By David Goforth, Agriculture Extension Agent,
Cabarrus County, NC
The other day I was talking about daylilies when I mentioned eating the flowers. After my talk I figure a few of them will try it this spring.
Daylily flowers are one of the tastier flowers that can be eaten. I have eaten the roots, and flower buds before they bloom, but the flowers are the part that has a permanent place in my cuisine. Daylily soup, made from the petals the day after they wilt, is a common use of this plant in China but I think the fresh petals are the best use. Tear the flower into the separate petals and add to a vegetable salad. Don't add too much. The taste is sweet and will overpower a salad the same way too many tomatoes would overpower it. I have tried numerous cultivars. The colors are neat and some of them have a good fragrance. I like some of the thicker petaled daylilies with large size blooms the best, although some have lost their sweetness.
Squash blossoms are another bloom with a long history as a culinary treat. I have seen some of the newer recipes where gourmet chefs stuffed the blossom with cheese or anchovies. My father spoke fondly of fried squash blossoms. This was without the anchovies of course. Anything that looked like that was used for bait. I am not sure whether fried squash blossoms were a recipe handed down through several generations of mountain folks or one they developed during the great depression when they ate most anything that wasn't nailed down. This past year I ate a couple of blooms from a squash type of pumpkin. I need to eat some regular squash blooms before I determine if it is good food or just another carrier for cornmeal and grease. If you want to try some squash blossoms ask some of the vendors at the farmers market to get you some. The male blooms are fairly easy to determine and picking several of them won't reduce the fruit on the plant. They are slow to pick which will bump the cost up but everybody can afford one gourmet experience every now and then.
Speaking of cost, my other favorite flower is as cheap as weeds. Violets to be precise. They are blooming now. The blue ones or the white ones I have seen in a couple of places are excellent on salads. We don't eat many blue food other than blueberries. Violets are a good change of pace.
The pansies are very kin to the violets and they are good to eat also, but I don't like them as well.
Redbud blooms are edible. They are suppose to be cooked. I have tried them fresh several times but have never got around to cooking them. I understand the color is destroyed in cooking which is a shame. I once found a book on mountain cooking with several recipes for redbuds but misplaced it before the redbuds bloomed again.
A lot of people have heard of eating Nasturtium. This is suppose to be one of the best tasting flowers for many people. I have never grown nasturtium so I have only tasted it one or two times. I really don't have an opinion on this one. It is easy to pick and beautiful in the presentation.
Apple blooms are pretty good to eat. Eating apple blooms will reduce your crop. Since apples need to be thinned anyway, this wouldn't seem like a problem. The trouble is that when the apples are in bloom you are not sure which ones are going to make it and which ones might get zapped by that last frost.
The Pink (Dianthus sp.) is described as having a delicate taste. The ones I ate were pretty strong.
A lot of herbs are reported to have edible flowers including chives, sage, thyme, basil, rosemary, and arugala.
I have eaten several types of roses with various results. Most would add color to a salad.
Before I eat a plant, I make sure I have heard it is edible from more than one source and have heard it at least once by scientific name. Even after seeing the references, I would look at the plant and ask myself if that plant was really suppose to be eaten. Not a 100% sure way of telling but it wouldn't hurt to be extra careful when you are betting your life.
About the Author David Goforth is an Agricultural Agent for Cabarrus County, North Carolina. Visit Cabarrus County Center of the North Carolina State University A&T State University Cooperative Extension site.