Pretty Enough to Eat
Flowers are more than just pretty faces. We usually grow them for their beauty or to attract butterflies and bees to our gardens. But you also can eat some of them. Many flowers have nice, subtle flavors, like rose petals or the common house geranium. Not surprisingly, many 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 liqueur developed by French monks in the 17th century.
Eating flowers has enjoyed a surge in popularity as more and more restaurants are using them, not just as garnishes but as part of the meal itself. I love daylilies on a salad with fresh fruit and a light vinaigrette. Squash blossoms are delightful stuffed with vegetables and cheese.
Not all flowers are safe, so before you start grazing on blooms, 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 eat only organically grown blooms, since the effects of pesticides can last for months on plants. And stay away from flowers growing by the roadside.
It is best to pick the flowers a few hours before use, and always check for insects. Avoid flowers that are past their prime or not fully open. Wash all flowers thoroughly. Remove pistils and stamens, and use only the petals (violas and pansies are exceptions).
Introduce flowers to your diet a little at a time. Garnishes are a good place to start. Freshly picked, crystallized flowers are beautiful on cakes and sweets. Incorporate fresh floral flavors such as lavender and hibiscus into your cocktails, or freeze the petals in ice cubes.
Tea is another great vehicle. 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 is to keep everything else simple so as not to overpower the delicate flavors.
eat this, not that!
You can eat the blooms of common herbs such as rosemary, basil and fennel. Remember: if you can eat the fruit of a plant, you usually can eat its flower. For example, apple and lemon flowers, as well as pea blooms, are 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. Before you put it in a meal, sample it. Some of my other favorites are:
P. Allen Smith is an author, conservationist, an d TV host of Garden Home on PBS an d Garden Style (check your local listings). He uses his Arkansas Home, Moss Mountain Farm, to promote the local food movement, organic gardening and the preservation of heritage poultry. For tours of the farm, visit pallensmith.com/tours.