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By Judy Koehly
You’ve been warned about poisonous plants, but there are also many plants that are not only beautiful, but also edible. There is great fun to be had by combining flowers and food.
My granddaughters find great joy in picking pansies to toss atop a salad, but, of course, there are some common sense rules to use when considering blooms for food.
Pick flowers early in the day and use them at their peak for the best flavor. Avoid unopened blossoms (except daylilies) and wilted or faded flowers. They may have a bitter or unappealing flavor.
Do not use flowers that have been sprayed with pesticides, which often occur along roadsides, or collect flowers from plants that have been fertilized with untreated manure.
Generally avoid using flowers purchased from florists, garden centers or nurseries, as these flowers are not grown for consumption.
To avoid stomach upset or to determine if there is an allergic reaction, try a small quantity of the new flowers yourself. Edible petals or entire flowers can be eaten; however, remove stems, anthers and pistils because they may be bitter. Use flowers that are free of insects and diseases.
Many edible flowers are high in vitamin C and/or vitamin A, along with other essential nutrients. Use them as garnishes and in salads. Recipes for flowers may be found in the following areas: baking, sauces, jelly, syrup, vinegars, honey, oil, tea, flower-scented sugars, candied flowers, wine and flavored liquors.
Flavored vinegars and oils prepared at home have a limited shelf life and should be stored in the refrigerator.
Pick the flowers, gently rinse with running water, and place between damp paper towels. Refrigerate until ready to use. Some varieties may last longer if not washed until they are ready to use. Some flowers may be dried and used as dried herbs.
The leaves, flowers, and stems of Tuberous Begonias (Begonia X tuberosa) are edible. Begonia blossoms have a citrus-sour taste. The petals are used in salads and as a garnish. Stems, also, can be used in place of rhubarb. The flowers and stems contain oxalic acid and should not be consumed by individuals suffering from gout, kidney stones or rheumatism.
Marigolds (Calendula officinalis) are wonderful edible flowers. Flavors range from spicy to bitter, tangy to peppery. Their sharp taste resembles saffron (also known as Poor Man’s Saffron). This plant has pretty petals in golden-orange hues. You can sprinkle them on soups, pasta or rice dishes, herb butters, and salads. The petals add a yellow tint to soups, spreads, and scrambled eggs.
Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum coronarium) have a tangy, slightly bitter taste offering colors of red, white, yellow and orange. They range in taste from faint peppery to mild cauliflower. They should be blanched first and then scatter the petals on a salad. The leaves can also be used to flavor vinegar. Always remove the bitter flower base and use petals only.
Clover (Trifolium species), cornflower (Centaurea cynaus) also called bachelor’s button, dandelions (Taraxacum officinalis), Day Lilies (Hemerocallis species), and English Daisy (Bellis perennis) are just some of the flowers that can be used as food. Look them up individually for examples of how to use them.
Fruit flowers can also be used but be aware that most fruit trees are sprayed just before and during the bloom. If you are using you own flowers that have not been sprayed, use only the pedals, not the pistils or stamen. Apple blossoms (Malus species), banana blossoms (Musa paradisiaca), citrus blossoms (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, kumquat) and elderberry blossoms (Sambucus spp) should be used sparingly, while carefully following the directions explicit for each blossom.
Most herb flowers are just as tasty as the foliage and very attractive when used in your salads. Add some petals to any dish you were already going to flavor with the herb.
Did you know that broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes are all flowers? Also, the spice saffron is the stamen from the crocus flower.
Capers are unopened flower buds to a bush native in the Mediterranean and Asian nations. The general rule is that the flowers of most vegetables and herbs are safe to eat. Always check first, because as with anything in life, there will always be exceptions.
For example, avoid the flowers of tomato, potato, eggplant, peppers and asparagus. You would think you would want to avoid the yucca plant, but the petals of the white yucca flower are crunchy with a mildly sweet taste (a hint of artichoke). In the spring, they can be used in salads and as a garnish.
Another way to make use of edible flowers is to “candy” them for special occasions. To candy flowers, whisk an egg white, then use a brush to paint a fine layer onto clean, dry, pesticide-free flower petals (or whole flowers if they’re very small). Next, gently place the petal into some superfine sugar, and sprinkle some more superfine sugar on top. Shake off the excess and lay it out on waxed paper to dry (this takes as long as eight hours).
Be sure to carefully research your plant before you use the flowers for food but do enjoy using them to beautify your special dishes while adding a punch of flavor!
Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.