Learn how to identify, forage, and harvest grape hyacinth flowers with ease.
Grape hyacinth (Muscari Armeniacum) is a perennial plant that produces brilliant blue buds. They’re not to be confused with hyacinths, however, which are not edible.
Grape hyacinth is simply the common name for Muscari Amerniacum, and they’re actually a part of the Lily family. It’s not a true hyacinth at all! It’s common name was brought about for obvious reasons, with the small, bell-shaped clusters of bright purple buds, and the fact that it looks similar to, well a hyacinth.
Don’t worry! While regular hyacinths are toxic, grape hyacinths are completely safe, and easy to identify. The buds are unique, and you’ll be able to tell right away.
Grape hyacinth is native to Southeastern Europe, and blooms all over North America. They’re extremely hardy in zones 3-9.
Every Spring these beautiful flowers pop up all over my neighborhood in north Texas. My son loves to pick them! They’re pretty common in our area, and can often be mistaken for bluebonnets.
How to Identify Grape Hyacinth
There were several reasons I was able to confidently identify that it was indeed grape hyacinth growing on our property. These are things you should take into consideration as well when trying to make sure that you’re working with an edible flower instead of a toxic one. And remember, don’t worry! These look very different from the toxic hyacinths, as you’ll soon see.
Take a look at the flower buds
The number one thing to look for when identifying wild grape hyacinth is the shape of the buds.
Each bulb produces 1-3 stalks with tightly packed flowers. The flowers look like little bells or upside down urns, with a white rim along the bottom of each bud.
It’s common to see the bottom buds wilting as the new ones on top open up.
The leaves of the grape hyacinth plant are long and thin, and will usually pop up in your yard a couple of weeks before the flowers bloom.
For comparison, here is a picture of a true hyacinth flower. These are toxic to humans and pets if ingested, and can even cause mild skin irritation.
Are you feeling more confident now? These look nothing alike. The general shape of the buds is what gives this wild flower its name, along with the clustered buds that resemble a bunch of grapes.
Here’s another close-up picture of the flower buds on a hyacinth, to help you differentiate.
Grape hyacinths are often considered a weed
Many people search for ways to get rid of grape hyacinths in their yard, because they’re extremely invasive. This means they’re more than capable of growing wild in your area. If you find a bunch of these flowers in your yard without having planted them there, the odds are in your favor.
Some people plant them on purpose, to brighten up their yard or walkway. However, it’s common for them to completely take over the area and creep up into garden beds. I have found quite a few in my garden beds this year as well, but I just harvested them and enjoyed some grape hyacinth lemonade.
While many people may find it to be a nuisance, you can absolutely leave these flowers alone, or harvest them and eat them!
Because they pop up all over our homestead throughout the Spring, I took this as another big sign that these were indeed wild grape hyacinths.
Where do grape hyacinths grow?
While grape hyacinths originated in Southeastern Europe, they’re naturalized in North America. They can be found all over, especially in the South. Texas, Louisiana, Florida, all the way up to Canada.
According to EatTheWeeds.com, “The species has had a lot of botanical drift and over the years nearly four dozen different names.”
I know I’ve found several different scientific names for grape hyacinth while doing some digging for this post. They are edible, and they are the same, maybe with slight variations.
Harvesting Grape Hyacinth
Remember to take into consideration the area in which you are foraging or harvesting, as well as any local laws and regulations regarding the picking of flowers and plants. Don’t forget that pesticides may be on the plants if you find them somewhere off of your property. If you use any weed killer or pesticides in your yard, you’ll want to leave the grape hyacinths alone.
While the entire plant, including the leaves are edible, the blossoms and buds are most commonly harvested. The buds have an earthy, slightly grape-y flavor that I’ve really come to enjoy. I even love the scent, though I’ve found it to be fairly mild.
Remember that bees love grape hyacinth, so make sure you leave plenty of the blossoms behind for them. Our property is overrun with grape hyacinth, so this was easy for us to do.
You can pick the entire blossom from the bottom, or even just below the buds. If you’re planning on making an infusion like I did, simply pop the little bulbs off of the plant.
Using Grape Hyacinth
You’ve harvested your wild (or planted) grape hyacinth. Now what? Here are some ideas:
I followed Lauren from Hillsborough Homesteading‘s recipe for grape hyacinth lemonade. I adapted my own version of a grape hyacinth simple syrup, but she was the original one who came up with this awesome idea!
Grape hyacinth blossoms are used as flavoring in Europe, and was planted as a source of starch for ironing clothes in the past.
I’ve read that some people pickle the blossoms and buds, which is now next on my to-do list.
As with any wild edible, the sky is really the limit on how to use grape hyacinth in your kitchen. You can cook them up and simply eat them, or you can add them to your floral pasta.
One important thing to note is that grape hyacinths contain saponins, which gives the buds a slightly bitter taste. Some people find that boiling or cooking the buds gives it a better flavor. Saponins are not toxic to humans in normal amounts. In fact, it can be found in quinoa, and the average vegetarian’s saponin intake is said to be pretty high.
The presence of saponins is simply the plants way of protecting itself from pests. Nothing to worry about in this case, though you should know that saponins are toxic to cold-blooded animals. Don’t share your freshly foraged meal with your pet lizard, if that’s something you’re into.
I hope you found this article helpful! Let me know in the comments if you have wild grape hyacinth in your yard, or if you’ve decided to grow it yourself!
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