Magnolia flowers can be identified by their large, showy blooms and distinctive appearance. They typically have thick, waxy petals that are white, pink, purple or yellow, depending on the species. Common edible varieties are white and pink. Magnolia flowers have a cup-like shape, with several overlapping petals that surround a central cone or cluster of stamens.
The petals are usually large, with a smooth or slightly wavy edge. When foraging for magnolia flowers – look for highly fragrant blooms, with a sweet and citrusy aroma that can be detected from a distance.
Make sure to find a magnolia tree in a natural, pesticide-free environment. The trees are very distinctive during the spring months due to their tendency to flower prior to the formation of leaves.
Look for mature flowers with petals that are starting to open, but haven’t fully bloomed yet. Gently pluck the flowers from the tree, being mindful not to damage the tree or take too many flowers from one tree.
It is not a given that all magnolias are edible, so do taste with caution, or check out this list of known edible species.
Magnolia flowers can be foraged in the spring, typically from March to May, depending on the region and climate. Magnolias are a very popular ornamental tree, so are commonly found in urban spaces, including parks and gardens. They prefer moist, well-drained soil and are often found near water sources. When foraging for magnolia flowers, choose ones that are fully open and have a fresh fragrance.
Avoid picking flowers that have begun to wilt or show signs of decay. It is also important to ask for permission before foraging on private property and to respect any rules or regulations in public areas.
Magnolia flowers have a delicate, sweet and gingery flavour with a subtle hint of spice. The flavour can vary slightly depending on the species of magnolia, but in general, it is similar to a combination of ginger and jasmine with a touch of vanilla.
As with most edible wild foods, the older they get, the more bitter their flavour. Magnolia flower flavour does vary depending on the variety, a general guide to follow is:
Dark pink = bitter, gingery, chilli
Pink/White = gingery, cardamon-y
White = more lemony, subtle, sometimes floral
Infused syrups: Make a simple syrup with magnolia flowers and use it to sweeten cocktails, lemonade, or iced tea.
Floral ice cream: Use magnolia flowers to infuse cream or milk, then use the mixture to make a creamy, floral ice cream.
Magnolia tea: Steep dried magnolia flowers in hot water to make a fragrant and calming tea.
Wild chai: add magnolia petals for a ginger-y kick to a wild chai.
Magnolia crumble bars: Wonderful, gingery, flower filled crumble bars!
Magnolia sugar: Mix dried, ground magnolia flowers with granulated sugar to make a fragrant and floral sugar that can be used in baking.
Pickled magnolia: similar to Japanese gari – the thinly sliced and pickled ginger often served with sushi.
Salads & Garnish: Add fresh magnolia petals as a garnish to salads or desserts for a pop of colour and flavour.
Magnolia flowers have been used for their medicinal properties in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. They are believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and anti-depressant effects. The flowers contain various compounds such as honokiol and magnolol, which have been shown to have antioxidant and neuroprotective properties.
Magnolia flowers are often used to treat conditions such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and digestive issues. However, it is important to consult a healthcare professional before using magnolia flowers for medicinal purposes, as they can interact with certain medications and may not be suitable for everyone.
Magnolia flowers have a rich history and folklore. The plant is named after the French botanist Pierre Magnol, who first described the genus in the early 18th century. In Chinese culture, magnolia flowers have been used for centuries to symbolise purity and nobility.
They are also associated with the feminine, as the petals are said to resemble the skirts of a ballerina. In the United States, magnolia flowers are often associated with the southern states, where they are a common sight in gardens and parks.
In some Native American cultures, the magnolia tree is believed to have healing powers and is used in various traditional medicines. In terms of folklore, there are many stories and legends associated with magnolia flowers, including tales of love, betrayal, and rebirth.
One important note when foraging magnolia petals: be sure to avoid the white, bitter base of the petal. This part can cause an upset stomach and should be removed before using the petals in your cooking.
Many of our Cookery Courses include a short foraging walk as part of the day, introducing you to a handful of commonly found wild ingredients.
Essential if you’re picking on private land. As with everything, respect is key and goes a long way.
If in doubt, leave it out.
Why rush? Nature isn’t going anywhere! Take time to ensure you safely identify your finds.
One step at a time.
No one becomes an expert overnight. Build up your identification skills and your confidence will grow.
Enjoy the process.
Foraging is not only about what you pick but the experience – Immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the little things. The fresh air, birds chirping, a light breeze or the feel of soil beneath your feet.
With an abundance of forage at your doorstep, why not start local?
The 10% rule.
Only take what you need (or 10% of what is available). This not only means that you leave plenty for other foragers, but also local wildlife. We want to enjoy our ecosystem not damage it.
Leave room for regrowth.
Never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.
Wash before consumption.
Always give your foraging finds a good wash before consuming, especially when picking on busy routes/path.