LOCATION: Native to southwestern Asia, but cultivation has spread worldwide.
DESCRIPTION: This lilac’s small flowers—each with four narrow leaves—grow in clusters, and have a lovely, rich fragrance. The plant itself is dense, with a stout stem and dark green leaves. It is used ornamentally in gardens or as a dramatic flowering hedge. Persian lilacs love the sun, and can survive in warmer climes than many other lilacs. Though the Persian lilac is deer-resistant, the flowers do attract butterflies and humming birds.
ANECDOTE: Syringa persica was one of several lilacs brought from the Ottoman Empire and to the gardens of northern Europe at the end of the 16th century. By 1597, the great herbalist John Gerard noted that he had these lilacs growing “in very great plenty.” They were introduced to the American colonies in the 18th century.
TRADITIONAL APOTHECARY: Lilac flowers are edible, and can be picked, washed, dried, and used in salads and as a garnish for desserts. In herbal medicine, extracts of the bark, roots, fruits, and flowers are carefully processed to treat some kinds of tumors, fever, diarrhea, intestinal worms, and rheumatism. The extracts of the bark and fruit of Persian lilac have tonic, constipating, and antipyretic effects. But pregnant women should not use this plant, and in high doses it is toxic.