Does anyone know the English name for this flower? It’s called “gui hua” (桂花) in Chinese and “kin no mokusei” (金の木犀) in Japanese, but what’s it in English?
I was pleasantly surprised my first autumn in Japan when I woke up one morning to a distantly familiar sweet fragrance that I hadn’t smelled since I was a kid in China. It wasn’t until then that I realized that all the trees in the yard were “gui hua” trees! Later when we moved out of that house, one of the things I didn’t want to let go of was those trees, them and my humongous kitchen that took up half the first floor. But that’s a subject for another time.
You know the saying about closing windows and opening doors (or is it the other way around)? I was thrilled to find out one of the trees in my current yard is a “gui hua” tree came autumn in our new apartment.
So what is the big deal about those trees besides the fact that they smell nice? First of all, you don’t know how lovely the fragrance is unless you’ve experienced first hand. It’s not as strong as rose or as sweet as gardenia. If I have to come up with a comparison, I would say it’s like the honeysuckle in that elusive almost-not-there quality, yet it sneaks up on you when you are not paying attention and shocks you with a freshness unknown to any other flowers. Secondly, it’s not just good for its smell. You can eat it. Here is how.
When the flowers are starting to bloom (they only lasts for about a week) pick the ones that had just opened (fully opened ones are not as flavorful). Do not wash, as that the fragrance will be washed off, and place in a small saucepan. Put in sugar and water in a 2:1 ratio and bring to a boil. Boil until syrup thickens and flower turns a dark golden color. Pour into a clean glass jar. This is your “gui hua” syrup. You can add it to any Chinese dessert such as almond tofu, glutinous rice balls or sweet eight-treasure porridge “八宝粥”. Or if you are ambitious, you can make gui hua flavored steamed lotus roots stuffed with glutinous rice, “桂花糖藕”, which I plan to try in the near future.