Many plants play an important part in our daily lives. Of some we know the taste and scent well, yet without being able to recognise the seed, leaf, or fruit if we saw them. For example, how many of us would recognise aniseed which lends its characteristic flavour to biscuits and pastries, or knows that salep, that delicious winter drink, is made from the roots of wild orchids? Mahlep is another such elusive ingredient, whose fragrance and flavour we all recognise, yet few of us know its origin, although the seeds might be familiar to some.
Mahlep is the kernel of a species of wild cherry, Prunus mahaleb, also known as the St. Lucie cherry, which grows everywhere in Turkey that edible cherry trees flourish. In a way the mahlep cherry is the mother of cultivated cherries, since if you wish to grow the latter, you must used the mahlep cherry as grafting stock. Farmers are no longer interested in cultivating the mahlep, partly because the economic returns are too low, and also because gathering the fruit and processing it is labourious work.