Dawn Pettinelli: Many of your garden flowers are edible

Dawn Pettinelli: Many of your garden flowers are edible

The Westerly Sun

One of my sisters likes to nibble on my nasturtium blooms when visiting and I thought this was just an amusing quirk until a few friends stopped by and sampled some chive blossoms, a calendula and violas as they wandered through the gardens. Turns out, edible flowers are in style now, whether due to famous chefs or “The Great British Bake Off” botanical week or some other inspiration. Whatever the motive, any reason to grow more flowers is cause for celebration.

Many common flowers are edible. On the flip side, quite a few are poisonous, so the first rule is to positively identify the plant. If in doubt, don’t eat it. Also, don’t assume that the food items topped with flowers in Instagram or Pinterest photos were created by someone with botanical knowledge. Confirm the plant’s ID and edibility before serving, and if you have allergies or asthma you might want to check with your doctor before eating fresh or dried flowers.

Many species of edible flowers may already be in your gardens and containers. Edible nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) have large showy blossoms of red, orange, salmon, gold and yellow, and a slight pepper flavor makes them an excellent candidate for garnishing salads. The single flowers of signet marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia) also come in shades of orange, yellow and red and add a touch of citrus flavor to food dishes.

Scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) have lovely flowers in shades from scarlet to white. Grow them up a bean tepee or trellis to attract hummingbirds and to use the bright blossoms with their bean-like flavor in summer soups and salads.

Both the delicate, small flowers of violas and the larger expressive pansy flowers are edible. I find them somewhat bland but they have decorative appeal. The violas freeze nicely in ice cubes so try some in summer drinks. Borage (Borago officinalis), a perennial often found in herb gardens, has delicate, pale, true blue blossoms that also make great ice cubes. The flowers can be added fresh to salads and other dishes for a taste of cucumbers.

Lavender, another herb, is used in lemonades and other drinks, in baked goods, and to season meat dishes. The flowers can be used dried or fresh. The same goes for rosemary; its small blue blossoms can flavor a variety of food items. The flowers of garden sage (Salvia officinalis) and pineapple sage (S. elegans) have delicate flavors, so try them, too. Chive blossoms are only available for a short time in late spring. The lovely, lavender, ball-shaped blooms impart a strong onion flavor to foods.

Sunflower buds

Many of us have eaten sunflower seeds but did you know that unopened buds are supposed to taste like mild artichokes? The flower petals will definitely liven up a salad with their bright colors but their bittersweet taste might not be appealing, so use sparingly.

Vegetable gardeners often find some of their radishes bolting in the summer heat. The flowers, like the roots, have a spicy bite. Just pick them off and add them to salads. You can do the same with Asian mustards and other Asian greens that start producing flowers before you get around to harvesting them. Squash blossoms can be used to decorate your dinner, or stuff and cook them for an interesting appetizer.

These are just a few of the edible flowers you might be already growing. Others to consider trying are tuberous begonias, scented geraniums, bee balm, dianthus, dandelions, snapdragons, apple blossoms, elderberry blossoms and roses.

When thinking about which plants to collect edible flowers from, make sure they were not sprayed or otherwise treated with pesticides. You can avoid problems by growing the plants from seeds or cuttings, or buying plants from organic growers.

Harvest flowers like you would vegetables, when it’s cool in the morning or evening. Flower buds should just be opening. Gently clean off flowers and store them in the refrigerator until ready to use. For most flowers, just the petals are eaten, so pick out the stamen and styles. This will remove the pollen, which may cause an allergic reaction in some individuals. Of course, this would not be practical in tiny lavender flowers. For larger petaled flowers like roses, the white part at the base of the petal is often bitter, so remove it before using.

If you need help identifying edible flowers or have questions on other home or garden topics, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271, visit us at www.ladybug.uconn.edu or call your local Cooperative Extension Center.


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