Edible Plants and Flowers From Your Garden
by Barbara Fahs(hiiakas(at)lava.net)
You may or may not be old enough to remember the 1950's book and Doris Day movie "Please Don't Eat the Daisies." The title always seemed like a silly one because until recently no one would seriously consider eating flowers, for Heaven's sake-except maybe cauliflower. Of course, people do eat artichokes and broccoli, but these plants don't have the word "flower" in their names, so who knew? Well, it turns out that you can eat the daisies, at least English Daisies-the little white ones that pop up in your lawn. And you can eat a lot of other flowers too.
Restaurants such as Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California use edible flowers to brighten up the meals they serve, and you can too. Imagine delicate purple and yellow Johnny Jump-Ups peeking out from a salad of garden-fresh greens, or fiery orange Nasturtiums sprinkled on a feta cheese pizza. But which flowers are edible? And how do you use them?
Sunset Tested the Best
In 1995, Sunset Magazine conducted a taste test of nine edible flower varieties: Daylilies, Borage, Calendula, English Daisy, Nasturtium, Pansy, Rose, squash, and sweet Violet. Many catalogs and nurseries now offer edible flower seeds and plants, including those tested by Sunset, as well as other edibles such as Anise Hyssop (Licorice Mint) and Chives.
Try Your Hand With Herbs
Herbs provide us with many exciting possibilities for edible flowers because all culinary herbs have edible flowers. In many cases the blossoms are both beautiful and delicious. Some possibilities include oregano, sage, thyme, savory, marjoram, and all varieties of basil. You don't need to dry herbs or their flowers before you use them-in fact, they are tastier when you use them fresh from your garden or your local farmer's market. Many grocery stores carry fresh herbs as well, but be sure to check their freshness with a "sniff" test-if the herb smells wonderful, it will taste wonderful too. And don't forget to use the flowers! Blossoms are often the best part of the plant, containing most of the essential oils. This makes herb flowers sweet, fragrant, and flavorful. There are many other edible flowers. Some examples follow.
Growing and Using Edible Flowers
Onion, chive, and garlic flowers:
Have you ever let one of these plants flower? Most people pull the plant and use it when it starts to send up a flower stalk. For an unexpected treat, let one or two plants "do their thing"-their flowers can be a delicious addition to your next salad. Some chives produce blue flowers that add a pretty blush with an oniony taste. Don't wait too long to harvest the flowers from this plant family, though-they quickly form seeds, which will give your salads a "crunch" but no flavor.
Be sure to pinch back the flowering tops of Basil plants to keep them from going to seed too early in the season. You can use those tops and flowers in several ways. Try making a tangy sun tea by filling a clean glass jar with bottled water. Then toss in a couple of tea bags, and add a handful of Cinnamon or Anise Basil flowering tops. Cover the jar and place it in the sun for a few hours. Herb vinegar is just as easy to prepare-simply substitute apple cider vinegar for the water and omit the tea bags.
This attractive plant sports small red flowers from late summer through Christmas. Take your cue from the hummingbirds who fight over this delicacy! Pineapple sage blossoms are especially tasty in fruit salads and herb tea. You can also use the pineapple-scented leaves in tea.
Long stalks of dill with flowering yellow flower heads are available all summer long. Scatter dill seeds in the early spring or in the fall, and you'll get some pleasant surprises in your garden the following summer. If you plant this easily grown "weed," be sure to harvest the flowering tops before they form seeds. Try some in a cucumber and yogurt salad. The entire dill plant has been used for centuries in pickle recipes, so if you feel adventurous, try your hand at pickle making-it's easier than you might think!
The flowers of this large shrub are so beautiful and delicious on their own that they justify growing a guava. Pineapple guava flowers are a stunning, sweet addition to fruit salads.
Both the usual garden variety and the Asian variety called "Shungiku" are edible. You can use Shungiku in all types of stir-fry recipes. Herb tea made from Chrysanthemums is refreshing, or you can use these daisy-like flowers as a charming addition to salads. However, you may need to inform your guests that the flowers are edible!
Snow peas and regular garden peas:
These small lavender or white flowers don't taste like peas, but they do have a pleasant flavor. However, be sure you consume only the flowers from garden peas (edible-podded, black-eyed, and other varieties) and not sweet peas. If you can eat the rest of the plant, or the fruit that it produces, you can usually eat the flowers. Not all flowers from fruits and vegetables taste good though, so you might want to experiment a bit before your next dinner party.
"Fuchsias are edible?" You'll probably hear this question from your surprised guests if you put these attractive blossoms in salads or use them as an garnish with fish, chicken, or grilled vegetables.
Have Fun and Follow These Tips
Use your imagination. The more you open yourself to the possibilities of edible flowers, the more uses you will discover. But proceed with caution and use some common sense. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind before you eat any type of flower:
If you decide to grow your own edible flowers, treat the planting area the same as you would for any other edible crop. Make sure that no contaminants, such as animal waste or motor oil, are present in the soil.
Avoid eating any flower unless you are absolutely certain that it is edible. Some plants that grow in the wild are edible, but take extra care to identify such plants first.
Make sure the plants have not been sprayed with chemicals or pesticides.
If you suffer from hay fever, asthma, or allergies, use caution because the pollen could trigger an allergic reaction.
Remove the stamens and pistils from flowers-they are not harmful, but might taste bitter.
Wash all flowers thoroughly before you eat them.
Your Guests Will Be Delighted
So please, don't waste another day or another delicious edible flower. Toss a handful of chive blossoms on top of your salad tonight. Add some flowering tops of Anise or Licorice Basil to your next fruit salad. And experiment with different types of edible flowers in teas-either hot or chilled. You might be surprised by the compliments you receive from even the diehard meat and potatoes crowd.
About the Author
Barbara Fahs (hiiakas(at)pop.lava.net) lives on the Big Island of Hawaii, where she is planting and establishing an educational herb garden she calls "Hi'iaka's Garden." She is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener and has been studying, growing, and using culinary and healing herbs since 1971.