Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Take Time to Eat the Flowers

In perusing companion plants and beneficial flowers for the homestead, cutting garden, scent garden, veggie garden, children's garden, beneficial insect/pollinator planting, mixed wildflower meadow, green manure patch, cottage garden, herb garden, and potager/French Kitchen garden, my eye scanned familiar lists of favorites, and then some of them rang a bit of a bell in my memory. As stunningly, or sometimes modestly, beautiful as these flowers are when intermingled with the more utilitarian veg in our gardens (and I say "our gardens" in the community sense this year, since all our plants currently are in homely 5 gallon plastic buckets, ha!), there are many of them that can elevate the dinner plate to a riot of color and celebration.

I'm talking about edible flowers.

No, I'm not a gourmand, and I don't serve fluffy truffle-infused bits of mousse on white china to a family on Grandma's china...not that I wouldn't sample it if the opportunity arose! :) I'm a cook who's still learning, and my kitchen repertoire is pretty basic while expanding.

I do remember last year, though, and my dianthus plants. They did not survive the hot Florida summer, but the next time I try them, I'll situate them in a more comfy spot and give them a lot more nurture. The one thing I remember the most about them, besides their wonderful clove-like scent, was that I ventured to try washing and separating the flower petals, and using them in our salads. The salads went from lovely to stunning! There was very little flavor addition by using the dianthus petals, but the magenta, burgundy, hot pink, baby pink, blush, and snow white petals separated into tiny frilled triangles, and when tossed with fresh salad greens, that salad was a show stopper! It's amazing how much more appealing that salad become just by tossing in some flower magic!

Taking such a salad to a public gathering made for a lot of comments...what is it? what does it taste like? is it safe to eat??

Some people were just put off by the thought of consuming something otherwise thought to be for "looks only." I admit, I was in that category before engaging in some reading and perusing the lists of edible flowers and the notes on each.

It's worthwhile to look over some lists like that, if you're incorporating flowers into your garden this year, especially those herbs and companion plants. Many flower petals are edible!

There are things to note, such as the best time to harvest them (what time of day, etc), and particularly anything to be cautious about. With most flowers, it's best to remove all the bits except the petals, as the pollen on the stames can aggravate allergy sufferers or those who are pre-disposed to asthma (such as myself). Some can be used as freely as you like, others, more as a garnish but not consumed in large quantities.

When trying flowers as additions to recipes, it's best to sample a tiny bit and wait for a while, to be sure you have no sensitivity. In fact, it's like most new foods...see if your body is happy, and adjust accordingly.

That said, you also have to make sure you have the right plant...there are some plants that look similar but are entirely different. Don't eat anything you're not sure of!

Those are the precautions. The good news is that there are so many, many wonderful blooms and petals to choose from, there's sure to be a basketful your family can enjoy. Some can be stuffed, battered, frittered and fried. Some are delicious tucked into pitchers of iced tea, or a hot "cuppa." Some are beautiful candied, sugared, or preserved. Some can be pickled or used as garnishes. Some are wonderful for layering into a salad, sandwich, or slaw. Some can be made into wines.

There were some surprises to me as I looked over the lists: Tulips, Lilacs, Chrysanthemums, Gardenias, Okra blooms, Bee Balm, to name a few. I knew violets and Johnny-Jump-ups were edible, but I didn't know to limit the Johnny-Jump-Ups to mostly garnishes. It helps to compare lists, to see what one source cautions or expands upon.

There are lists available of poisonous flowers, too. They are worth looking over just to know.

Here are some great links to explore, as we re-assess those garden flowers and herbs with a new eye to the dinner plate:

Wouldn't some of these be a terrific addition to the homestead, and even the farmer's market or road-side stand salad mix or veggies, not to mention value-added handcrafted items such as homemade soaps, bath salts, handmade papers?

I hope you enjoy this experimentation as much as I'm beginning to...it's so much fun to play with our food!


duane marcus Facebook me! said...

Didn't know dianthus was edible. I'll have to try some. Even if the flowers don't add much in the way of flavor they are adding to the diversity of nutrients in the dish and they are working in your garden to attract beneficial insects.

Robbyn said...

Hi Duane, yes, they are stunning...taste better if you clip the white tips off, too. Future House Farm blog (see side bar) today had a great article I just read with a link to another great site about "farmscaping" which seems to be incorporating beneficials on a larger scale.

ilex said...

Speaking of fluffy infused bits, have you tried fried squash blossoms stuffed with cream cheese? Holy cow; divine.

I'm growing edible flowers for the first time this year - scarlet runnder beans, calendula, anise hyssop, borage, and nasturtium. Usually I grow a few flowers, just to flag in the beneficials. But this year, if I can't eat it, I didn't plant it. Should be great fun serving flowers to guests who don't normally eat such stuff.

TOCCO said...

You continue to amaze me... I am posted out today.... I'll send more people your way tomorrow!
Have a great day!

Anonymous said...

i've been meaning to make and try some edible flowers, but ive always been at a loss if they're poisonous or not...thanks for the links.

Lakewood flowers

Robbyn said...

Ok, sorry Duane!! I gave the wrong blog credit...it was your Funny Farm site that has the great article...big ooops :) Apologies!!

Robbyn said...

Ilex, havent tried the squash blossoms...but I gained three pounds thinking about them :) You've got some great flowers going...just how big IS your condo balcony?? :)

Tocco, thanks so much for spreading the word about these subjects...the more the merrier :)

TheySay...me too! That's what's so nice about resources available on the internet...discovering wonderful finds :)

Twinville said...

This info is fascinating!
Are there some flowers which are more dessert like: sweet? And some that are more suited for savory dishes?
How about some that would do well in adding distinct flavor in stir-frys?

I need to read up on this for sure! Thanks!