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For the past couple of weeks, a slight fragrant aroma has been accompanying the movements of the wind throughout the streets of Berlin. Outdoor enthusiasts from the southeastern US would immediately recognize the scent of the native black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) as an ephemeral summertime smell. Bees are also attracted to the pea-like clusters of blooms and black locust honey has a unique and much sought-after flavor which is even more appreciated due to the short blooming season of about two weeks.

In Germany, as elsewhere in Europe, introduced plants are differentiated by the rough date of the Columbian Exchange: those that appeared after 1500 AD are considered neophytes. Initially, the hard long lasting wood was used for making poles in the wine-growing regions of Germany. Black locust made its first recorded appearance in Berlin in the late 17th century as a rare ornamental, and it wasn’t until the late 18th century that the vigorous tree was advocated for cultivation in the Brandenburg area. Forgotten shortly thereafter, black locust only became noticeable again in Berlin after the Second World War when it began to colonize heavily bombed areas of the city.

The close shot of the specimen featured in our photograph was taken near Ostbahnhof, along the banks of the Spree river next to East Side Gallery. Although most of the strip is a large patch of mowed grass, the visitor will notice cherry trees (reminiscent of the Sakura campaign) and wild growing bushes of black locust and elderberries growing alongside the river. Just like elderberry, black locust blooms are edible and an easy way to prepare them is to dip them in your favorite batter and fry them. Childhood memories of the delicate taste of fried black locust flowers in a sweet batter are shared by many Southern Europeans. We also wanted to try them fried, but the recent heat wave in Berlin made us reconsider this method of preparation. Instead we made a simple infusion drink that was quite refreshing! Just steep the flowers in iced water, and then add your favorite syrup. This time we got carried away with a bit too much strawberry syrup (which can easily overpower the delicate fragrance of the black locust flowers) but it still tasted delicious.

Besides having delicious blossoms, black locust is an excellent building material and is often used as an alternative to the more exotic and less sustainable ipe wood. Black locust wood is so durable that it is a preferred material for posts and other outdoor structures. A great place to observe black locust trees in Berlin is Suedgelaende: a derelict train switchyard that has been taken over by urban nature and is now a protected reserve. This is a wonderful place to visit but there is definitely no plant-picking of any kind allowed!

black locust flowers near ostbahnhofblack locust flower infusion with ice and strawberry syrup

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