Broccoli is one of America’s favorite vegetables. Broccoli consumption in the U.S. surpasses that of other vegetables of the same brassica family, such as cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Broccoli is a popular plant in home gardens. It grows easily from seed for those who like to start their own seeds early, and it is also available in garden centers as transplants.
Some gardeners are plagued with less than adequate growing conditions, resulting in broccoli that rushes into flowering. Drought and heat can be major contributors to early flowering. Correct the conditions when possible, and learn to use the flowers.
Broccoli is a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C and A, beta carotene, calcium, folate and iron, plus other trace minerals and phytochemicals. One-half cup of steamed broccoli contains 2.3 g protein and 2.4 g fiber.
Tender stems, leaves, buds, and flowers are all edible.
Types of Broccoli
Traditional broccoli found in American supermarkets has a large central head. Raab broccoli, or Italian broccoli, grows with many branches and small, loose florets. The entire raab plant is harvested for the leafy greens and shoots. The green heads on any type of broccoli are clusters of unopened flower buds. Prime harvest time is just before the flower buds open. To avoid broccoli flowers, harvest the heads when the buds begin to swell.
The natural progression of a broccoli plant is to produce flower buds, bloom, and make seeds. The head of unopened buds, tender stems and leaves are what we typically consider the edible parts of the plant. If the bud clusters are not trimmed for consumption they will open into bright yellow flowers. The flowers attract a host of small bees and other pollinating insects. Once pollinated, the flowers will form seeds.
If your broccoli has tight buds except for a few flowers beginning to pop open, and if the open flowers bother you, simply pick off the open flowers and harvest the head. Prepare it as you normally would.
If your broccoli is flowering prematurely, one cause is too little water during the head formation stage. If the weather is still cool, trim off premature flowers and keep the plants watered to try to encourage more edible side shoots to grow.
The bright yellow broccoli flowers are edible and delicious. If you miss harvesting at the tight bud stage, you can still harvest broccoli, even with the flowers open. Broccoli flowers can be eaten raw or cooked. Use them as an edible garnish or include them as a nutritious and attractive addition to any salad. Completely opened flowers will wilt when steamed, but partially opened buds retain their shape.
Broccoli flowers have a pleasant, mild flavor. Some specialty markets sell yellow broccoli flowers in the produce section as a delicacy item.
Another use for broccoli flowers is to allow them to produce seeds. Save the seeds for next year’s garden. Always save seeds from open-pollinated varieties of broccoli, not hybrids. Hybrid broccoli will produce seeds, but the seeds will revert to one of the hybrid’s parents. Most seeds from hybrid plants are sterile, and if they do grow, they will not produce bud clusters or flowers.