Peach leaves have a very delicate flavor that is different from that of the fruit from the same tree. There are several culinary applications for peach leaves, but one of the most popular is as a flavoring for tea. They also can be used to infuse wine or other liquors with their flavor. A pie can be flavored with the leaves and a little peach pulp. The leaves also can be used in marinades for lean meats that have a light flavor, such as chicken or even fish such as salmon.
The taste of peach leaves is very subtle, and it can take a long time to extract the flavor. The exact taste they can impart is slightly floral and aromatic, with a strong almond undertone when the leaves are steeped for a long time. When picking or choosing peach leaves, it is best to get them in the early weeks of the summer, when they are fully grown and vibrant but have not yet started to dry out in preparation for the trees' dormancy period. If the leaves are too dry when taken from a tree, it will be incredibly difficult, or even impossible, to extract any flavor from the leaves. Also, avoid taking leaves that have visible signs of disease such as peach leaf curl or blight.
A popular preparation is to create a tea from the peach leaves. This requires anywhere from four to 10 peach leaves that have been roughly crushed to release the aromatic oils inside. Hot water is poured over top of the leaves and they are allowed to steep until the flavor is of the desired strength. Additions to the tea, such as honey or rose water, can help to accent the flavor.
There is a use for peach leaves that is popular in areas of France; it involves infusing alcohol mixtures with the almond flavor of the leaves. This starts with a combination of red wine and some cognac that is gently heated, after which the leaves are added and allowed to steep for anywhere from hours to days. The alcohol in the liquid extracts a more intense flavor from the leaves than water usually would. In some recipes, a cup of neutral grain alcohol, most often a type of pure vodka, is added to further intensify the flavor. The flavor the leaves give to the mixture is far more intense and almond-like than it is in other preparations.
Peach leaves also can be used in marinades for meats. The acidity of the marinade will help to draw out the flavor, although it will still be very subtle. Meats such as chicken can absorb and benefit from the taste, as can salmon. It also is possible to dry the leaves in an oven or in the sun and then crush them into small pieces to be added to a sauce or salad dressing, although the flavor will have a distinct antiseptic or medicine-like taste when used in this way.
Finally, the leaves of the peach tree can be included in classic custards to complement the vanilla flavor. They also were used in the past to help promote fermentation in the same manner as potatoes and hops. For some baked goods, the essential flavors of the leaves can be drawn out into water and added to a sourdough starter for added flavor.