The colors and fragrances of flowers are the delight of gardeners. There is more to flowers, however, than meets the eye or the nose. Your taste buds can also appreciate the many edible flowers that we can grow.
I’ve met many vegetable gardeners who say that they are not interested in growing anything they can’t eat. Well, edible flowers are a wonderful way for these gardeners to introduce color into their vegetable gardens or get harvests from flowerbeds.
Cultures all over the world cook with flowers for the unique flavors and colors they provide. Using edible flowers in cooking has not been common in America. But before you think the idea isn’t practical, remember that most of us enjoy eating broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes, all of which are immature flower buds.
During this holiday season, food and company play a big role in the celebration. Whether garnishing platters of meats, hors d’oeuvres, finger foods or sweets, the addition of some flowers and greenery, such as parsley or mint, creates a festive and elegant presentation. When serving individual dinner plates, an edible flower or two will do the same thing.
Never use flowers for garnishing unless you know for certain that they are edible. Whether on large platters or individual plates, someone may decide to eat them.
Flowers may also be included in the food itself. The addition of fresh edible flowers or petals to salads provides surprising colors and flavor (such as the spicy watercress flavor of nasturtium flowers).
Edible flowers can also be used in cooking. As an example, try stuffed fried squash blossoms. Harvest male flowers just as they start to open, stuff them with a tablespoon or two of shredded cheese (I like to use pepper jack cheese), dip them in your favorite frying batter and deep fry until golden brown. You may like them better than the squash itself.
Not all flowers are edible. Indeed, some flowers, like the plants that produce them, are poisonous. Because most people are unfamiliar with edible flowers, you should utilize a good, reliable reference on the subject listing those flowers that are safe to eat. There is also a lot of information on the internet, but make sure you use a reputable source.
Many plants grown for their edible flowers are cool-season bedding plants and herbs that thrive in southeast Louisiana from now until May, making this an ideal time to plant them. Many will bloom through the winter with their peak season next spring.
To get the maximum quality you should pick flowers during the coolest part of the day, preferably early morning. Select flowers just before they reach their prime when they are young and not completely open. The flowers should appear very fresh and bright and be free of blemishes.
Harvest flowers on the day you intend to use them. After harvesting, place long-stemmed flowers in a container of warm water and put them in a cool place until they are used. Pick short-stemmed flowers within three to four hours of use. To store, place short-stemmed blossoms, such as pansies, between layers of damp paper toweling or put them in a plastic bag in your refrigerator.
Just before using the flowers, gently wash them in cool water. This is particularly important for flowers produced close to the ground, such as strawberries or squash blossoms, that soil may have splashed up onto. Without rinsing they may be gritty.
Removing the stamens and pistils from the flowers prior to eating is generally optional. But only the petals of some flowers should be eaten, including calendula, chrysanthemum, lavender, rose, tulip and yucca.
When it comes to edible flowers use these guiding rules.
- If you do not know for certain that a flower is edible, don’t eat it.
- Use only edible flowers for garnishes. I once had a guest bring a platter of food garnished with azalea flowers. Azaleas are potentially fatal.
- Also, do not eat flowers that have been sprayed with pesticides.
“The Edible Flower Garden” by Rosalind Creasy is a wonderful introduction to this topic. It is beautifully illustrated with photos that will show how you use flowers in your gardens as well as how you use them in your cooking.
Liven up your dinner party or open house by garnishing or preparing dishes with edible flowers from your garden. It’s a wonderful way of delighting your guests with delicious food while allowing them to enjoy the beauty of your garden at the same time.
Some plants producing edible flowers that can be planted now are:
- Arugula (Eruca vesicaria sativa)
- Borage (Borago officinalis)
- Broccoli (Brassica oleracea)
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
- Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
- Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum x morifolium) Coriander (Coriander sativum)
- Dianthus (Dianthus deltoides and other species)
- Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus)
- Tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, not a good time to plant in the ground, but existing shrubs will bloom until the first hard freeze)
- English daisy (Bellis perennis)
- Johnny-jump-up (Viola tricolor)
- Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana)
- Viola (Viola cornuta)
- Mustard (Brassica sp.)
- Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
- Radish (Raphanus sativus)
- Rose (Rosa, bushes in bloom may be planted now)
- Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea)
- Tulip (Tulipa, plant bulbs chilled in the refrigerator for six weeks in late December or early January)
- Violet (Viola odorata)
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