Gardening Q&A: Edible flowers add color to the garden and dinner plate
CSU Extension Master Gardener, Larimer County
Q: I am planning my garden and would like to grow some edible flowers this year. Can you give me some suggestions for which flowers are suitable?
A: Edible flowers have been used for generations by the Chinese, Roman, Indian and Middle Eastern cultures.
Here in the U.S. we are seeing an increase in their popularity partly because we are looking to improve the overall appeal and quality of our food. There are a myriad of flowers which are safe to eat and they can be used to enhance the aroma, flavor and presentation of many culinary delights.
The most important consideration is proper identification.
Some flowers are poisonous and should not be consumed. Many plants have similar names and may cause confusion. Culinary herb flowers that are edible include dill, cilantro, chives, basil, thyme, oregano, sage, chamomile, borage, mustard, saffron, lemon, orange, coriander, artichoke and fennel.
Here are some of the edible perennial flowers: dandelion, violet, anise hyssop, hollyhock, daylily, daisy, mint, grape hyacinth, gladiola, yucca, lilac and rose.
A few of the tasty annuals include nasturtium, some varieties of marigold, viola, pansy and Johnny jump-up. Nasturtiums provide a nice peppery flavor. Pansies offer an explosion of color and sweetness.
There are some important considerations: You may eat the petal or the entire flower. Use flowers at their peak for the best flavor, color and taste.
Harvesting early in the day is best, although you can harvest late in the day after the full sun and heat have dissipated.
Avoid wilted or unopened flowers as they may have a bitter taste.
Do not use flowers from the nursery or floral shop; they were not grown to eat and may be treated with pesticides.
As with any new food, introduce the flowers slowly into your diet in order to recognize any intolerance or allergic reaction.
Q: Besides using edible flowers as an addition to salads, what are some other ways to use them?
A: Edible flowers can be used to make jam, tea, flavored butter and vinegar, cakes, custard, ice cream and pickles. Nasturtiums and summer squash blossoms can be stuffed and fried. Pansies can be crystalized or candied. To prepare the flowers, pick as close to serving time as possible. Remove the stamens and pistils first. They may be bitter or chewy. Then wash the flowers with either a gentle water spray or soaking. Inspect for insects or disease. Dry with kitchen towel.
Q: Do edible flowers have any nutritional benefits?
A: Edible flowers do offer some nutritional benefits. However, since they are usually eaten in such small quantities, the amount of added nutritional value is probably relatively small. Nasturtium provides lycopene and lutein which are important for vision health. Lavender provides calcium, vitamin A and iron. Chive flowers provide iron, sulfur and vitamin C. These vitamins and minerals may have antioxidant properties and can boost immunity. ❖
For more information, go to the CSU Extension Edible Flower fact sheet at http://www.ext.colostate.edu.