I am super psyched tonight because I (thought I) managed to acquire some pagoda tree blossoms. I’ve never heard of anyone making stuff with these flowers (if you do, tell me about it please! And if you don’t, and you live in a place where you can urban wildcraft some pagoda tree flowers, I really recommend you try them!) but I am a big, big fan.
Years ago, I moved into an apartment with a beautiful tree in front of my bedroom window. When spring rolled around, this tree, like many others in the neighborhood, put out cascades of heavenly-scented creamy white flowers with a touch of light yellow. The indiviual blossoms looked a little bit like wisteria except for the color. I had never seen these trees before and it took me a good bit of research before I could identify them. They turned out to be pagoda trees, also known as scholar tree (Styphnolobium japonicum) (formerly called Sophora japonica). For some reason–I can only assume it was temporary insanity–I apparently did not take any pictures.
In the course of researching I learned that pagoda tree flowers have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well as being antibacterial and emollient and are used in Asian medicine, and I of course determined to make something with them. But what? My first plan was to make a lotion. This….was a failure. I will not go into the gory details because I don’t want you all to think I’m a total idiot. Even though I might be. Besides, I managed to save the
failure project by turning it into a balm. And danged if it didn’t turn out to be the best lip balm I have ever used.
Last spring, I spotted a single pagoda tree. For some reason which I don’t remember but again I’m going to say temporary insanity, I didn’t harvest any of the flowers. I knew I’d be back the next week, and in my previous experience the blossoms had hung around for weeks so I figured I’d get them later. But when I came back, they were all gone. Sad face.
So this year, I vowed that the second I saw a flowering pagoda tree I was going to be all up on that thing like heavenly-scented petals on…well, on a pagoda tree. And today was the day! And the flowers were abundant enough for me to harvest a bunch without even putting a dent in the trees’ (there were actually two!) reproductive activity.
There were some people around so I refrained from doing an actual jig.
Now last year when I saw these flowers, I pegged them for pagoda tree blossoms from a distance. I am 90% sure they were more-or-less white, like all the other Styphnolobium flowers I had ever seen.
But this year they’re pink. That makes me think they are actually Styphnolobium affine, also known as Eve’s necklace, coralbean, or Texas sophora. According to this factsheet, S. affine can have flowers ranging from white to pink (can the same tree have different colored flowers in different years?). The shape of the flowers and leaves and the texture of the bark are, as far as I can tell, pretty much identical to those of the pagoda tree, as is the rich, sweet scent. I mean, I’m sure a botanist or tree specialist could tell the difference but my point is that these trees are morphologically very similar. However, pagoda tree is native to East Asia, while Eve’s necklace is native to North America (Texas, to be exact). According to the Wikipedia–a dubious source at the best of times but sometimes you gotta work with what there is, and there isn’t much about Styphnolobium online–“Styphnolobium is a small genus of three or four species…” I can’t find any information on medicinal uses of S. affine but in such a small genus, and given the incredible morphological similarity between the two species, I’m thinking there’s a very good chance that they share similar medicinal properties.
So never let it be said that I am not an herbal pioneer! I put those flowers, whatever kind of Styphnolobium they are, in oil to infuse. And I will let you know if they work as well on the skin as pagoda tree flowers do. (Can’t wait!) In the meantime, enjoy some pictures of pretty flowers:
Incidentally, if you’re wondering why I decided to infuse in oil as opposed to any other application, it’s because I think these flowers are ideal candidates for oil infusion (and subsequent use in lotions and salves). Oil infusion is best for extracting the properties of oily-type flowers. You’ll recognize them because the petals tend to be thick and have a satiny or waxy look to them. If you pinch them they are likely to be very juicy, and they often have a strong scent. Think, for example, of calendula, jasmine, and orange blossom. Oils are also a good choice for resins such as Balm of Gilead. This is not to say that you can’t use alcohol or water to extract from oily flowers, or that you can’t make infused oils using non-oily plants. But it is a good tip to remember.
I’m infusing in coconut, rice bran, and olive oils. Coconut because I think the smell will harmonize really nicely with the scent of the flowers. I didn’t have enough though, and partly also to keep it from solidifying, I added a little organic extra virgin olive oil. But I didn’t have enough of that either! (I had gathered more flowers than I realized.) So I added a little rice bran oil. If this gets made into a skin concoction, those oils will be a really nice blend.