From the Almanac: FLOWERS YOU CAN EAT! EDIBLE FLOWERS FOR FOOD AND HEALING
FLOWERS YOU CAN EAT!
EDIBLE FLOWERS FOR FOOD AND HEALING
April 23, 2020
Spice up pasta and bread with peppery, colorful, nasturtium.
wers that you can eat! Edible flowers are good for healing, too. While there are hundreds of choices, here’s a list of 10 edible flowers that are also easy to grow.
For centuries, humans have foraged or cultivated flowers and flower buds for food, drink, and medicine. Think of squash blossoms in Italian food, chamomile or jasmine tea, and rose petals in Indian food. Some are spicy, and some herb-y, some are fragrant. All are colorful.
FLOWERS, FLOWERS EVERYWHERE!
We’re seeing a renewed interest in edible flowers. There are hundreds of common wild and cultivated plants with petals and buds which are edible. Not only are these flowers pretty in the garden, but they will add color, diversity, and new flavor to your meals.
If you’d like to grow some flowers, why not choose varieties that are also edible? Then dress up your soups, salads, pastas, drinks, and desserts with buds and flowers. Try nasturtiums over pasta or in sandwiches to add a peppery pizzazz! Adventurous folks might also want to explore some of the traditional medicinal uses of common flowers.
When preparing most flowers (exceptions: squash, violets, and nasturtiums) for food or beverage, use only the petals for best flavor. Remove the sepals, as well as the pistils and stamens. In case you’ve forgotten your flower anatomy, here’s help.
Vibrant nasturtiums bring vibrant color and a punchy pepper flavor to dishes.
10 FAVORITE EDIBLE FLOWERS
Looking to grow your own edible flowers? Check out our list of favorites:
- Nasturtium — sits at the top of my list. It’s easy to grow from seed, indoors or out, and every above-ground part is edible. Upon tasting nasturtium, you first taste a sweet essence from the nectar, followed by a bold peppery tang, spicing up a bland salad or dish. Nasturtium leaves and flowers are rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, and have a long history of medicinal use in indigenous cultures for urinary-tract, cardiovascular, and respiratory disorders.
- Viola — I’ve already written about my love of the irrepressible wild violets that pop up all over my lawns and gardens. Give it a read, and tend your lawn violets with care! The common or garden Pansies or violas can be used as decoration for egg dishes or salads. Violets can be crystallized, used in syrups and in baking.
- Calendula — A lovely and easy-to-grow annual flower, calendula petals will add color and spice to just about any cooked or fresh dish. Carefully remove the petals and toss them into salad, stir-fries, or your favorite rice dishes for a peppery flavor. The flowers can be used in place of saffron to impart a golden yellow hue to dishes, even bread rolls.
- Roses — All roses are edible. the darker-colored, more aromatic the variety the more flavor it will have. Strew rose petals across a fresh salad, brew them into tea, or use the entire blossoms to decorate a cake. The petals can also be made into jam. In autumn, you can make rose hip syrup.
- Sunflowers — Carefully separate the petals and sprinkle them into salads. For a real treat, harvest the unopened buds, remove the sepals, and steam the buds until tender. Meaty and filling, they taste like artichoke. Mmmm!
- Chamomile — Dried or fresh, chamomile tea is renowned as a safe and gentle calming and sleep-promoting agent. It’s readily available in stores (buy flowers in bulk), and easy to grow in the home garden. Read more about chamomile tea and healing.
- Hibiscus — Try making your own hibiscus syrup for cocktails! The flowers are proven to lower blood pressure if used in tea. The calcyx of the Roselle variety makes an especially wonderful tea (or jelly due to the high pectin content of the flowers). The flavor is tart and zingy and the color is a vibrant cranberry.
- Geraniums — Both the flowers and the leaves can be used in salads.
- Fennel — Fennel’s flower heads contribute a delicious anise flavor to any dish. Sprinkle over potato salad.
- Day lily — Harvested fresh, the plump buds and meaty flowers of this common garden plant are delicious sauteed in a little oil or butter, then seasoned with salt and pepper. Some people stuff the just-opened blossom with a favorite stuffing mix, then saute the stuffed flowers in a little oil or poach them in broth. Use only freshly harvested buds/flowers. The flowers are wonderful in stir-fries! (Note: The day “lily” is not related to other types of lilies. Most other lilies are in fact NOT edible.)
Pansy petals do not have a lot of flavor (a mild wintergreen) but they are very pretty on the plate!
Let’s not forget about dandelions! In early spring, young dandelions are particularly delicious when they are underground and just about to emerge. These can be washed carefully and steamed for a few minutes. Serve with salt and butter. See my tips on eating dandelions.
Check out our video to learn more about edible flowers and how to use them.
Of course, many flowers are NOT edible. To name a handful: Sweet peas, hydrangeas, foxglove, columbines, oleander, rhododendrons, and delphiniums. See this Edible Flowers Chart to learn what’s safe, and see the caveats listed at the end of this article for more warnings!
Calendula flowers are renowned for skin care and healing. You’ll find calendula listed as an ingredient in many high-end skincare products and healing creams.
Here’s a nice recipe for homemade calendula oil or cream: Pull the petals from enough dried or fresh calendula blossoms to give you a cup. Add petals to a cup of olive oil in a large glass jar with a lid; seal and leave in a sunny window or outside for a week or two. After straining out the petals, you can use the oil as is, or heat it in a double boiler with ¼ cup of melted beeswax to make a spreadable cream.
Make floral ice cubes for a cocktail, event, or just because. Violas are a nice size. Fill the tray half-way, add flower, and add a few drops of water. Freeze over night, and then fill ice trays completely to freeze overnight again.
The blossoms of many herbs are also edible, and usually taste like a milder version of the leaf.
- Lemon verbena
- Wild garlic flowers
Borage is one of our favorite herbs to grow. Both the blue flowers and the young leaves (the older ones get too hairy) are edible, lending a cucumber-like flavor to salads and soups. The flowers are also wonderful in a summer drink.
Add rosemary flowers to butter. Sprinkle chive flowers on potato salad. Add lemon verbena to lemonade or sparkling water.
Some vegetable blossoms are also edible. For example, all brassica flowers are edible (cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, radish, arugula). However, the flowers of the Nightshade family are NOT edible, including flowers of tomato, potato, eggplant, and pepper (capsicum). Asparagus flowers (and berries) are also toxic.
BEFORE YOU GO PICKING…
The right flower can be a lovely addition to a dish, but before you go picking, be aware of the following:
- Never eat a flower you can’t identify with absolute certainty and know to be safe.
- Don’t eat commercially grown flowers or flowers that came from a florist; they could have been sprayed.
- Don’t forage wild flowers on treated lawns or along well-traveled roadways (possibility of chemical contamination).
- Introduce a new edible flower or floral tea slowly and gradually, especially if you have a serious ragweed or other pollen allergy. On your first try, take a few deep sniffs, then only a bite or two.
- Because flowers may contain powerful phytocompounds (which confer their healing virtues, as well as their flavors and colors), check with your healthcare professional before eating edible flowers if you’re pregnant or taking prescription drugs.
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