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Eat your flowers, please! (2003 Feature Section--"Themes and Extremes").

Most gardeners are sometimes limited by space, there is rarely enough room to grow all the plants they want to but, even more limiting is one's time-not enough hours in the day--thus gardeners end up choosing between ornamentals and edibles. Growing edible flowers--blossoms, that are useful in the kitchen as well as beautiful in our garden, can be very rewarding. They are very different from most herbs and other seasonings in that they add a delightful and unexpected splash of colour to a dish. You can literally have any colour you want; bright reds, delicate pinks, yellows, deep purples, and every shade in between, to delight your eye as well as your palate. One drawback, most are seasonal which forces one to savor them for the few weeks that each is in bloom, but as each flower fades, another one becomes available. There is also another very important drawback--NOT ALL flowers are edible. Just because a flower is pretty and fragrant, please do not assume it is edible. There are many more known toxic flowers then there are edible ones. Use the botanical names, which are universal to all plant species, to properly identify a plant. Common names vary from region to region--one may be edible and the other very toxic. For example Garden peas (Pisum sativum) are delicious, while sweet peas (Lathryus odoratus) are poisonous. Make sure you have positively identified a plant BEFORE you sample its blossoms. Learn the botanical names and check the list of POISONOUS FLOWERS at the end of this article for some examples. Flowers purchased from florist shops should never be eaten; they have almost certainly been sprayed with pesticides so grow your own edible flowers. A few of the more well known edible flowers are discussed below.

There are a number of edible flowers you might wish to grow and eat (if you haven't already). Some are very well known and easy to grow in our Prairie home gardens. Some edible flowers are much tastier than others, and a wide range of flavours exists:

Mildly Vegetal: squash blossoms and some daylilies Sweet: some daylilies, elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), sweet violet

Oniony: garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea)

Peppery: nasturtium, arugula and radish

Slightly bitter: English daisies (Bellis perennis) and some chrysanthemums

Bean or Pealike: scarlet runner beans, peas, redbud (Cercis canadensis) and tulips

Minty: mint (Mentha spp.) bee balm (Monarda didyma), and Johnny-jump-ups (Viola tricolor).

Perfumed: lavender (Lavandula spp.) and roses (Rosa spp.)

Herbal: sage (Salvia officinalis), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), oregano (Origanum vulgare), and many other herbs

Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) The entire plant is edible. In spring when the young leaves are less than 20 cm (8 inches) tall, you can cut them off and use them in salads, or stir-fry them. Although each flower blooms a day or two, the plant does send up more than one scape. Each will have many buds to keep the plant blooming for a number of weeks. Pick the plumpest buds and toss them into a stir-fry dish or simply steam them for a delicious side dish. Flavour ranges from bland to beanlike to asparagus-like. In Asian markets, the dried petals known as `golden needles' are a standard ingredient in Chinese hot-and-sour soup. Petal flavour ranges from sweet, vegetal, to even peppery.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) In midspring the lavender-pink pom-poms rise slightly above the greens leaves. Chive flower flavor is very similar to that of the leaf, but intensity can vary greatly with age of the bloom: the younger the flower, the sweeter it is. The characteristic onion-garlic flavour becomes much stronger as it ages, while a mature flower that is about to go to seed may be like cooking a bulb of garlic. It is advisable to break each head into individual florets rather than use whole flowers to garnish a dish. Chives are extremely versatile in the kitchen--add zing to a salad by rubbing a wooden salad bowl with several blossoms to impart their flavour like you would a clove of garlic. Add chopped up greens to sour cream to use on baked potatoes.

Calendula (C. officinalis) Of all the edible flowers you can grown in your garden, you will get more out-of-season use from the calendula than any other. Calendula have a slightly bitter flavour, reminding you of saffron. You can easily dry the flower petals so that you can have ample amounts of `poor man's saffron' to flavour and colour your rice, pasta and meat dishes. When cooking with calendula however, you must chop or bruise the petals to release the flavour.

Calendula prefer the cool weather of spring and fall and have the added virtue of self-seeding.

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)--the best known of the edible flowers. They can be seen gracing salads in restaurants; their bright colours make a bold splash to mixed greens. Not only are the flowers edible but also their rounded leaves and seedpods. The nasturtium flower, leaves and seedpod have a spicy, peppery, cress-like tang, rich in Vitamin C. When in season you can chop up a variety of edible flowers such as nasturtium, thyme, chive, hollyhock, calendula, basil, radish, borage to mention a few, mix them with whipped cream cheese and refrigerate for a day. Serve or freeze if you wish for later use. It's an inexpensive substitute for ready-made "herbed" cheeses--right from your garden. Nasturtiums are also flavourful accompaniments to vegetables, pastas, meat dishes, sorbets and even as a flavoring for vodka. You can also infuse some nasturtium blossoms into white-wine vinegar; the colour is as brilliant as the flavour.

POISONOUS FLOWERS: The common name is given first and the Botanical name is in italics & brackets. This is only a partial list of poisonous plants. You must do your homework before you eat--get familiar with the names, ask questions and read but do try a few well-known plants and enjoy the blossoms.
Aconite, wolfsbane or monkshood (Aconitum spp.)
Anemone or windflower (Anemone spp.)
Autumn crocus (Colchicum spp.)
Azalea & rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.)
Buttercup (Ranunculus spp.)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias spp.)
Cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana)
Clematis (Clematis spp.)
Daffodil (Narcissus spp.)
Delphinium or Larkspur (Delphinium spp.)
Four o'clock (Mirabilis jalapa)
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica)
Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis)
Hydrangea (Hydrangea spp.)
Iris (Iris spp.)
Lantana (Lantana camara)
Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis)
Lobelia, cardinal flower or Indian tobacco (Lobelia spp.)
Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)
Morning glory (Ipomoea spp.)
Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
Oleander (Nerium oleander)
Periwinkle, vinca (Vinca spp.)
Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Spurge (Euphorbia spp.)
Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum)
Wild cherry, black cherry (Prunus serotina)
Wisteria (Wisteria spp.)
Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow (Brunfelsia spp.)

Jean Pomo is treasurer of The Prairie Garden Committee. She makes sure all our subscribers receive their annual Prairie Garden as soon as it comes off the press.
COPYRIGHT 2003 This material is for informational use. Views are not those of the editorial committee. Reference to commercial products is made with no discrimination intended or endorsement by The Prairie Garden.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Pomo, Jean
Publication:Prairie Garden
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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