[dropcap]F[/dropcap]lowers are more than just pretty faces. We usually grow flowers for their beauty or to attract butterflies and bees to our gardens. But did you know that you can also eat some of them?
There are so many garden plants that produce edible flowers. Many of these flowers have nice, subtle flavors like rose petals or the common house geranium. It’s not surprising that many of these plants taste like they smell.
Eating flowers dates back thousands of years to the Romans who used mallow, rose and violets. The Old Testament refers to the use of dandelions as a bitter herb, and in the Victorian era, rose petals were added to dishes and sweets. Carnations are said to be an ingredient of Chartreuse, a green herbal liquor developed by French monks in the seventeenth century.
Eating flowers has had a surge in popularity as more and more restaurants are using flowers not just as garnishes but as part of the meal itself. I love daylilies on a salad with fresh fruit and light vinaigrette. Squash blossoms are delightful when stuffed with vegetables and cheese.
Not all flowers are safe to eat, so before you go out and start grazing on blooms, you should know what you’re eating. It’s important to check two or three sources to make sure the flowers are edible. It’s advisable to only eat organically grown flowers since pesticides can last for months on plants, and stay away from flowers growing by the roadside.
To play it safe, you can always eat the blooms of common herbs, such as rosemary, basil, and fennel. And if you can eat the fruit of a plant, you can usually eat its flower. For example, apple and lemon flower as well as pea blooms can be quite tasty.
For a hint of spice and pepper, try nasturtiums. Violas and pansies have a somewhat sweet floral flavor, while chrysanthemums can be bitter. Of course, not every flower will send your taste buds reeling, so before you put it in a meal, sample it. Some of my other favorite edible flowers to grow are:
- Allium – The allium family includes leeks, chives, and garlic and is full of flavor, from delicate to robust.
- Borage – The beautiful blue blossoms taste similar to cucumber.
- Calendula – These flowers work well as a garnish and also have a spicy, peppery flavor.
- Gladiolus – They don’t have much of a flavor, but, like zucchini flowers, they are great stuffed.
- Johnny Jump-Up – These are such cute little guys! They lend a hint of mint that I think tastes great in salads, fruit dishes, and even cocktails.
PREPARING EDIBLE FLOWERS
It is best to pick the flowers a few hours before you plan to use them and always check for insects. Avoid flowers that are past their prime or not fully open. Wash all flowers thoroughly before eating them. Remove pistils and stamens and use only the petals (violas and pansies are exceptions to the rule).
Introduce flowers to your diet a little at a time. A good place to start is with garnishes. Freshly picked and crystalized flowers are beautiful on cakes and other sweets. Incorporate floral flavors, such as lavender and hibiscus, into your cocktail. You can use fresh flowers or freeze the petals in ice cubes.
Tea is another great way to enjoy the subtle flavor and perfume of edible flower. Place a handful of petals in a teapot or cup, pour boiling water over them, let steep for five minutes, then strain and enjoy!
The key to using edible flowers successfully is to keep everything else simple as to not overpower the blooms’ delicate flavors.
Featured photo: A potted mix of kale, parsley and violas can make a great addition to an edible garden. Photography by Mark Fonville