Sunday, 4 November 2012

Edible Flower List - What You Should Know and Grow

I have to say I'm a proponent of the more practical aspects of gardening: You know, eat what you grow; stick with plant varieties that are somewhat self-sustaining for your area like native species that don't need coddling; and nurture plants and herbs in your landscape like ginger, mint and sage that can be used lots of ways (think home remedies, pest control, cooking and crafting). You get three or four for one without any added work, water or fertilizer.

When I started reading about edible flowers, the idea was a hard sell. I mean, culinary flowers have some frou-frou appeal, but only if you're going to plant them for other reasons anyway, right. Toss some marigold (calendula) into a salad and a bed of lettuce will look prettier, sure. Anything else seems like a lot of work for not very much in return.

Uses for Edible Flowers

It turns out that isn't true, though. Edible flowers can be remarkably handy. You can use them to decorate your table, increase the appeal of the foods you prepare, and enhance beverages and desserts. You can also turn bumper crops into potpourri, dried flower arrangements, wreaths and sachets. A plain bottle of garlic infused oil (or vinegar) looks pretty nice. Throw in a few flower petals and peppercorns and you have the makings of an attractive and delicious hostess gift. To make it even easier, there are lots of edible flowers to choose from, and many of them are prolific and easy to grow.

Edible Blossoms - Imagine the Possibilities 
Edible Flower List - Mums
Green Tea and Mums

If your kids hate vegetables, don't be too surprised. Kids' taste buds are different from adults in a number of ways. There's evidence to suggest that youngsters taste bitter and sour flavors more strongly than adults do. When that tossed salad with spinach and broccoli is hopelessly unpopular, sprinkling some pink rose petals or pineapple sage blossoms on it may encourage you kids to give it a go. I'm not saying adding flowers to all your regular dishes will turn mealtime into a veggie extravaganza, but it could make introducing new things more entertaining and successful. Hey, it's worth a try.

Edible flowers can be sweet, peppery or citrusy. They can taste mildly of cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla.  They can also be crunchy like lettuce, as refreshing as a slice of cucumber or as cool as melon ball.  If you've wanted to come up with an attractive salad for that potluck dinner at work (or church or your quilt guild) edible flowers sass up a salad with lots of color, interesting fragrances and often a flavor bump that's fun and unexpected -- and it's a sure bet your presentation will get high marks.

There's something else, too.  Where an herb or vegetable like sage may have too strong a flavor for your taste, the flower from that plant will likely be a milder version with a more subtle appeal in dishes like flavored butters or soft cheeses.  Give one a try.  I have some suggestions at the end of this article.

Tips for Using Edible Flowers

We have a good list of edible flower options below, but before you take a look, pay attention to these rules for safe edible flower use:
  • Never assume a flower is safe to eat. Know the plant and check the literature to make sure it's okay. Just because the leaves or seeds of a plant are safe doesn't necessarily mean all the plant parts are edible.
  • Avoid eating wild flowers. It may sound alarmist, but you don't know what wild plants have been growing in or around, so prefer home grown plants you can vouch for.
  • Avoid plants that have been sprayed with pesticides. This includes your prize winning roses. Set aside a spot in the garden for edibles and grow your culinary flowers (vegetables and herbs) in that location.
  • Identify what you grow. If you grow lots of flowers in your landscape and plan on adding some edibles, label them for easy identification later.
  • When in doubt, pass. Common names for plants can get confusing because there can be many plants known by the same common name. Because plants can appear simultaneously in widely differing geographic locations, regional communities over the years (decades and centuries) have come up with their own pet names for them. Adorable names can be recycled and refer to different plants over time and long distances. For instance, Calendula is known as pot marigold and Tagetes is known as French marigold. Calendula is edible while some varieties of French marigold are not.
  • Wash flowers thoroughly before using them.
  • Edible Flower List
  • Take them for a spin. Flowers will stay fresher longer if you spin or blot them dry after washing.

Edible Flower List and Recommendations

What follows is a list of common edible flowers. I've tried to avoid varieties that can lead to marigold-like confusion:

  • Angelica (Angelica archangelica) - Good on fish, in salads or with egg dishes.
  • Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) - Nice in fresh garden salad
  • Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) - Market artichokes are actually the flowering portion of the artichoke plant.
  • Arugula (Eruca Sativa) -This slightly bitter salad green bolts easily when temps soar, but that's a good thing.  The hidden surprise about arugula is that its cross shaped flowers taste almost better than its spicy leaves.  Take it from Baia Nicchia, who made me aware of omitting this tasty flower in the first draft of my list.
  • Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) - Use as a tea or sprinkled on fresh salad or steamed peas.
  • Borage (Borago officinalis) - Sugar and use as a decoration on baked goods. Borage flowers taste like cucumber.
  • Broccoli (Brassica oleracea) - Like artichokes, broccoli florets are flowers.
  • Burnet (Sanquisorba minor) - Has a mild cucumber flavor.
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis) - Use on rice, pasta, egg dishes and salad.
  • Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus - Dianthus) - Remove the bitter white base of the petal and use the rest in desserts.  Carnation petals are aromatic, spicy and mildly sweet. Nice.
  • Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) - White flowers that have an anise flavor.
  • Cilantro (Coriander sativum) - Sprinkle flowers on salads, tacos and bean dishes.
  • Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum coronarium) - Blanch and use in place of bitter greens (like arugula) in salad.
  • Citrus Blossoms (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit) - Toss in fruit salads.
  • Cornflower (Centaurea cynaus) - Use as a garnish.
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) - Pick young blossoms and steam them as a side dish.
  • Dill (Anethum) - Very nice sprinkled on broiled salmon or served with shellfish.
  • English Daisy (Bellis perennis) - Use sparingly as a salad garnish.
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) - Has a mild anise flavor, and makes an effective garnish. I like sprinkling it on white sauce pizza.
  • Fuchsia (Fuchsia X hybrida) - Another wonderful garnish that's also edible. Dancing ladies look very pretty on a plate with a cupcake.  Just a suggestion.
  • Garden Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) - Sorrel flowers are tart and lemony. Use like lemon: on steamed veggies, as a salad topping or in sauces (add at the last minute).
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale) - Eat the petals raw for a mild gingery flavor that's very refreshing.
  • Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) - A few petals can take the place of bitter greens in salad for a very attractive presentation.  Hibiscus makes a tasty tea additive, too.
  • Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana) - The flowers have a sweet flavor. They can be used as a garnish in salads or in sangria or other chilled drinks.
  • Johnny-Jump-Up (Viola tricolor) - Can be used as a garnish or as a flavoring in salads.
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) - This one has a floral flavor that's sweet and peppery.  It's one my favorites. It's appealing in sweet as well as savory dishes. You can also flavor sugar with it and use it as a seasoning in baked goods.  Yum.
  • Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) - Lemony taste. Good in egg dishes and salads.
  • Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) - Sweet, spicy and peppery.  The flavor of nasturtium flowers have been compared to watercress. Wonderful in salads and simple sandwiches.
  • Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) - An exotic flower with little flavor but lots of drama. It has real presence as a large garnish.
  • Pansy (Viola X wittrockiana) - Very attractive sugared on baked goods.  Pansy is also colorful in salads. It has a rather mild flavor but may be in bloom in autumn when other flowers have finished for the season. Check the introductory photo for an idea of how to use pansy as a decorative garnish. Wow.
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnate) - Passionflower has an interesting aroma and a mild flavor. Its exotic appearance makes it another flower that can be used to make a big statement on a serving platter.
  • Peony (Paeonia lactiflora) - Petals are tasty in salad, tea, punch and lemonade.
  • Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) - The bright red flowers are very pretty in salads and have a faint, sweet pineapple aroma.
  • Primrose (Primula vulgaris) - A good flower to try first in recipes like fruit and vegetable salads.  It looks pretty but has a very mild, sweet flavor. It integrates easily in many dishes.  Experiment.
  • Rose (R. gallica officinalis - Rosa rugosa) - Remove the white section at the base of the petal before eating. Rose petals taste like a cross between apples and berries with a hint of black peppery punch. Good raw in salad, frozen in desserts or cooked in jelly.
  • Savory (Satureja hortensis) - Peppery with a little heat.
  • Scented Geranium (Pelargoniums) - Lots of varieties.  The type will give you an indication of the flavor, i.e. lemon, orange, rose, etc. Citronelle geranium varieties are not edible, so pass on those.
  • Squash Blossom (Curcubita pepo) - Zucchini and pumpkins produce prolific blossoms that are delicious fried in an egg and flour batter. It may sound silly, but these are a delicacy.  I have a recipe for fried squash flowers if you're interested. Check the recipe section in the sidebar on the left of this page.
  • Sunflower (Helianthus annus) - Steam unopened buds as you would an artichoke. Once open, sunflowers taste slightly bitter but work well in salads. Choose miniature varieties for whole-flower garnishes.
  • Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) - Sweet with a hint of cinnamon. These flowers are tiny, though, so use flowing sprigs.
  • Thyme (Thymus) - If you think thyme has a moldy flavor, try using the small flowers in egg dishes.  Delish. Like woodruff, the flowers are so-so tiny but worth a nibble.
  • Tulip Petals (Tulipa) - Tulip petals taste a bit like cucumber. Some folks are allergic, so test before eating. (Eat the petals only.)
  • Violet (Viola) - Sweet flavor. Freeze them in ice cubes or sugar them as a cake or cupcake decoration. Also good in ice cream and sorbet.
  • Yucca Petals (Yucca) - Slightly sweet. Tasty in salad.
Edible Flower List - Hibiscus

Special note:  Many herb flowers have a more subdued flavor than the herbs themselves.  If you think a particular herb is a bit overpowering in your recipes, try using the flowers petals instead.  Some good examples are:

  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla)
  • Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
  • Mint (Mentha)
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Savory (Satureja hortensis)
  • Thyme (Thymus)
Okay, that's it for today.  Check your seed catalogs for some edible flower options this year.  You'll enjoy the variety, and it'll make mealtime an adventure. 

Oh, and if you have extra flowers, consider pressing them into a scrapbook or using them to dye fabric for napkins (or Easter eggs).  These are just a couple of fun craft or school projects that use plants as raw material. Wow, what a great idea:  Grow some of your supplies instead of buying them.  How crafty!

Herb Mother is stirring up a sweet coating for borage blossoms.  It's a good first project.  Take a look if you get the chance: Candied Borage and Other Sweetness 

------- hern gardener

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