CO-Horts Blog

Monday, June 10, 2013

Edible flowers jazz up summer dishes

By Carol O'Meara, Horticulture Agent, Boulder County

The bravest man I know shudders at the thought of dining at my house during summer.  Not because I’m a terrible cook or my food might lead to hospitalization – these risks he faced in World War II and Korea.  No, the reason my father fears my table is because the meals I serve blossom with edible flowers.

Stuffed nasturtium
You might think it silly for a person to hesitate over eating a flower; after all, nasturtiums, squash blossoms and chives have been mainstream in culinary creations for years.  But if you think these are the limit of floral flair, you’re missing out on a decorative way to spice up your dining. 
Delicious, cucumber-like Borage (Borago officinalis) popped into salads or dips, sauteed Daylily buds (Hemerocallis fulva), cheerful pansies (Viola x. Wittrockiana) in festive salads, or Scarlet Runner Bean blossoms (Phaseolus coccineus) highlighting steamed green beans all have a place on the summertime table. 

Finding flowers for cooking may mean growing them yourself.  If you do, treat them as you would any vegetable and grow them organically, following the five rules for eating flowers:

1. Be absolutely positive about identification - not all are edible, and some can be harmful.  Know beyond doubt what you have before eating it.

2.  Common names are misleading, so don’t pick a flower based on its moniker.  Sweet peas, for example, are poisonous, while yucca is tasty.

3.  Many greenhouses and florists spray plants; these flowers are not suitable for eating.  Use only those picked from your garden or from a reputable, food-grade source. 

4.  Flowers may cause allergic reaction in some people with asthma or hay fever, or give you a digestive malfunction.  Start slowly, and eat only small amounts of them at first.

5.  Many chefs garnish with flowers that aren’t edible.  Check with the kitchen before eating them.

Deviled eggs with marigolds
Flowers degrade faster than herbs, so plan to use them within a few hours.  Keep them fresh by storing in the refrigerator.  Pick flowers on cool mornings, choosing those that are just becoming fully open and avoiding those that are wilted or starting to fade.  Pinch, don’t pull flowers from the stem.

Different growing conditions effect flavors; be sure you like what you’re harvesting.  To avoid bitter meals, taste the flower before spending a lot of time picking them.  Remember, they’re delicate, so wash flowers with a fine spray of water just before using them. Try these: 

Daylilies: Packed with vitamin A and C, these flowers also have three grams of protein in every bud.  Harvest buds when they’re one-and-a-half to two inches long; larger than this and they’re bitter. 

Pansies: Harvest by picking the stem all the way to the plant, keeping the flower intact.
Pop petals into ice cube trays, fill with water and freeze for an elegant touch in drinks, or use fresh in salads.

Roses (Rosa spp.):  Pull or snip petals from the bud. The white inner portion of the petal is bitter, so snip it off before using.  A rose’s perfume gives a clue to its flavor, and varieties that have a stronger scent generally taste better.  Look for those that smell like food; you’ll find roses can be citrusy to spicy, sweet to mild.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): Pull the petals from the bud and pinch off the tiny white ends.  Lavender can turn bitter when dry; use them fresh for sweetest flavor.  Because the taste is bold, a little goes a long way - use petals sparingly.

With many flowers, such as roses, tulips, and lavender, only the petals are edible.  Remove the stamens, styles and pistils from inside the flowers, and snip off the outer, green sepals.  If the flower is tiny, gently pull the petals from the bud to use.  Others, like runner beans, honeysuckle, and pansies may be eaten whole.

1 comment:

  1. Good advice on the lavender, Carol...a little does go a long way! I am having flashbacks to our "that's way too much lavender oil!!!" scones. But it's a delightful flower and tastes so good with lemon.