Edible flowers taste blooming good
Food writer Holly Ebel says add a little flower to your recipes for unique flavors.
This might sound unorthodox, but have you ever tasted lilacs? They are as tasty as their aroma. Or ever thought about slicing the daylilies in your garden and adding them to a salad? A great addition.
Edible flowers head up an interesting category of things we can grow and eat, as deer and rabbits know. Edible flowers have been a part of the culinary world for a long time, centuries even. You've likely seen them as decorations on a plate or placed around baked goods, but these days they are topping tacos, added to soups and salads as well as ingredients in cookies and cakes.
Curious about what would be good, safe flowers to try, Colette Buchholtz, a Sargeant's on Second Nursery authority on plants, both edible and not, showed me around. First on her list were flowers most of us have in bloom now, daylilies.
"These are one of the most versatile and all of them are edible, including the orange variety. The blossoms can be filled or cut up into a salad, even fried."
Others she pointed out were anise hyssop, hibiscus and monarda. It was interesting to learn that there are over 80 edibles including many of our favorites: pansies, violets, gardenias, rose petals, begonias and even tulip petals. Most of these are regulars in our gardens.
On a rainy Saturday I also ventured out to the Rochester Farmers Market to see if some of the growers there would have edible blooms. Pickings were slim except for the Fairview Farm stand. There Melissa Drenckhahn told me one of the best for eating were nasturtiums.
"You can eat all of the plant, leaves and flowers," Drenckhahn said. "They taste a little like radishes."
Yes, I discovered, they do. You might be wondering why eat blooms? Because they add flavor, texture, color, surprise and interest. There are also several ways to use them, obviously as a garnish but also dried, whole, chopped, infused in a beverage, cooked, baked with and even frozen in ice cubes.
Remember however that edible doesn't always mean palatable. As with everything in the culinary world, tastes vary.
Be absolutely sure that those you choose have not been sprayed with a herbicide or pesticide, which makes them inedible. Also, never use any that are growing by the side of the road. Important is that edible flowers are certified organically grown.
The best, of course, are to use those growing in your garden, otherwise produce sections in grocery stores will often have them. A good place to check would be People's Food Coop. While beautiful to look at but definitely dangerous to eat are bluebells, daffodils and foxglove. Enjoy them in a vase, never in a salad.
If you're interested in giving edibles a try here are a few of the most popular as well as tasty:
- Tuberous Begonias have a tart, lemony flavor with a crispy texture. Put whole into a salad or use petals as a garnish.
- Monarda, also known as Bee Balm, has an Earl Gray tea flavor. Both leaves and flowers are edible. Good in salads.
- Chamomile's leaves and flowers are good to eat and are also a popular ingredient in tea said to calm frazzled nerves. If you are allergic to ragweed it may trigger allergic reactions in some individuals, so be cautious.
- Chives are familiar to all of us. There are two kinds, common and garlic. Both flowers and stems are easy to use in sauces, scrambled eggs, salads and sandwich spreads. A favorite for sure.
- Anise Hyssop flowers, as you might guess, have a hint of licorice. Great to add to drinks, salads and soups. Try in iced tea.
- While lavender has an appealing aroma and adds flavor to marinades and jellies, it has to be used with a light hand, otherwise its flavor – and scent – is overpowering. It's best used dried. I especially like to add a little dried when baking shortbread and sugar cookies.
- Squash blossom flowers, picked when they're fully formed but not yet open. Rinse, remove the stamens, pistil and sepals (right below the flowers.) Great stuffed with cheese, rice, beans, or coated in tempura batter and deep fried.
A brief conversation with Jane Barton, a volunteer with the Olmsted County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer program, suggested that for more information go to the University of Minnesota Extension site and scroll down until you find " Ask a Master Gardner " to get more information on blooms that you might try with your next meal.
So, be adventurous and give some, or one, of these edibles a try while they are still around.
Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossoms
(Squash and zucchini flowers are the same.)
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
2 tablespoons chopped chives
Kosher salt and pepper
8 squash blossoms, stamens removed
1 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup olive oil
Mix the cheeses and the chives together in a bowl, then season with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a piping bag or a plastic bag, cutting off the tip of a corner. Pipe carefully into the blossoms. Place breadcrumbs in a baking dish and the eggs beaten in another dish. Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat. Dip blossoms first in eggs, then breadcrumbs. Add to skillet and cook, turning once, until golden, about 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Season with salt and serve.
Watermelon and Nasturtium Salad
1 medium-sized watermelon, cut into 1 to 2 inch squares
Pinch of salt and pepper
12 to 15 nasturtium blossoms
Cut melon, place in bowl or serving plate. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, then top with blossoms or petals. Marigold petals also can be used.
1 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh (or dried) lavender or fresh rosemary
In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar. Gradually stir in the flour and cornstarch as well as the lavender or rosemary. Pat dough into a 9-inch greased round pan and prick allover with a skewer. Press edges with a fork. Chill for about 30 minutes before baking in a 375 oven. After 10 minutes, lower heat to 300 and bake 45 minutes longer or until golden. While still warm, slice carefully into wedges, sprinkle with a little sugar and leave in pan to cool. (FYI: I make these in a food processor.)
Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to email@example.com .