerful roots crack the pavement around the city. But come May, the streets are filled with their perfume of sweet orange and jasmine and the sidewalks are covered with a carpet of white pointy blossoms. “Now it’s really the end of spring,” remarks an elderly woman to no one in particular. She rearranges bunches of green onions and dill on a makeshift stall she set up near a bus stop and brushes off the fallen acacia flowers onto the pavement.

white acacia

I count spring not in months but in flowers. First come apricot blossoms and star magnolias. Then cherry blossoms make their brief entrance turning dreary Soviet-era street blocks into Impressionist etudes. Apples, lilacs, and viburnum move in successive waves, and finally it’s the time of acacias. In their heady perfume I smell the blistering heat of summer and dusty chestnut leaves.

Acacia is a misnomer, because the plant is a black locust tree, robinia species. (To add more to the fragrant confusion, the plant Americans call acacia, Europeans call mimosa, and they have nothing to do with the white robinias I’m describing.) White acacia is closer to wisteria, another blossom with the potential to transform the ugliest surroundings into an abode for fairies with its sinuous vines and heavy clusters of grape colored flowers.

White acacia flowers are the source of honey that is famous for its delicate perfume and lack of crystallization. Even after a year, it remains fluid. The blossoms are edible, with a honeyed taste and a fresh pea like sweetness. They can be dipped into a thin batter and deep-fried, turned into syrups, cordials and jams. They can be sugared and used for decorating cakes or eaten as fragrant bonbons along with a cup of bitter coffee. There is enough aroma to linger through all of the preservation techniques.

acacia tisane

This spring is set on fast-forward, with nearly all flowers coming into bloom at once, and instead of the more complicated preparations, I opted for drying acacia blossoms. I thought that perhaps drying might make the flavor coarse and grassy, but when I brewed a cup of tisane, using nothing but water and a touch of honey (1/2 tablespoon of dried blossoms, 1 cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon mild honey), I could smell the delicate perfume.

For the best fragrance, acacia blossoms should be picked when they’re freshly opened, because the flowers past their prime have a musty scent. Dry them in a shady spot, avoiding direct sunlight which will rob the petals of their essential oils. Store in a well-sealed canister and retain a souvenir of spring so ripe that it’s almost summer.

To make candied flowers or perfumed syrup, please follow the instructions in this article, replacing violets with acacias.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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54 Comments

  • Annette: Beautiful photos! We don’t have acacias where I live and I don’t know this tree. Instead. I will make jasmine tea for my breakfast. June 1, 2016 at 9:17am Reply

    • Victoria: If you add a little bit of orange flower water to jasmine tea, you’ll create a perfume similar to acacia. June 1, 2016 at 9:34am Reply

  • Mer: This is such a discovery! I love these but never imagined they could be edible. In a park close to home yesterday they were falling to the floor. I will go by today as well and try to collect some fresher ones. June 1, 2016 at 9:40am Reply

    • Victoria: I tried acacia beignets for the first time in Provence, and I recently found several different recipes in a charming French book devoted to cooking with flowers. Mostly, I add them to salads, because paired with the lemon and green onion vinaigrette, they taste especially wonderful. Unlike some other flowers, acacia has crunchy petals, especially if the flowers are young, so you don’t get the squeaky effect of raw roses. June 1, 2016 at 10:49am Reply

      • Mer: Thanks for this! I got two handfuls of flowers, soaked in rain. I will dry them, but I will also make this tisane after dinner with some fresh ones. Must have a bite as well!

        Would you mind sharing the name of that book? June 1, 2016 at 2:54pm Reply

        • Victoria: Enjoy your harvest! If you can find some more for beignets, do try them. You can make a simple tempura batter. It’s such a treat.

          Délices de fleurs by Alice Caron Lambert is the book I was talking about. It has lots of tips and recipes. June 1, 2016 at 3:34pm Reply

          • Mer: It was a bit of a difficult harvest balancing on a ledge, I should find a better source ;P

            Now that I’m reading the French beignets recipes, I think these would work also well in a buñuelo batter which is more familiar to me. I normally add anisette, but I think that might be too harsh for these flowers. Hmm… Elixir d’Anvers?

            I should get that book! June 1, 2016 at 4:46pm Reply

            • Victoria: I think so. The idea is to coat the flowers with something not too heavy and fry them till crisp. Then you can add powdered sugar on top. A hint of anisette sounds delicious to me, and I think that it will work well with the acacia flavor.

              French publishers regularly produce books on cooking flowers, and I have a small collection of them, but the one by Caron Lambert is still my favorite. June 2, 2016 at 6:48am Reply

  • Nick: Ah hah, I was wondering for a minute there why called it acacia because I have the same trees in the backyard. They perfume the night air with creamy coconut and orange blossoms.
    And, of course, sweet fritters in the kitchen! June 1, 2016 at 11:10am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s technically called a black locust tree, or robinia pseudo-acacia, but I grew up with it being called white acacia, so I find it hard to shake off the association.

      By the way, they also exist in pale and fuchsia pink. Can you imagine how beautiful they look! June 1, 2016 at 11:49am Reply

      • Nick: Ours here are pinkish!

        On an unrelated note, I have just read your observation of ‘Boy’ on the WWD article. Interesting trend, indeed. I tried it today and must say that it seems to be quite fickled in parts. Sometimes fresh aromatic coumarinic top with lavender, geranium and roses, then a bit like Jersey parfum and 19 Poudré in the soapy powdery musky lavender and vanillic combination. Finally, an undulating mossy note. June 1, 2016 at 12:05pm Reply

        • Victoria: The pronounced mossy note is such an unexpected part. So, did you like Boy overall? June 1, 2016 at 2:40pm Reply

          • Nick: I like it. Still deciding whether I can comfortably wear the later development, which is lavender-vanillic-musky-soapy-powdery — not what I expected for a traditionally masculine structure. Perhaps, it goes to show that this structure can actually be wonderfully appropriated as a feminine offering. I have this image of Audrey Tautou rising from the bed to slip her lover’s white shirt on, mixing her own lingering perfume with his. June 2, 2016 at 3:14am Reply

            • Victoria: I don’t remember now, but did you try Caron Pour Un Homme? June 2, 2016 at 6:53am Reply

              • Nick: I did. The lavender in Pour Un Homme is clearer with just an accent of amber and vanilla. June 2, 2016 at 6:58am Reply

          • Nick: The mossy note is not pronounced. More like…what is left on skin after using La Toja shaving foam 🙂 June 2, 2016 at 3:20am Reply

            • Victoria: On my skin, that is. Especially in the late drydown. June 2, 2016 at 6:54am Reply

              • Nick: Ah, my definition of ‘pronounced’ is like the mossy part in Aramis. But, going by your definition, I agree that the mossy part is pronounced late in the dry down, and especially if I leave it on the blotter. June 2, 2016 at 7:02am Reply

                • Victoria: Yes, gotcha. Aramis is a chypre, after all.

                  What I liked about Boy is that its various nuances remain distinct. I know that much was made about it being a “feminine” fougere, but the truth is that until fougere became associated with Dakkar Noir, the family was perfectly suited for both men and women. June 2, 2016 at 7:10am Reply

                  • Nick: Indeed, it is about exploring the possibility of the structure regardless of the gender association. Such an interesting idea.

                    We should halt our discussion here until your analysis comes up! No more spoilers! 😉 June 2, 2016 at 7:14am Reply

                    • Victoria: Deal! 🙂 June 2, 2016 at 7:20am

  • Alicia: What a charming post! I have no acacias around; here it is the time of lilacs, Siberian iris and late tulips. I have to look at them through a window, fortunately a large one, since I have broken a foot, and can’t walk in the garden. Friends have brought a large bouquet of my lilacs to the house. Two of my bushes are what are here called Russian lilacs, and they are extraordinary, the others are the classic “French”. Native azaleas are in flower, pale pink and white, and a sea of white violets, for some reason sold as Siberian or Tsar violets. I know that in less than two weeks all that will be over, all more dear in their ephemeral radiance. Now you leave me to dream of acacias and their delights. Thank you, Victoria. June 1, 2016 at 11:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Sounds like an embarrassment of flower riches. Do Siberian violets have scent? June 1, 2016 at 2:39pm Reply

      • Alicia: No, no scent at all. I have other species of violets, but no scent in any of them. Perhaps it is the cold temperatures of the region. I have had gardens in warmer latitudes and my violets were fragrant.
        My garden here is indeed full of lowers. I planted most of them through the years, and they give me much joy. In my Berkeley, CA home i have a rose garden, mostly old roses of entrancing fragrances. You would enjoy them. There I am also able to grow camelias, with no scent but much beauty. I am a decent gardener, one of the few practical things I do well. June 1, 2016 at 4:35pm Reply

        • Victoria: Antique roses are harder to find, but they have the best scents. Our one old shrub smells so rich that when it blooms I note the perfume in the house.

          As for violets, ours also don’t have any scent, but the color is beautiful, vivid purple. June 2, 2016 at 6:46am Reply

          • Alicia: Besides the white, there are smaller pools of pinkish violets, purple , confederate (light purple and yellow), bluish purple (sort of lavender), and two plants of black violets (a new addition from a couple of years ago).
            Nothing like the scent of those roses (it changes with the variety),and the entrancing rose de mai. Their only fault is that they flower once a year, at least most of them. June 2, 2016 at 1:37pm Reply

            • Victoria: All of these colors together must look like a mosaic. We have regular Parma violets, but they also bloom once and then turn out large, heart-shaped leaves. June 7, 2016 at 9:33am Reply

              • Alicia: The same here, Victoria. All my violets bloom once, in mid and late spring.Since the white ones have proliferated extraordinarily, the other ones look like pools of color in the large white field. June 7, 2016 at 10:56am Reply

                • Victoria: I love the rosettes they form on the ground. Of course, few things are as touching as a splash of violet color on a cold spring day. June 7, 2016 at 2:05pm Reply

          • Nick: It is hard to find scented violets in the wild nowadays. I am growing my Viola odorata from the seeds I got from Vil Morin in Paris. Only seven out of probably a thousand seeds germinated! I am waiting for the blooms to open to see if they smell great like ionones. However, I did crush the leaves, but did not smell anything like Fahrenheit. Do you think maybe the violet leaf used in perfumes comes from a different variety? June 3, 2016 at 1:18pm Reply

            • Victoria: It’s from viola odorata, but of course, by the time the essence is derived from leaves and processed, it smells differently. June 7, 2016 at 9:43am Reply

  • Karen A: Too funny as when I saw your photo I thought, those look a lot like the black locust flowers! A friend kept calling it acacia and I kept “correcting” them since acacia is something else….. Ours are not in bloom yet, but when they are, another fragrant treat! June 1, 2016 at 12:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’re right! Black locust, though, is not an appealing name. But given the way they spread, very well deserved. 🙂 June 1, 2016 at 2:41pm Reply

  • Hamamelis: Until this lovely post I had never realised there are lots of Acacia’s (Black locusts) in my neighbourhood, and they are in bloom. They are quite high so I have to find a way to smell their scent that doesn’t involve ladders…! June 1, 2016 at 3:33pm Reply

  • spe: How charming! Your posts make me want to go to the land of my ancestors (Ukrainian on my Dad’s side)….The reference to the woman selling dill and onions in that fragrant setting is brilliant. And it makes me feel so far away from “home.”

    On a separate topic, I must thank you for the recommendation to try 1932 as a perfume akin to First. It is exactly what I’m looking for. Got the extrait. Thank you so much! June 1, 2016 at 3:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so happy that 1932 was the right suggestion, and yes, the extrait is by far the best option. The EDT is too thin, by contrast. June 2, 2016 at 6:43am Reply

  • Alexandra Star: You create such lovely images with your writing, Victoria!

    Growing up in Kenya, the acacia I know is a different tree, more akin to mimosa. There are many varieties there. I didn’t know the robinia was the source of the delicious acacia honey. But now I realise that robinia makes such a wonderful haven for bees, much like the vibernum. The vibernum in my garden is literally ‘buzzing’ at this time of year.

    The acacias in Kenya spread their branches out like umbrellas, providing shade for the nomadic Masaii as they steal a brief respite from the shimmering heat while driving their cattle and goats. The goats can often be seen climbing the trees to eat those lovely fluffy scented flowers! June 1, 2016 at 10:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: Robinia honey has a delicate flavor and a heady perfume. Unfortunately, this spring has been first very hot and then rainy and cold, so there are not many bees around.

      The Kenyan acacias must be impressive trees! In my limited experience with goats, I noticed that they will stop at no obstacle to get what they want. 🙂 June 2, 2016 at 6:52am Reply

  • Katy: Known to me as Black Locust as well, we are working with these trees for Bonsai. I have one on the bench and another in the grow out bed. They are both young trees so no flowers yet but I look forward to their eventual blooming. Black Locust and Honey Locust are very prevalent in my area and I find them lovely trees, with their pinnate leaves and deeply fissured bark and incredible flowers. June 2, 2016 at 7:16am Reply

    • Victoria: I can imagine they suitable for bonsai, since they seem to grow in the most contorted forms. I recently found a park of nothing but black locust trees, and it was such a splendid sight. June 2, 2016 at 7:20am Reply

  • Ann: Thank you, Victoria, for this post. I have always loved the flowers of the black locusts in our yard but didn’t realize they were edible. Ours haven’t bloomed yet, but I’ll be ready! June 2, 2016 at 1:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: It was a discovery for me too during my time in the South of France. The woman running our bed & breakfast made delicious fritters with them, and I got hooked. June 7, 2016 at 9:34am Reply

  • Andy: I never thought to use the flowers of this tree for anything edible, but this sounds delightful. We may be just at the tail end of their blooming here, so I will see if I can try and find some and make this tea before the locust flowers are finished. If I can’t find any more blooms, I have at least enjoyed their aroma wafting over our public park these recent weeks. June 2, 2016 at 2:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: I was candying them based on your recipe, and the bonbons came out well. I hope that you found some more flowers to try. Their sweet taste is such a surprise. June 7, 2016 at 9:36am Reply

  • mj: One of the things I love about this blog is how much I learn from reading it. I’m terribly ignorant about trees, I can differentiate between a willow and an oak, but this is it; and now I know what’s the name of one of my favourite trees in Barcelona, the one I always called “Glicina tree” because it reminded me of Wisterias… I will try to smell the flowers! June 3, 2016 at 3:37am Reply

    • Victoria: I spend a lot of time in the countryside growing up, and all three of my grandmothers knew a great deal about plants and their properties (medicinal, culinary, etc.), so some of that knowledge remained. On the other hand, I discovered that acacia was edible during my stay in France. June 7, 2016 at 9:42am Reply

  • iodine: One of my favourite smells! I ate them in a salad, once, but never thought of brewing them. Next year! BTW- no perfume based on this note, yet?!
    Always thinking of you, in this period of the year- though both lime blossoms and magnolias are quite late 🙂 June 5, 2016 at 11:28am Reply

    • Victoria: I can’t think of any that are similar. Most perfumes claiming to represent acacia or wisteria don’t really come close.

      This spring is cold, so I imagine that the blooms are delayed. On the other hand, something to look forward to! June 7, 2016 at 9:53am Reply

  • Aurora: I like very much the way you describe the signposts of spring in Ukraine. I am familiar with miel d’acacia but will now pay more attention to the other uses of the tree. I recall a tree near the office which might be one, if so it’s not blooming yet. And I love tisane, so I hope when the flowers finally arrive I will be able to ‘steal’ some and dry them. June 6, 2016 at 1:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: You can brew tisane out of fresh flowers too, in which case the flavor is sweeter and more delicate. Or you can mix dried flowers with verbena, melissa or mint. You can also add them to black tea. Unlike jasmine flowers, they don’t taste bitter. June 7, 2016 at 9:55am Reply

  • Olga Bodnar Talyn: almost 40 years ago my uncle used to send me a perfume called Bilaya Acacia from Ukraine. He passed away years ago. My cousin in Lviv can’t find it. I have never been able to see if it still exists. It was wonderful. There must be a bottle left somewhere. By the way it may still be possible to have an exhibit at the Ukrainian Museum for that wonderful artist. June 8, 2016 at 2:52am Reply

  • Imelda: I hope dear Victoria, you won’t be disappointed to find your lines and pictures about the acacia tree on my webpage wrapped into a haibun … already I stole from you a few lines (about roses) for an other haibun and I feel guilty, but I enjoyed so much your lyric style of wondrous information, that I couldn’t resist!

    Acacia honey has since ever been my favorite and those flowers every time I spy them on an asian market I buy some for cooking, but never had the idea to steep them into tea! Your blog is incredibly well written and all subjects are interesting, I wonder why I did not came across earlier … June 10, 2016 at 5:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: I visited your blog, and I regret to say that what you have done is both plagiarism and copyright infringement. I appreciate that you like my content, but I ask you kindly to remove my texts and my photographs from your blog and not to use them in such a fashion in the future. It takes a lot of work to create original content, and I hope that you appreciate the effort involved in Bois de Jasmin by not “stealing” its materials. June 11, 2016 at 9:50am Reply

      • Imelda: Dear Victoria, you are totally right it isn’t fair to adorn myself with borrowed plumes, and I am glad I informed you. I agree and be aware the time it takes to create a beautiful and informative website. Please let me know if you agree the changes of my website. I removed the story about the ‘morning roses’ and personalized the last one and would be happy to mention your website as inspiration … June 11, 2016 at 11:31am Reply

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