Floral Feasts — A Guide to Edible Flowers

Before there were supermarkets and convenience stores, people obtained their food through hunting and gathering. Mankind gradually learned to cultivate the plants that they had gathered in the wild. Back in the day, humans ate every usable part of the plant – including, many time s, its colorful flowers. Today, thanks to the edible flower trend, people are finding ways to use their cuttings gardens to add some visual and edible pizzazz to otherwise boring dishes. Generally, these edible feasts for the eyes come in one of three taste categories: spicy, sweet, and mildly flavored.


Spice it up! One of nature’s spicy offerings is the carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus). Offered in varieties of reds and pinks, this frilly flower tastes peppery and clovelike. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) flowers, in bright oranges, yellows, and reds, awaken your taste buds with a peppery accent. Nasturtium stems, although not as spicy as their accompanying flowers, are also edible and have a clean green taste. The plant’s pickled fruits taste similar to capers. Certain marigold (Calendula) varieties add a bright pop of color on the plate, as well as a delicious licorice or anise accent to tired dishes. They’re also great in tea when paired with a bit of lemon. A few varieties can be bitter, so make sure you sample the flower before including it in a dish to ensure it’s agreeable with both your palate and stomach. Another spicy beauty, bee balm (Mondarda), is also used to flavor teas. Its petals are often crushed to make fragrant and spicy oils.


Sweet Accents If you’re looking to sweeten up a dish with a floral accent, try rose petals (Rosa hybrida), passion flower (Passiflora, or maypop), or even dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis). Roses offer flavors spanning every imaginable category. Just like the variety in fragrances, rose tastes range from strawberry, green apple, fruit, mint, clove, citrus, and even spicy flavors. Rose petals have been used in anything from syrups, jellies, perfumed butters, and sweet spreads. Darker petals will provide the richest flavor, whereas lighter hues are more versatile with a variety of flavors. Looking for something to do with all the wild dandelions growing in your yard? Put them on your plate! As a member of the daisy family, dandelions have been described as sweet and earthy, especially when picked as buds. A cheery yellow accent, blooms can easily brighten any dish. Dandelions can be eaten raw, steamed, or even deep fried! Young leaves make a great addition to salads, and petals can be used as a garnish for rice. Another sweet treat is the common daylily (Hemerocallis sp.), long prized in Chinese cooking. Mild, with no bitter aftertaste, the daylily is most often used as a garnish. It is sweetest before the blossom opens fully. Daylilies can also be prepared in most of the same ways as the squash blossom. Preparations, including frying, battering, baking, stuffing, and grilling, offer a delightful addition to any meal.


On the mild side Mildly flavored edible flowers – which include hollyhock (Alcea rosea), impatiens (both Busy Lizzie and Tempo series), and fuchsia – fall into the third category. Lilacs (Syringa) are a springtime favorite that offers a mild lemony and floral flavor in shades of blue, purple, and pink. Pansies (Viola tricolor x wittrockiana) provide a burst of bright color to any dish with a fresh grassy flavor. Available in eye-catching blue, white yellow, orange, pink, red, purple, and bicolor combinations, the happy little face of a pansy can liven up any salad. Parboiled and sweetened, flowers from the peony (Paeonia) family have long graced tables at teatime in China. With its mild, nutty flavor, the rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is also a good garden tour snack and stunning plate garnish.


Hit the kitchen All of the aforementioned flowers are great raw and in salads. But there are several additional ways to get even more enjoyment out of these edible delights. Flower butter is easy to prepare and makes a savory addition to anything that calls for butter. All you need to do is chop the petals finely, add them to butter at room temperature, and let it sit for a couple of hours. Once the petals have mixed nicely with the softened butter, refrigerate the tasty concoction for a couple of days for prime flavoring. The end result can be spread on bread or used for baking. For ornamentation or a sweet snack, petals can also be candied using a mix of egg whites and sugar. To candy flower petals, follow these simple steps. First, remove the petals from the flower and place in a bath of cool water with a bit of salt. Follow with an ice water bath and then place the petals on a towel to dry them completely. Once dried, use a small artist’s paintbrush to paint each petal with room temperature egg whites. Sprinkle the petals with extra fine sugar and let dry. Petals can also be frozen in ice cubes for a colorful and cool addition to any drink. To make, simply fill each compartment in a standard ice cube tray halfway and freeze. Once frozen, add an edible flower petals, finish filling the compartment with water, and replace in the freezer. Once the water freezes, your flower-petal ice cubes are ready.


Take a chance With so many ways to prepare flowers, they are no longer just eye candy. Edible flowers can offer a punch of color, as well as another dimension of flavor to your dish. So the next time the kids are complaining about another boring meal, or if you’re looking for a way to spice up your tea, turn to your flower beds – they’ll provide beautiful and delicious solutions time after time.