Cercis canadensis: In The Bud of Time

Eastern Red Bud Blossoms

It’s one of those trees that if you don’t see it at the right time you’re not looking for it the rest of the year. I had gone past it perhaps four or five dozen times over a couple of seasons, but never in spring. But one day the blossom caught my eye. I knew what it was I just hadn’t seen it there before.

Eastern Redbud trees are native across much of the United States and Canada, basically east of the Rockies. The most common species is Cercis canadensis  (SER-sis kan-uh-DEN-sis.)  They’re small trees in the pea family and among the first to bloom in the spring before they leaf out. They also produce large numbers of multi-seeded pods, from spring to late summer depending where it is.

Red Bud’s Edible Pods

Native Americans ate redbud flowers raw or cooked as well as the young pods and seeds raw or cooked. The flowers can be pickled. They have a slightly sour taste and are high in Vitamin C . They’re  a pleasant addition to salads and can also be used as a condiment. The unopened buds can be pickled or used as a caper substitute. The seed is  about 25% protein, 8% fat and 3% ash. More so, a 2006 study show the flowers and the seeds to be very high in antioxidants as well as linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid. The seeds also have oleic and palmitic acids. Think of it as The First Forager’s Health Food Store. Young leaves are edible raw or cooked.

Redbuds were first cultivated in 1641 and even George Washington planted some around Mt. Vernon. The name Cercis canadensis, as usual, has Greek and Latin origins. Cercis is from the Greek “kerkis” which means “a weaver’s shuttle” and refers to the shape of the pod; canadensis means “of Canada.”

Heart-shaped leaves

The redbud’s native range is New Jersey to northern Florida, west to Missouri and Texas and northern Mexico.  It’s branches and stems also have been used for basketry.

Also edible are the flowers and pods of the C. occidentalis (found in western North America ) and the C. siliquastrum found in Europe. There are also several cultivars now of varying colors. One popular variety is called Forest Pansy. It has reddish leaves and pods. They are edible as well. Like all members of the pea clan the blossoms are a very distinctive “wings and keels” arrangement, keel in the middle, wings on either side.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

The Greek name for the shuttle — kerkis –inspired its botanical name Cercis

IDENTIFICATION: Small deciduous tree, typically 20 feet in height, gracefully ascending branches, rounded shape. Alternate, simple, broadly heart-shaped and 3 to 5 inches high and wide. Leaves emerge reddish, turning green. Flowers are pea-like, wings and keel, rosy pink with a purplish tinge. Flowers develop before the leaves in spring, in clusters along the branches.

TIME OF YEAR: Flowers in spring, followed by pods, seeds in fall.

ENVIRONMENT: Full to partial sun, well drained soil, often planted as an ornamental. I have also seen them growing, poorly, in total shade. They also seem to grow along the edges of open spaces.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Buds raw, pickled or cooked. Flowers raw or cooked, young pods fried. Flowers fry nicely as well. Young leaves edible, raw or cooked. Regarding the flowers, the light colored upper part of the blossom is sweet, the darker lower part is bitter. Some folks removed the lower bitter part before eating. It’s a personal choice.


Herbalists say extracts from the inner bark and roots were used to treat colds, flu and fever. The Alabama Indians man a root and inner bark infusion for fever and congestion. The Cherokee used a bar infusion for whooping cough. The Delaware used an infusion of the bark to treat fever and vomiting.  The Osage used charcoal from the wood for war paint.

Redbud Blossom Muffins

2 cups redbuds blossoms

2 tablespoons minced fresh sage or rosemary leaves

½ cup sugar

Minced zest of 1 lemon

1 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 large egg

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup yogurt

2 tablespoons melted butter or oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice


1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375°F

In bowl #1, combine redbuds, herb, sugar, zest. Let sit 30 minutes.

In bowl #2 Sift flour, powder, baking soda, salt large bowl.

In bowl #3 Combine egg, yogurt, milk, oil, lemon juice.

Pour the content of bowl one in to bowl two and toss.

Add the wet ingredients from bowl three, stirring to just moisten. Do not over mix.

Fill your muffin tins 3/4 full.

Combine sugar cinnamon the topping sprinkle some each muffin Bake for 25 minutes, or until tops spring back when lightly touched.

Remove form muffin pan and cool on a wire rack.

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{ 52 comments… add one }
  • mystery March 6, 2012, 7:59 am

    I will have to try these, I have an abundance of these trees. I always thought they were beautiful but now my mind goes in a whole new direction when I think about them. Thanks for the information.

  • Thierry March 19, 2012, 10:04 pm

    I was so excited about this plant we have an abundance of them around. I found this one out a day before our big trip to Texas, while our trees were not blooming yet they were in full bloom in Texas. I had all my sisters and my brother tasting mom’s redbud tree. When we got back to Georgia ours was in full bloom, I can’t wait to try the muffin recipe and the pods when they come out.

  • bob dagit March 31, 2012, 9:00 pm

    i think the redbud is also called the judas tree. or was it rosebud, in citizen kane?

    • Green Deane April 1, 2012, 8:37 pm

      It was or is called the Judas tree but it was actually a different species in the genus. As for Citizen kane… wasn’t “Rosebud” his sled?

  • bob dagit March 31, 2012, 9:05 pm

    great bookstore here in glebe neighborhood of sydney

  • stone June 14, 2012, 7:22 am

    There are so many poisonous legumes that I’ve been fearful of experimenting.
    While I appreciate the recipe for the blooms, what I really need is a recipe for the pods, and some kind of indication of when the cut-off (as far as eating them safely) is…

    • Green Deane June 14, 2012, 8:34 am

      When new, young and not bitter. Raw or cooked, usually boiled.

  • KK August 8, 2012, 6:10 pm

    Are “Don Egolf” redbuds edible?

    • Green Deane August 8, 2012, 10:00 pm

      Don Egolf is Cercis chinensis. I have no published reference that it is edible.

  • Shirley Smith August 19, 2012, 11:37 am

    The redbud seed pods are ugly to look at all year. Can they be removed first thing in the spring?

    • Green Deane August 27, 2012, 2:56 pm


    • Adam Sarmiento March 5, 2015, 12:01 am

      All the more reason to eat them. Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. I rather like their appearance. Makes for nice winter interest. Also provides food for wildlife and insures seedlings will grow.

      • RLM McWilliams September 27, 2016, 8:12 pm

        Good point, Adam! Funny how we humans tend to value plants that must be ‘babied’ and labored over- like plants outside of their normal range – but turn our noses up at beauty, and food!, that comes effortlessly. Ah, humans, that funny species…

  • Steven August 29, 2012, 3:48 pm

    Are the mature seeds edible? If so, how do you prepare them – I would guess by boiling them or grinding them into a flour. Can they be used as a staple crop? There are so many trees around now wit the pods very easy to flake off, that I think harvesting 20 or 30 pounds wouldn’t take more than a day. Do you know of any ill effects from making a real meal out of the seeds regularly?

    • Green Deane August 30, 2012, 7:20 am

      To my knolwedge the mature seeds are not eaten.

    • Chris April 27, 2014, 9:54 am

      I’ve eaten mature seeds. Prepared them like dry beans. Extremely labor intensive to get the tiny seeds out of the pods. I didn’t feel it was worth it. If you could automate that somehow. ….

  • name September 12, 2012, 9:57 am

    I am now disapointed. I got my hopes up that I was about to find out wheather the mature seeds were edible or not. if the are, agro-forestry has a major crop that would likely sell to U.S. consumers. the world may never know. I once hear the leaves are edible. any information about that?

    • Green Deane September 12, 2012, 12:45 pm

      I have never read anything about edible leaves. As for seeds, I know the young seeds and young pods are edible. Moerman mentions the seeds are edible but does not give any age of the seeds.

    • Vicky May 17, 2013, 11:18 pm

      Go to Youtube.com and punch in red bud tree. There is a video a woman has that shows leaves, pods and flowers are eated.

      • Green Deane May 24, 2013, 7:30 am

        I have a video on you tube as well about the red but tree. You are referring to my friend Blanche Derby.

  • Mike Conroy December 5, 2012, 10:23 am

    Love your videos Deane!
    You do note several times on the Redbud video that the flowers are pink or purple, not red – thus, you say, the tree perhaps would have been better named the pinkbud or purplebud. I found this particularly amusing.

    Still, I would like to point out that the name Redbud does not refer to the bloomed flower, but rather the bud. And, in my part of the country, the bud appears to be more red than pink, and sometimes with a purplish hue, but not purple. Thus, the common name should stick! 😀

    • Green Deane December 5, 2012, 8:28 pm

      Locally the redbud’s buds are pink.

  • Judy January 1, 2013, 10:12 am

    In bowl # 3 it says to combine yogurt, milk, egg. How much yogurt, since I don’t see it mentioned in the list of ingredients? The receipe sounds great and I can’t wait to try it.

    • Green Deane January 1, 2013, 12:45 pm

      Sorry for the omission. It’s been corrected/ 1/2 cup yogurt or a little more.

  • Ben Alkire June 1, 2013, 8:46 pm

    Redbud mature dried seeds are way, way too hard to be edible! In fact one way to make them germinate is to soak them 5 minutes in concentrated sulphuric acid to remove the hard, dense seed coat.

    However, I’m very interested in trying the young pods. Thinking they ought to be something similar to snow pea pods. I’ll have to give them a cautious test, as I do for any new wild food plant.

    • Andrea Tommy June 12, 2013, 3:23 pm

      My house mate tells me, when he was a child, he and his grandfather would pick the brown mature pods from a tree like this; and eat the juice or fleshy pulp-like insides. I am not sure we are identifying it correctly. We live in the up country of South Carolina. He explains the flavor of being like a prisimmon and slightly bitter at times with only small amounts available from each pod.

  • Alex November 19, 2013, 2:59 am

    That is the Honey Locust, Gleditsia triacanthos, which can also be used to make beer. Pods will sour and can make one drunk from eating the fermented flesh, they say.

  • Matias December 11, 2013, 6:17 am

    We have lots of this tree (Cercis canadensis) in Italy. I’d like to report MY experience to Steven’s question about mature seeds. I often pick a few in the morning and nibble them 1 at a time at work (spring through to December). They are rather on the hard side for your teeth but great dry nutty taste. Eating more than 10-20 dries my mouth a bit too much as they are a bit astringent. I have also boiled and prepared mature seeds as you would cook lentils. Very tasty and no negative issues to report , at least for me and my girlfriend. I suggest you try just a small amount first of course. (early December and they are still on the tree!)

  • Paul April 1, 2014, 5:24 pm

    My question is if the seed pods are usable to grow a tree after they have been dryed out over winter?

    • Green Deane April 2, 2014, 8:15 am

      That I don’t know. Time for an experiment. They also might need a certain amount of chill hours.

    • Melissa June 24, 2014, 2:31 pm

      As long as they are not mushy you should be able to, but no guarantees, if they are harder than Morning Glory seeds then no problem, I have found good and bad of those year after year, as with other softer seeds and have had no problems, just depends on how many you have to choose from, my Redbuds are still only knee and hip high so I am just learning about them, …. =)

  • Sandy B September 6, 2014, 9:48 pm

    All I can say is the Redbuds have no trouble seeding themselves. “Babies” pop up in every nook and cranny around our yard all spring and summer. Be aware if you do attempt to transplant one that the tap root is at least 4 times as long as the top growth. That being said, in spite of damage to the taproot, they tolerate transplanting well.

    • Al Tate February 24, 2015, 12:31 pm

      Redbuds make a great fundraising project for school students. They are frequently planted on school campuses or in a nearby park as an ornamental so there is an easy source of seeds. Students collect the seeds in the fall and plant them (2-4 seeds/pot) in 2 or 4″ greenhouse pots and just set them outside to germinate and grow. Germination is about 30% +-
      The next year on Mother’s Day the plants will be ready. What makes this work on Mother’s day is to have students collect and press leaves (from the mature redbuds where seeds were collected in the fall) in mid April. Then make a Rikker’s mount type of display with the heart-shaped leaf and include a decorative information sheet, suitable for framing, about the tree, maybe include a student produced poem (fun class contest to get the poem) thanking Mom and relating the symbolic leaf shape. The sheet should point out that these trees will grow and bloom in the community while the children are growing in knowledge and both will mature and contribute to making our world a more beautiful and better place.
      Beats selling candy and christmas wrapping paper. Besides, you can eat them, too!

      • Green Deane February 24, 2015, 4:55 pm

        That’s very nice, thanks.

      • Victoria Lollis November 5, 2016, 4:02 pm

        Wow. Beautiful idea

  • Linda February 21, 2015, 9:00 am

    The buds and flowers lightly chopped and mixed with cream cheese, a touch of heavy cream a bit if honey (to taste) make a delightful sandwich spread. This is excellent for tea sandwiches and is also very pretty.

  • MoodyFoodie April 10, 2015, 9:16 am

    Had these last night at a restaurant, used as an edible garnish. I thought they looked like Redbud flowers but had never heard they were edible! The server didn’t really know, told us they were a type of violet. They tasted like sweet pea to me, maybe slightly nutty. Not bitter. They were nice, a fresh “green” taste. Good idea for a very pretty looking edible garnish.

    • Kyle P April 3, 2016, 12:48 pm

      Those very well may have been violets. Those are edible as well and are used as garnish sometimes.

      • RLM McWilliams September 27, 2016, 8:04 pm

        ould have been! But violets and redbud flowers don’t look much alike, at least not to me…

  • Laura H April 21, 2015, 12:33 pm

    You can also use the flowers to make jelly, which is something I’m trying now for the first time. Will report back on how it goes.

    • Femme May 2, 2015, 10:09 am

      Laura, how did your jelly turn out?

  • George the Wookiee April 26, 2015, 11:51 pm

    While out walking in the woods today, I had a couple of handfuls of flowered buds for breakfast- I could have stripped the tree, they were so tasty. Reminded me of very fresh florets from broccoli, with a slight tartness to them similar to wood sorrel. I wonder if my next door neighbor would miss any of his that I can reach over the fence… hmm? 🙂

  • Raederle May 6, 2015, 9:43 am

    Do the redbud flowers have any medicinal properties? We just put a lot in our morning smoothie today along with frozen banana, blueberry, dandelion leaves, nettle and raw carob. Good stuff!

  • Dry Creek February 4, 2016, 12:24 pm

    I have a small permaculture farm and I’m planting forage trees for my sheep. Does anyone know if the pods can safely be fed to livestock? I also plan to plant Honey Locust as the pods are very nutritious feed for cattle, goats and sheep.
    Thank you

  • M March 17, 2016, 5:03 pm

    Not sure if this was answered further down (didn’t see it mentioned), but can the flowers be candied or crystallized? I’d like to try but am worried they’d fall apart. Thanks!

    • Green Deane March 17, 2016, 7:53 pm

      No idea… but they seem rather study…

    • S April 9, 2016, 10:45 pm

      Sprayed some with alcohol eggwhite confectioners sugar wash and dusted with 10x sugar. Turned out great!

  • RLM McWilliams September 27, 2016, 8:32 pm

    The redbud is an ideal tree for the yard where ever it will grow. It has interesting branch structure in winter, and it stunning in bloom.
    As a smallish tree, it won’t be overwhelming in smaller suburban landscapes. Once established, it is basically care-free, though pruning off any dead or crossing branches is always a good idea. And some will want to remove seed pods, or maybe prune to keep it smaller – unless a smaller cultivar was planted.
    Best of all, the redbud provides three different edible parts at different times of year – with no effort but to stroll outside and pick them: flowers in spring, followed by young leaves, with young pods coming later.
    What a tree!

  • JoAnn May 16, 2017, 3:32 pm

    When can you pick the seed pods off tree.

    • Green Deane May 16, 2017, 4:54 pm

      The younger the pods the better. The older they get the more bitter they become and tougher.

  • carl8 June 17, 2017, 8:59 pm

    so my wife and I are sitting here looking at our wild growing redbud trees seed pods and I say hey that looks like something you could harvest. sounds like i was right.

  • Carl June 17, 2017, 9:00 pm

    so my wife and I are sitting here looking at our wild growing redbud trees seed pods and I say hey that looks like something you could harvest. sounds like i was right.


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