Common Lilac – Syringa vulgaris

Lilac blossoms
Lilac blossoms

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed,
And the great star early drooped in the western sky in the night,
I mourned, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring….


By Walt Whitman (1865)

This shrub of Eastern Europe first came to North America with early European settlers in the mid 1750’s. They were included in the earliest botanical gardens here, and were also grown by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in their gardens. Gerard described the flowers by saying, “many small flowers in the form of a bunch of grapes …consisting of four parts like a little star, of an exceeding sweet savor or smell. . .”

Due to the scent that Gerard refers to is the reason that an essential oil has been, through great effort, finally been steam extracted. It is hard to find, and very expensive, but is used as perfume, in making a sachet, potpourri, and can be found in soups and lotions.

In 19th century America it was utilized as a vermifuge, tonic, anti-periodic, and a febrifuge. As a febrifuge it was used in the early treatment of malaria. Children with sore mouths have been encouraged to chew the leaves and twigs.

A dye can be obtained from various parts creating various colors.

            Leaves: green & brown

            Twigs: yellow-orange

            Flowers: green

Lilac is the state bush of New York, the purple flower clusters are the floral emblem of New Hampshire, and a number of cities call themselves the ‘Lilac City’…Spokane, Washington, Rochester, New Hampshire, and Cornwall, Ontario, Canada.

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