Lilac Monograph

By Elliott Marie Brinkley, Clinical Herbalist & Owner of Dancing Willow Herbs

Few experiences match the intoxication one receives from deeply inhaling the scent of lilac. This honeyed floral scent has the capacity to settle us into our bodies with upmost ease. Lilac is undeniably enraptured in magic, with small flowers clustering to form voluptuous blooms.

One of the fastest ways to engage with the natural world is to tune into the way it is interacting with you, via your senses. Especially in spring, nature is in a love affair with the rising warmth. Without skin exposed to elements, and no flowers to smell, our senses somewhat atrophy under winter’s spell. Spring awakens like a rekindling of  passion- we are reminded of the gentle caress of wind on bare skin, the coolness of soil under bare feet, the pleasure that the sight of color evokes, the warmth of sun soaking into tender skin, and yes, the unequivocal scents that burst forth from opening blossoms. Nature is asking us to give into the pleasure, and engage with the world around us as well as ourselves.

To truly experience pleasure, we have to be in our body. Nature is one of the safest, most loving gateways for bringing us back into the body. It is important to be in our body so that we can proceed in the world balanced, in relationship from a place of being grounded in ourselves and clear in our emotions. And, the natural world is a treasure trove of delight waiting to interact with you. To deny yourself the satisfaction of fully slurping the scent of Lilac, or engaging with the taste of a lovingly prepared meal, is to deny some of the most meaningful aspects of this human experience.

Lilac gives us no choice but to return to the body. With a scent so powerful, you are immediately brought into presence.

There is something about this flowering bush that evokes a feeling of softening into beauty. What would it mean to you if you fully embraced your authentic beauty? You fully loved everything about the way you looked, walked in the world? Confidence is magic. The magnetism that comes when we walk tall and feel embodied is like the fire under a cauldron. In this culture beauty is often portrayed in filtered airbrushed images, or in advertisements that lead one to feel they are only beautiful based on some outside material- article of clothing, makeup, etc. Lilac reminds us that we are beautiful as we are. There is no shame in adorning our bodies with clothes that make us feel beautiful, or gracing our lashes with mascara. But the true medicine in these practices comes from a place of feeling content, beautiful and in love with ourselves as we are without any of it. This is a radical step which exists under several layers of cultural programming, but each person on this planet is a unique expression of nature. 

Lilac says, come as you are, you are enough.

When I think of a character for Lilac, I see a goddess, a queen, a force to be reckoned with. She is one of the most beautiful people you have ever laid eyes on, like a spell was cast- you can’t seem to take your eyes off of her. Not only is she beautiful, but she is kind, caring, and offers all of her gifts to the world fearlessly. There is an ease with which she holds herself, and a confidence that is settled somewhere deep within her, like a recognition that her skin is that of petals, her eyes tell stories of the forest and her heart is open like purple fragrant bloom- dropping all who she meets into their heart in return.

With many little blooms coming together to look like a fairy wand, Lilac opens our eyes to the magic in the details, and the intrinsic vivacity of the world and ourselves. Sometimes we may forget that each person is a compilation of little flowers making up their greater whole. We see others, or ourselves, at face value. But each person brings themselves in this world from a place of lived experiences, good or bad. Lilac invites us to honor all of the little flowers that make up our whole, by giving gratitude for the teacher experiences as well as the easeful ones. It is when we return to this place that we may better be able to smell the bright aroma of our lives, full of beautiful potential, love, purpose, and pleasure.

May Lilac carry you on her scent, to the fullness of your life, the beauty that you hold, and the vibrant sensation that is pulsing through the rhythm of nature.

Lilac ~ Syringa vulgaris


Lilacs are a deciduous shrub, or multi-stemmed small tree. They can reach 20-23 ft. The opposite leaves have pinnate venation and are oval to cordate. Flowers form in large terminal panicles that are 10 to 20 cm long. The sweet small flowers are highly fragrant and have 4 petals. The flowers can be anywhere on the spectrum from white to dark purple. The leaves and stems are not edible. In working with lilacs for internal use, it is important to remove each individual flower from the stem. 

History and Lore

Lilac has been a beloved treasure throughout history. It is associated with flirtation, fleeting passions.

In Greek mythology, there is a story about the creation of Lilac. Pan, the god of the

the wild, fell head over heels for a nymph whose name was Syringa (the latin name of Lilac). One day Pan was chasing Syringa through the forest, but Syringa was afraid of his advances so she turned herself into a lilac bush in disguise. Out of anger, Pan broke off one of the Lilac’s hollow branches. He quickly regretted this decision and began kissing the broken branches and, to his surprise, realized that as his air blew down the branches, music and sounds were made. It is from this instance, it is said, that the first “panpipe” was created. This story illustrates Lilac’s affinity for elucidating passion, and irresistible pleasure.

During the Victorian Age, Lilac was worn by widows as a reminder of old love. Given the power of this scent, and the way that particular fragrance can transport us to the past in vivid memory, Lilac seems like an apt fit for such a tradition.

Lilac is also traditionally associated with ridding negative energies and protecting those who are in a life passage.

Medicinal Qualities

Lilac is not typically used for medicine in western herbalism. This may be because the medicine is so fleeting. Its active constituents seem difficult to capture, especially as the dried plant bears little resemblance to the fragrant powerhouse that exists in the burst of fresh bloom. I am going to illustrate the few medicinal qualities that I have pieced out of the research. After this, I will explain the mechanism behind the benefits of one of the most powerful gifts Lilac offers us, pleasure

When you taste a Lilac flower, there is an immediate sense of floral aromatics. After the flavor settles, there is a subtle astringency that lingers. Astringent plants tighten the tissues in our body. In cases of acute diarrhea, an astringent can tighten up the GI mucosa enough for an individual to retain hydration. Lilac may be an appropriate remedy in cases of acute diarrhea when used in combination with other stronger astringent herbs, such as Rose, Raspberry leaf, or Geranium.

Where the astringency of Lilac really shines, however, is in a facial toner. Lilac rejuvenates the skin, and is delightful to engage with in this way. You can put the tea in a spray bottle to mist yourself- storing in the fridge for a couple of weeks. You could also infuse Lilac into Witch Hazel, for more powerful tightening of pores (other beautiful additions may  be Rose or Elderflower).

Lilac has traditionally been used to strengthen the respiratory system. It is said to clear phlegm, quell a cough or a soothe a sore throat. While I have never used it in this way, I would imagine the aromatic components of Lilac may break up any stagnation in the lungs, therefore contributing to overall respiratory health.

Lilac has a relaxant diaphoretic action, meaning it opens the pores when taken in a hot infusion internally. This stimulates sweating and can be helpful if someone has a fever. Relaxant diaphoretics are specifically indicated when a feverish individual is achey, hot, and their skin feels tight. Lilac would be paired well with Elderflower, Yarrow or Boneset for this situation.

Now, to the science of pleasure! When we engage in a pleasurable activity, a neuroendocrine transmitter is released called dopamine. Almost everyone has heard about this component in the context of drugs, alcohol, etc. However, dopamine is released anytime we do things that bring us joy, make us happy, and bring us pleasure. For some this may be dancing, walking in the woods, listening to music, laughing with friends, making love, eating a good meal, taking a bath, SMELLING LILACS, etc. When dopamine is released, it tends to promote a sense of relaxation. In our modern world, many of us are living in a state of perpetual fight or flight stress response. This is detrimental to so many facets of our health, including suppressing immune function, promoting insulin resistance, clogging the liver with stress hormones and therefore not allowing it to detoxify properly, decreasing stomach acid (decreasing ability to break down and absorb vitamins and minerals), slowing digestive transit time, raising blood pressure, the list goes on and on! Especially in women, dopamine is critical for maintaining a balanced reproductive cycle. When someone is persistently stressed, they will produce less dopamine which increases a hormone called prolactin which can lead to disregulated blood flow to the uterus (more menstrual cramps), anovulatory cycles (infertility) and low lobido (ultimately less dopamine). It is imperative that we all take measures to reduce stress and do more pleasurable things. I invite you to make a list of all the things that bring you joy, that make you feel downright wonderful, and prioritize those in your life daily. This is the medicine of Lilac, prioritize your pleasure!

Lilac & Elderberry Cake

A medicinal treat, designed to honor the magic of lilac and the immune supporting gifts of elderberry.

This grain free cake was made with lilac infused butter and Elderberry syrup to sweeten and turn the frosting the light purple of lilac. The cake is moist and soft- perfect paired with tea.

The intoxicating fragrance of lilac can be a fleeting scent to capture. While I love infusing lilacs into cream, water and honey, I have found none of these methods fully hold the essence of lilac. This year I experimented with making a lilac enfleurage, a traditional practice of infusing plants into fat (in this case, butter) to preserve their scent. An enfleurage extracts oils from the flowers and is  sometimes used as a base for perfumes when combined with alcohol. In this case, I simply infused lilac flowers into the butter to imbibe the magical scent and flavor into my cooking.

Working with lilac is a labor of love. It is important to remove each lilac flower from it's sheath. While this takes time, I invite you to sit down and create a conscious engagement with the lilac plant. It is enchanting to smell the blooms, and get the sweet nectar on your fingers. You may even find that the plant puts a spell on you. It wouldn’t be far fetched to find yourself bursting into a giggle fit, or dreaming of an imaginary land. Lean into where the magic of lilac wants to take you.

*Making the enfleurage is a 2-3 day process! 






If learning about Lilac from the perspective of energetics, mythology, and medicinal uses interests you, be sure to join us for our upcoming retreat over the Summer Solstice: Blooming Rooted! We are going to learn about plants through all of these different facets, plus more- taste, plant walks, breathwork/meditation, creativity and medicine making! It is going to be a immersive experience that not only opens gateways and deep personal relationships with plants, but will also be centered on personal healing, nervous system restoration, and connection to the Earth. 

Learn more and save your spot here!