We lived on acreage up a mountain in the Interior of BC, Canada for eight years. Our daughter was just about two when we finished building our little house and moved in. Our son was born there the following February. I used to call them my little mountain goats because they literally learned to walk, run and play on rough terrain. It was all hills, rocks, shrubs, wild flowers and tall evergreen trees – mostly fir trees.
We moved in at the end of April, just in time to see some buttercups still in bloom. Up there it was usually about 5 degrees colder than in town and a couple of weeks behind in the season. Yellow wild flowers were always first, then came all the purple wild flowers. My daughter loved having all the new flowers to pick.
One day in June we were wandering around when a breeze picked up and the sweetest, most exquisite aroma was sent our way. We looked around and spotted a very large bush, at least 10 feet tall, covered in white flowers. Assuming it had to be something that big to have such a big smell, we walked up and put our noses right in the flowers. We were spellbound. Of coarse, we had to pick some and bring them in the house.
Since then, I have learned that they are known as Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii) because they resemble and smell similar to orange blossoms. They are in the Hydrangea family and were collected and named by scientist and explorer Meriwether Lewis in 1806 during the Lewis and Clark expedition; the lewisii is named after himself. Philadelphus, comprising of about 65 species, is also native to Eurasia, northern Asia and Japan, the western United Sates, the southern Atlantic coast of the United States and Mexico.
They provide important ground cover and food from their seeds for quail and chipmunks in the middle of rocky terrain. We witnessed their importance first hand as a chipmunk or quail would let out a warning call and the whole forest floor would run for cover. We’d look up and there would usually be a hawk flying overhead. But sometimes it would be a big rubber boa snake – ugh. Though rubber boas are harmless to humans, it’s always a little alarming to suddenly have a snake cross your path. Plus, they’re really ugly, sorry rubber boas, but it’s true.
They are also a very important source of food for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. They can often be found at nurseries – the dwarf varieties and even Amazon has the seeds for sale Philadelphus coronarius MOCK ORANGE SHRUB Seeds! I love the idea of planting native species and helping them survive. They make a wonderful addition to your garden.
I’ve always been very interested in traditional uses for plants, so I dug deeper and discovered that the Mock Orange is a native plant species in British Columbia, and was highly valued by the First Nations people in a variety of ways. From the flowers they made a tea that they drank, they made salves and compresses to relieve swellings and sores, the leaves, flowers and bark contain saponins and were mixed with water and used as soap, and the branches – being very strong – made excellent baskets, bows, arrows, combs, brooms, fishing spears and tools as well as snowshoes. Another name for it is Indian Arrowwood.
The fragrance of the Mock Orange is described to be a cross between orange blossoms and jasmine flowers. It doesn’t get much better than that does it?
Fast forward 11 years, and we are living in a nearly 100 year old house in Vancouver BC. Once again it is June and I am in our back alley walking our dog when I noticed among the blackberry blossoms behind my neighbor’s house are Mock Orange blossoms!
Though supposedly fairly prevalent on the West Coast, I had yet to see any since our arrival three years ago. Since the 91 year old lady and her 101 year old husband (yes really!) offered all of their ‘alley blackberries’ to us last summer, I helped myself to a handful of these fragrant flowers. They smelled just as I remembered.
I noticed right way that this variety is the double petal variety that was brought over from Europe a century or more ago, as opposed to the single petal variety native to North America. In England, they were often used to replace orange blossoms in bridal bouquets in country weddings. In fact, the name “Mock Orange” is thought to originate from this fact.
I brought my bundle in and got ready to make a fresh floral infused oil. I stuffed my little gems into a glass jar and covered the flowers in Avocado Oil because this infusion is going to be used for my nightly Avocado Oil facial.
The jar was set in the window for just one day. Fresh floral oil infusions are different than dried floral or herbal oil infusions in that the fresh flowers decay quickly so the flowers are left for one day only. I then strained them and squeezed them to get all the goodness out of the flowers. For a deeper scent, this can be repeated with more fresh flowers added to the infused oil until the desired scent is obtained. The Mock Orange blossoms are so fragrant that only one infusion was necessary. Just look at the lovely golden oil. In addition to my nightly facial, I will make a salve with it to give to the sweet lady next door.
“Make it fresh & know what’s in it.” Jennifer Sunrise
I have since spoken with my neighbor and told her I “stole” flowers from her alley bush and of coarse she told me to take as many as I wanted. She said the bush just “appeared” over the years, along with the lilacs, maple tree and blackberries that all grow amongst them. She admitted they would all likely be cut down when her grandchildren build a new laneway house in that location soon. Such is the way in Vancouver.
I collected a bunch more flowers to dry and collect seeds from.
Here is the lotion I made from the Mock Orange Infused Avocado Oil along with a massage bar with Rosemary Infused Olive Oil.
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