Friday, December 16, 2011

Infusing the Flowers of the Christmas Camellia - Pretty But Not Tasty

I really love infusing flowers, either mixing them in with tea (especially black or green teas), or using them as an herbal tea of their own. I have a big bag of rose petals at home that I bought at a Mexican store (where they are really inexpensive) and I frequently steep on their own. Recently I wrote about a blooming Christmas Camellia that I found growing in my neighborhood, and I observed that the flowers had a wonderful fragrance that was similar in many respects to the floral qualities exhibited by some green oolongs.

I thought, maybe I could infuse the petals in hot water, like I do rose petals, or like people do the sepals of the hibiscus (roselle) plant. Here is a picture of the petals and flower centers (which I included because they were the most fragrant):

I used boiling water and steeped for quite some time, I did not time it exactly but it was a longer infusion. Here is the resulting cup:

It looks pretty, but unfortunately, it did not taste good to me. I would describe the infusion as having some of the tannic qualities of black tea, but in a muted way, a sort of underlying unpleasant bitterness, and some of the cooked fruit quality reminiscent of hibiscus tea, another quality I dislike. The floral fragrance of the fresh flowers was completely lost. I sipped it a bit to sample, but did not drink it.

I like experimenting in life. Sometimes you need to try some things that you don't like in order to discover the things that you do. Even though this didn't turn out that well, I'm still glad I tried it.

Warning! Do not experiment infusing random flowers:

As a side note, I want to warn people that it is not necessarily safe to go around infusing non-food plants. Everything I have read about Camellias has suggested to me that all parts of the plant are non-toxic, not just to humans but to mammals in general, and I have read that this particular species is used as a food plant, with its seeds used for oil, and that it also is used to produce an herbal tea.

There are some flowers commonly used as landscaping plants, however, which are highly toxic. If you want to experiment with brewing up an herbal tea from a plant that is not normally used for herbal teas, do some background research first to make sure it is safe.

What about you?

Do you think this plant just isn't good to infuse? Or perhaps would the flower taste better if dried first? Or perhaps is the issue that I used a cultivar selected for its visual appearance and not aroma?

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