Edible plants usually conjure up images of fruits, vegetables and herbs. A salad is made up of greens, lettuces, veggies and perhaps a sprinkling of nuts or seeds. If you want to make that salad really pop, try adding some flowers.
Edible flowers are gaining popularity in the culinary world, but adding these brightly colored blooms to cuisine isn’t a new idea. American settlers included flowers in their food, and cooks in Victorian England highlighted their dishes with flowers harvested from the garden.
Before you start plucking petals to add to your garden salad, though, educate yourself. Not all flowers are edible, and some are poisonous if ingested.
Edible Herbal Flowers
The herbal flowers in your herb garden provide a resource for numerous edible blooms. Use the flowers from bee balm, chives, lavender, rosemary and sage for salads and garnish. The flowers are milder in taste than the leaves and work well with lemony vinaigrettes.
Use the flowers in cooking and baking as well, adding chopped rosemary flowers to your bread dough or sage flowers to your bean dishes. The gentler onion flavor of chive flowers adds depth to vegetable broth, giving soups a boost of flavor. Make your chocolate cake stand out by adding a small amount of finely chopped lavender flowers to the batter. Use lavender sparingly, as too much makes for a perfume-like taste.
Using herbal flowers also gives you an opportunity to create a flavor profile for your meals. Your soups and salads carry the hint of the herbal flavorings and the stronger flavors from the leaves are present in the main course. Imagine a salad garnished with rosemary flowers followed by roasted chicken seasoned with rosemary leaves. With a hint of sage in the beans as a side dish and a lavender chocolate cake for dessert, you’ll feel like a culinary wonder.
Edible Vegetable Flowers
The zucchini flower is perhaps one of the more well known edible flowers. This squash blossom has a delicate, herbal flavor to it; dip it in batter and fry it for a delightful and colorful appetizer or side dish.
Pumpkin blossoms are also edible, as are the blooms from summer squash. Remove the stamens and pistils from the flowers when preparing them for cooking, as well as trimming the stem. Pick the flowers just before cooking, as they wilt quickly.
Other edible vegetable flowers include pea blossoms, radish flowers and the hibiscus-like flower of the okra plant. These, like the herbal flowers, are milder in flavor, and are ideal for use in salads.
Edible Garden Flowers
Hibiscus flowers have a citrusy flavor, tending toward the cranberry. Pair this flower with orange slices and butter crunch lettuce for a delightful summer salad.
Honeysuckle blossoms are sweet, as are impatiens, while pansies are more grassy and earthy in flavor. The flavors, though, are quite mild, and should be paired with delicate greens and fruits.
The rose offers a wide range of flavors, from fruity to spicy; the type of rose, the growing conditions and even the color all factor into the final flavor of the rose petals. Use roses for salads, ice cream garnishes and in syrups, jellies and punches.
Not All Flowers are Edible
Flowers bring varied levels of flavor and texture to your dishes, as well as visual delight. But this ingredient should be used with caution.
Never use any flower that has been exposed to pesticides, herbicides or other chemical treatment. If you don’t grow your own edible flowers, obtain them from a reputable source.
Introduce flowers one at a time into your cooking. Those with allergies or sensitivities may react to flowers, even if the herb or vegetable doesn’t cause a reaction. Those with allergies are also more likely to have a bad reaction to garden flowers.
Don’t be put off by the need for caution, however. Follow the guidelines offered by reputable sources such as the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension to ensure you use only those blooms that are safe for eating.
North Carolina State University
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