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Mahonia Flowers

Here’s Why I Call This Plant ‘Angels Breath’

Each year I set the intention to gather pine pollen, and each year I miss the season.

That’s one of the frustrations about foraging. With so many plants out there, sometimes there just isn’t enough time to gather them all when they are at their best.

Yet out of this frustration comes forth a delight. You’ve gotta love paradox!

The realisation that although I may have missed the gathering season of a specific plant, it is at the same time a great lesson in patience and becoming more present in each moment.

I often find myself chuckling as I realise that I will have to wait a whole year before I can try and gather the plant’s bounty again.

How different from the way our culture relates to food.

Let’s face it, if you forget something from the market, you can always nip down the shop again and it will be brightly displayed… even if it is months out of season.

Foraging has taught me many life lessons. It goes way beyond simply putting food on my table, and is instead a lesson in living.

I love how nature is such a wise teacher, when I pay attention to it.

This week, I want to encourage you to step outside, and find a plant that is just starting to grow.

Trees are usually good at this time of year, especially pines.

I want you to take notice of this plant every time you walk past it.

Watch it through its lifecycle.

What do you notice?

Try picking it at different stages, then get a notebook and start recording its taste and texture and anything else that takes your fancy.

Is there a specific time when it really comes in to its own?

I had that happen to me last week.

I was walking back with a friend at 11.30 at night, when suddenly I was hit by the most exquisite smell.

I mean I was truly “brought to my senses”.

My friend and I stopped, then walked backwards trying to identify which plant it was.

Lo’ and behold I realised that this divine smell was coming from a Mahonia.

Mahonia japonica identification

Mahonia japonica

I had never smelt it like this before.

So my friend and I pushed our faces as far into the yellow flowers as we could, without getting wounded by its prickly, holly like leaves… and simply breathed in lungfuls of ecstasy.

I’ve nick-named Mahonia; ‘Angels Breath’.

Try tasting the flowers, because at this time of year they are truly something else.

Think sherbet. First you experience the super sweet honey nectar followed by a delicious lemony tang.

I ponder what I can do with them beyond simply popping them into my mouth.

If you have experimented with Mahonia flowers, why not leave a comment below. I’d love to hear what you’ve done with them.

About the Author Robin Harford

Robin is a forager and self-taught ethnobotanist. He specialises in wild edible plants and has been running foraging courses throughout the UK since 2008. He travels extensively documenting and recording the traditional and local uses of wild food plants in indigenous cultures.

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11 comments
Colin says

Mahonia…. ‘Oregon grape’…
Try pulling a blade f grass and poke it into the center of the flower…
Mahonia flowers are sensitive and the stamens will close over your blade of grass. all of the beberris family do it as far as I know…
…Colin…

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Colin says

Oops! I forgot a full stop and capital there!

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Jane says

I have a large Mahonia beside my front path, it’s been flowering for about a month now and I expect it to carry on until March ~ truly stunning smell, best at dusk and after dark. I shall try a flower tomorrow ….. The other perfumed plant I love is Sarcococca ~ there is a large one in a garden I work in, you can smell it from 50 meters away 🙂

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Jay says

Don’t take Mahonia flowers! It is a very important bee and moth food at a time when they have very little to forage and it may be a choice between life and death for them. Be an angel and enjoy the perfume, but leave the flowers!

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Jo Dalietos says

I’ve eaten Mahonia berries! Made a delicious coulis. Will definitely try the flowers next.

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Sue Reed says

I saw a whole hedge of Mahonia recently and didn’t know they were edible! Unfortunately they were along the border of a petrol station so maybe not a good place for picking!

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sj says

I also purposely planted the ‘Winter Sun’ variety for bees I keep in a top bar hive as this is one of the best for forage during this season, but I’m sure they won’t mind if l now try those flowers myself! 🙂 Nicotiana is wonderful night scented too.

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JacQuie says

Thanks for this posting. Unfortunately the Mahonia in my garden went a bit wild and kept popping up everywhere I did not want it to be. Also at the time a bit dangerous for the children when they were younger. The beautiful hybrid growing where I did want it to be split in the dry summer a few yrs ago followed by a really cold winter. It finally succummbed, but yes it did scent the garden, I never tasted the flowers.
Those of the Mountain Laurel send a beautiful perfume across the path in the winter months, but I will not taste them.

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