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 and 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. Oh, and 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.

HERB BLURB

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

Topping:

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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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mystery March 6, 2012 at 07:59

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.

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2 Thierry March 19, 2012 at 22:04

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.

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3 bob dagit March 31, 2012 at 21:00

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

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4 Green Deane April 1, 2012 at 20:37

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?

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5 bob dagit March 31, 2012 at 21:05

great bookstore here in glebe neighborhood of sydney

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6 stone June 14, 2012 at 07:22

Edible?
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…

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7 Green Deane June 14, 2012 at 08:34

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

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8 KK August 8, 2012 at 18:10

Are “Don Egolf” redbuds edible?

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9 Green Deane August 8, 2012 at 22:00

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

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10 Shirley Smith August 19, 2012 at 11:37

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

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11 Green Deane August 27, 2012 at 14:56

Sure.

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12 Steven August 29, 2012 at 15:48

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?

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13 Green Deane August 30, 2012 at 07:20

To my knolwedge the mature seeds are not eaten.

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14 Chris April 27, 2014 at 09:54

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. ….

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15 name September 12, 2012 at 09:57

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?

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16 Green Deane September 12, 2012 at 12:45

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.

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17 Vicky May 17, 2013 at 23:18

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.

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18 Green Deane May 24, 2013 at 07:30

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

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19 Mike Conroy December 5, 2012 at 10:23

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! :D

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20 Green Deane December 5, 2012 at 20:28

Locally the redbud’s buds are pink.

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21 Judy January 1, 2013 at 10:12

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.

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22 Green Deane January 1, 2013 at 12:45

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

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23 Ben Alkire June 1, 2013 at 20:46

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.

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24 Andrea Tommy June 12, 2013 at 15:23

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.

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25 Alex November 19, 2013 at 02:59

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.

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26 Matias December 11, 2013 at 06:17

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!)

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27 Paul April 1, 2014 at 17:24

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

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28 Green Deane April 2, 2014 at 08:15

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

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29 Melissa June 24, 2014 at 14:31

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, …. =)

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