Hello, yellow! Boy, are we glad to see you. 

Forsythias are blooming beautifully across the island giving us golden glory and sweet scents. Flowering forsythias kick off spring with their naked niceties. Their flowers are alone and unadorned on branches as their blossoms precede the coming of their leaves.

Some folks didn’t have to wait until now to see forsythia’s superb spectacle. The impatient among us couldn’t wait for the natural arrival of forsythia’s felicitous flowers. For those with an early yearning for yellow, it is common practice to force forsythia’s buds to produce early flowers in late winter.

This route is not always recommended. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Indian guru, mystic and teacher, gave this advice for flowers and living: “Don’t try to force anything. Let life be a deep let-go. See God opening millions of flowers every day without forcing the buds.”

Forsythia is a cultivated plant that hails from Asia. It is cherished in its native lands and considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Chinese herbology for health and well-being. 

Beyond its extensive list of traditional herbal properties and remedies, this plant continues to provide modern day medicine. Due to forsythia’s antimicrobial and detoxifying compounds, extracts are used in commercial dandruff, acne and athlete’s foot products.

Robert Fortune, famous, or perhaps infamous Scottish botanist and plant hunter, is credited with bringing forsythias to the world outside the Asian continent. Though it is said that fortune favors the bold, this Mr. Fortune is hailed by some and hated by others for a herbal heist.

In the mid 1800s, Mr. Fortune was hired by the British East India Tea Company to trek to China on a tremendous tea task. Mr. Fortune traveled the countryside disguised as a Chinese merchant (no word on how the Scot accomplished this) to find the most terrific tea plants. He illegally purchased and smuggled both the herb and cultivation know-how out of China, and established the plants and methods in India to provide a reliable tea supply to England. Adoring both the brew and the flower finds me beholden to Mr. Fortune’s feat, which supplied both the tea and flowers that have become beloved in this country. 

Forsythia has found sweet success since those early days, as have I in extracting its delicious essence. Forsythia’s fragrant flowers are edible, used raw, and steamed and dried in a variety of ways. My favorite is forsythia syrup, whose golden color adds depth and flavor to cocktails and desserts.

Only three ingredients in equal amounts are needed to make this stupendous syrup. Combine equal parts sugar and water and heat to boiling. Boil for one minute, and then turn off the heat and add rinsed forsythia flowers. Steep overnight, drain well and refrigerate. Be sure to use this floral concoction within three months to assure freshness.

Though not much is sweeter than this syrup, perhaps Miss Forsythia comes close. This honor is bestowed to a lovely lady in an annual Forsythia Festival in Forsyth, Georgia, the second week of March.

Let’s raise a forsythia-flavored glass to both Miss Forsythia and Mr. Fortune. And, most of all, thank the bounty of nature for providing such a sweet spring salutation.


Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.