While gardeners rave about the latest blueberry or raspberry, one group of edibles often gets overlooked. Your garden is probably full of them, but they haven’t made it to the kitchen – even though they have centuries of testing to back them up. Edible flowers, courtesy of classic garden plants, are not just pretty garnish on a plate. Though beautiful, they count as worthy recipe ingredients for their texture and taste. Expand your palate, and jazz up your cooking. Get edible flowers on board.
BASICS EDIBLE FLOWERS TO BUILD ON
Common garden classics offer some of the finest edibles. Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus), simple to grow and harvest, look gorgeous with their brilliant red, yellow and orange blossoms overflowing hanging baskets and containers. They look even better in a meal. With most edible flowers, you eat only the petals. But with nasturtiums, eat the whole flower, the petals, leaves and seeds. Let their peppery flavor kick up green salads a notch, or stir petal ribbons into pastas as you serve.
Lavender blossoms (Lavandula angustifolia) complement dishes from chicken to ice cream. Brilliant-blue, star-shaped borage flowers (Borago officinalis) add panache and a fresh, tangy taste to nearly any dish. Highly scented Old Garden Roses (Rosa spp.) sweeten up butters, soft cheeses, sorbets and frostings. The more intense the fragrance, the sweeter the taste. Flowers from garden classics such as hollyhocks (Alcea rosea), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), daisies (Bellis perennis), alpine pinks (Dianthus), sunflowers (Helianthus anuus), daylilies (Hemerocallis) and bergamot (Monarda didyma) all add distinctive flair and flavor to cooking. Their fragrances often hint at their taste.
FROM GARDEN TO KITCHEN
Edible flowers beg for experimentation, but start with what you know. Grow from there. Try petals fresh, sautéed or chopped like herbs, and develop your own edible flower style. For most edible flowers, only the petals are edible. Remove the flower whole from its calyx or remove the individual petals. Discard the green parts when you’re done. If the petal has a white portion at its base, it probably tastes bitter. Remove it before adding to food.
Most plants used for teas and culinary seasonings have edible flowers with a similar or complementary taste. Flowers from basil (Ocimum basilicum), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and oregano (Origanum vulgare) can be used with their leaves or on their own. Like herbs, edible flowers should be harvested in the morning when flavors are at their peak. Watch out for small native bees that sleep in some blossoms. Shake them out gently before you reach your kitchen door.
EDIBLE FLOWERS | RULES OF THE ROAD
When you create with edible flowers, use wisdom. Not all flowers are edible – no different than inedible or poisonous berries on some plants. Be sure that children understand. Stick to flowers you know, and always identify them by botanical name. Common names refer to vastly different plants from one region to the next.
If you’re allergic to pollen, don’t eat flowers. Always use flowers from your own garden or one you know is pesticide-free. Exercise moderation, as with all good things. What’s tasty in small quantities can cause less-than-pleasant side effects when you overindulge. If you’re uncertain about a flower, don’t use it – no matter how great it looks. Never put a flower on a plate unless you know it is safe to eat.