Spring has decidedly come early to Western North Carolina this year. The bird song is growing ever more complex and flowers of cherry, daffodil and another harbinger of Spring have burst and bloomed. Forsythia, Easterbush, Yallar (Yellow) Bells or Golden Bells are blazing in front of many house doors throughout Appalachia. This Asian native announces the arrival of warmer, sunny days and chill nights. Forsythia is a member of the Olive family, and the 7-11 species commonly found in the US hail from China, Japan and Korea, but are now found all over the world. (There is also a native species of Forsythia native to Eastern Europe).
The latin name stems from Scottish botanist William Forsyth, who brought the beloved ornamental plant to Appalachia. In my opinion, a Chinese name would be far more suitable. Forsythia suspensa and Forsythia viridissima and their cross, Forsythia x intermedia which are all common across America today. Forsythia is also one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Traditional Chinese herbal medicine. The fruits of Forsythia suspensa, the species used in Chinese medicine most often, are called lian qiao. It is considered a bitter, cold herb, and TCM calls for it with the heart, lung, and gall bladder meridians.
This flowering woody shrub has been used for at least 3000 years In Chinese medicine. Lian qiao is used internally for chills, fevers, headaches and externally for burns, infections, and rashes. It is also listed in Korean and Japanese medical texts.
While the fruits, which are not really born in temperate climates, are traditionally used for medicine, the young leaves and flowers also contain important anti-inflammatory compounds and are edible. It’s best to not consume the older leaves however, as they contain a glycoside known as phillyrin.
I eat the blossoms in salads and baked goods, and gather them to dry for tea. Forsythia is not especially nutritious or tasty, as it has a slight bitter taste, but it does contain rutin which protects and prolongs the activity of vitamin C which acts as an important antioxidant in the body. It is often paired with two other incredible Asian herbs, Skullcap (scutellaria baicalensis) and honeysuckle (lonicera japonica) flowers to treat upper respiratory infections, namely those of a viral nature. These would be powdered and taken as a decoction. I combine the flowers with honeysuckle in tea for stubborn upper respiratory infections and as a beautiful floral tisane to be enjoyed in a clear glass to allow the eyes to feast on the lovely yellow blossoms.
In Appalachia, these plants have been around ornamentally since about 1880 and have birthed lore in this region that can’t remember a time without them. They say after the Forsythia blooms there will be three more snows. The other folk name, Easterbush, also refers to the tendency to bloom around Easter.
You can make a syrup or jelly with the blossoms just as you would dandelions. It’s lovely and yellow and is a perfect sweetener for Springtime mocktails garnished with violets. It can also be used as an addition to herbal skin lotions and oils. Check out these recipes here.
Bless the approaching Equinox and the goodness the promise of Spring brings.
Michalak B, Filipek A, Chomicki P, Pyza M, Woźniak M, Żyżyńska-Granica B, Piwowarski JP, Kicel A, Olszewska MA, Kiss AK. Lignans From Forsythia x Intermedia Leaves and Flowers Attenuate the Pro-inflammatory Function of Leukocytes and Their Interaction With Endothelial Cells. Front Pharmacol. 2018 Apr 24;9:401. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2018.00401. PMID: 29740324; PMCID: PMC5928392.
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