Lilac - Syringa vulgaris

Main features

  • Deciduous shrub growing to 6m 

  • Usually found in gardens, woodland, hedgerows, parks, roadsides, and waste ground

  • Often has lots of suckers at its base

  • Leaves are heart-shaped, with a dark green upper surface that has a velvety-sheen

  • Flower heads shaped like inverted cones and are dense clusters of white, purple, lilac, or pink flowers

  • Flowers have four petal lobes, sometimes these are layered

  • The base of the flower is a long tube; the whole flower looks like a trumpet

  • Flowers have a strong scent similar to Parma Violets

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Lilac - Syringa vulgaris

Edible tree - novice

Other common names Common Lilac, French Lilac


Scientific name meaning Syringa comes from the Greek Syringos meaning "pipe or tube" and a reference to the base of the flower. Vulgaris is Latin in origin and means "common or general"

Season All year

Habitat - where will I find it? A common sight in parks and gardens, Lilac is a native of the Balkans and has naturalised in the UK. 

It can be found in woodland, in hedges, on roadsides, and on brownfield sites or waste ground

Description - what does it look like? Lilac is a deciduous shrub growing to 6m tall. It produces suckers so often appears very full at its base.

The heart-shaped leaves have a dark green upper surface with an almost velvet-like sheen to them.

The flowers heads are in a panicle formation (a long stem with small clusters of flowers along its length) tapering at the top. This gives an inverted cone shape to them. 

The flowers themselves have four petal lobes and can sometimes have a single layer of petals or several layers of petals, giving the a petticoat like appearance. This is dependant on the cultivar. The flowers have a long tubular base, giving the whole individual flower a trumpet-like appearance.

Flower colour is white, purple, lilac, pink, or deep pink.

The scent of the flower is strong and reminiscent of the confectionery Parma Violets 

Possible lookalikes Could be confused with Buddleja species, but these have oval rather than heart-shaped leaves

Use as a food The flowers are used to make jams, jellies, syrups, flavoured vinegars and cordials. They can also be used to infuse cream or milk to make dairy-based puddings.

The flowers can also be used in cake decorating and sprinkled through salads

Use in herbal medicine Lilac has been used to treat internal parasites and mouth sores, and to break fevers

If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Other uses Perfumeries use Lilac flower oil, while dyes of various colours have been extracted from different parts of the plant

Hazards None known to author at time of writing

Importance to other species The flowers provide an important food source for pollinators

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!