Flowers have traditionally been used in many types of cooking: European, Asian, East Indian, Victorian English, and Middle Eastern.
Early American settlers also used flowers as food. Today, there is a renewed interest in edible flowers for their taste, color, and fragrance. Edible lowers can be used fresh as a garnish or as an integral part of a dish, such as a salad.
Squash flowers can be fried in light batter or cornmeal. Some flowers can be stuffed or used in stir-fry dishes. Edible flowers can be candied; frozen in ice cubes and added to beverages; made into jellies and jams; used to make teas or wines – minced and added to cheese spreads, herbal butters, pancakes, crepes, and waffles. Many flowers can be used to make vinegars for cooking, marinades, or dressings for salad. Herbal flowers normally have the same flavor as their leaves, with the exceptions of chamomile and lavender blossoms, here the flavor is usually more subtle.
Cautions Not all flowers are edible; some may taste bad and some are poisonous. Eat flowers only if you are certain they are edible. Consult a good reference book. An extensive list of poisonous plants can be found at the following Web site:
Poisonous Plants – North Carolina State University
Other Links of Interest:
Cornell University Poisonous Plants Page
Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System
Australia – Garden plants poisonous to people
UK – Poisonous plants found in the UK an Europe
A flower is not necessarily edible because it is served with food. A partial list of edible flowers can be found in Table 1. The flowers of most culinary herbs are safe to use.
Growing Edible Flowers Growing edible flowers is essentially the same as growing flowers for ornamental purposes. Most flowers require a well-drained soil with a pH around 5.5 to 6. Soil test. Use a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch to reduce weeds, conserve soil moisture, maintain uniform soil temperatures, and reduce the amount of soil splashed onto the plant during a heavy rain. Irrigate to keep plants actively growing and flowering; most plants will need 1 inch of water per week. If possible, avoid overhead irrigation because moisture on the leaf surface for extended periods of time can increase the chances of disease development. Irrigating with a soaker hose works well.
Chemicals for pest control should be avoided, if possible. Hand-pick harmful insects. Beneficial insects, such as lady beetles and praying mantids, can be used to decrease insect populations. Growing different flowers together provides diversity to support a good beneficial insect population and keeps pest problems low. Many gardeners locate their edible flower garden away from other plants to avoid chemical spray drift. Many edible flowers can be successfully grown in containers.
Harvesting Flowers culivars. Conduct a taste test before harvesting large amounts of a particular flower. Flowers should be picked in the cool of the day, after the dew has evaporated. For maximum flavor choose flowers at their peak. Avoid flowers that are not fully open or that are past their prime. To maintain maximum freshness, keep flowers cool after harvest. Long-stem flowers should be placed in a container of water.
Short-stemmed flowers, such as borage and orange blossoms, should be harvested within 3 to 4 hours of use, placed in a plastic bag, and stored in a refrigerator. Damp paper towels placed in the plastic bag
will help maintain high humidity.
Because pollen can distract from the flavor, it’s best to remove the pistils and stamens. Pollen may cause an allergic reaction for some people. Remove the sepals of all flowers except violas, Johnny-jump-ups, and pansies. For flowers such as calendula, chrysanthemum, lavender, rose, tulip, and yucca, only the flower petals are edible. The white base of the petal of many flowers may have a bitter taste and should be removed from flowers such as chrysanthemums, dianthus, marigolds, and roses.
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