Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Tiglio Flowers are Blooming!

Have you noticed the intoxicating fragrance of flowers infusing the air of Florence for the past few days?  It is one of my favorite scents, the sweet smell of the Tiglio Tree.  When the Tiglio tree blooms in early June, it produces clusters of dangling yellow pendulum-like flowers that emit an intense perfume. The heavenly scent is strong and very sweet, more delicate than honeysuckle but equally pungent, and stronger and sweeter than jasmine.  All of Florence smells so sweet !!

The Tiglio trees can be found scattered around a few of Florence's residential piazzas, such as Piazza d'Azeglio and on the corner of Via dell'Angolo and Borgo Allegri.  But the smell that is virtually hypnotizing the city right now is emanating from Parco delle Cascine, where an abundance of these trees cohabitate alongside their neighbors, the chestnut trees. Their captivating fragrance is carried along the Arno by breezes that blow east towards centro storico.  These tall elegant trees flank both sides of the northern perimiter of the park and they lace the interior dirt path where many runners choose to jog under their cool shade.

When these trees are dressed up in their yellow floral costumes, they are a pleasure to see and to smell.  And here's a surprise!  The flowers themselves can be eaten and are heavenly sweet.  You must pick them at the right time (within the next few days) when they are  ripe, sweet and al dente.  They are delicious and crunchy in the center.  Just pick them off the tree!

Last year I saw a woman picking them and putting them in a basket.  I inquired.  She said that the flowers are used to make an herbal tea.  So, not only can you eat the flowers right off the tree, but you can savor them all year round in your tea.  The flowers have a calming effect and medicinal properties that enable it to be used to cure stomach and digestive ailments and angina.  The sap of the trees is used to treat intestinal spasms and liver problems. The flowers are also used to create fragrant soaps, perfumes and sachets.

Because of their sweet scent, they attract bees that produce a delicate Tiglio honey reminiscent of fresh mint and eucalpytus. This honey is produced and bottled in Piemonte and Emilia Romagna where the trees thrive in great numbers.

So, if you get a chance, take a ride or a walk down to the park to observe the beauty, smell the flowers and pick some too!  They taste like candy....and wait until you taste the tea!!  Don't forget to bring a basket.  When you get home, leave them out to dry and put them in an air-tight tin can to preserve them for all-year-round tea.  But do it fast!  If we have windy rain like we had last year, the flowers will all fall to the ground before you get to them.  Enjoy!