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Edible Flowers RSS feed


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

I recently received a request from a bride-to-be regarding what edible flowers could be used to decorate her wedding cake. While flowers have been used in various cuisines over time, we haven’t seen them used much in modern day American cooking or for food decoration. However, edible flowers have been used in various cultures over the years for food and as decorative edible garnishes.

Several years ago, edible flowers became a new trend in gardening and American haute cuisine. When this new craze surfaced, I had the opportunity to attend some gardening workshops and learn more about the topic of edible flowers. At these workshops I also had the chance to taste a variety of flowers… but I came away without an enthusiastic personal endorsement of feasting on garden blooms. Edible doesn’t necessarily mean tasty or even palatable!

Here are some rules you should follow if you have decided to use edible flowers for cooking or even just garnishing foods.

A. Only use flowers that are well documented in several dependable references as being edible.

B. Only use flowers (plants) that you can correctly identify. If you’re not sure of the plant’s identity, don’t use the flowers.

C. Just because the flower of a plant is edible don’t assume any other portion of the plant is edible and vice versa. Don’t assume a flower is edible because other parts of the plant are not toxic. One example is rhubarb. The stems of rhubarb are edible, but the rest of the plant, including the flower, is poisonous.

D. When using flowers as garnishes, use only edible flowers. Chances are your diners won’t know if the garnish is intended to be eaten or not. To be polite, they may eat a garnish you did not intend for them to eat. (It’s very bad etiquette to poison your guests or family.)

E. When eating flowers you should usually only eat the petals. When preparing larger flowers for eating or garnishing, remove the pistils and stamens. These parts can have an off flavor and they may bring about an allergic reaction in some people. You should also remove the sepals or green receptable at the base of the flowers.

F. Especially important is your source of flowers. Flowers that have been treated with pesticides should never be used. Do not use flowers from florists, garden centers, or nurseries. Do not use roadside flowers either. Do not use flowers from your garden that have been sprayed or treated with a systemic insecticide. If you purchase edible flowers, only get them from a bonafide source that intends them for food use. Occasionally, you will find flowers that are packaged for eating in the fresh produce section of the grocery store.

G. Harvest your edible flowers early in the day when it’s still cool outdoors. Their flavor is usually best when fresh and right after they’re fully open. Don’t pick unopened, wilted, or old, faded flowers. Keep the flowers as fresh as possible until you use them by placing long-stemmed flowers in water and putting them in a cool place. Short-stemmed flowers can be kept fresh by putting them in a plastic bag with moist paper towels and then storing them in the refrigerator. To prepare them for eating, gently wash the flowers in cold water to remove any dirt or insects and then let them drain on paper towels. For most flowers, you’ll be only eating the petals so pull the petals from the flower or snip them off at their base. The white area at the base of some petals, such as roses or marigolds can be quite bitter, so cut or tear this part off.

Other than making a pretty garnish, there are many things you can do with some of the edible flowers, such as baking; making colorful flavored jams, jellies, syrups, and vinegars; making flower-scented sugar; and creating vinegars or special flavored herbal butters. There are a number of herbal flowers used to make tea, such as chamomile. Some of the most popular uses of edible flowers are as candied flowers or as decorations in ice cubes or rings for punch bowls. Squash flowers can be stuffed or dipped in batter and fried and day lily buds can be used in stir fry dishes.

The most common edible flowers one might dine on are:

Nasturtium has a watercress, peppery flavor that works well in salads.

Violet and Viola have a sweet flavor and are often used in making candied flowers.

Garlic and Chives have flavors close to their parent’s leaves and are used to color and flavor vinegars. The flowers can also be used fresh in salads.

Lavender’s flowers not only smell wonderful, but they can be used to flavor champagne, ice cream, baked goods, syrup and more. It’s my favorite!

Roses have a sweet, somewhat fruity flavor, with darker roses supposedly being a bit stronger in flavor. They can be used as beautiful garnishes for deserts, frozen in ice, floated on the top of punch, or made into a delectable jam, jelly, or syrup. Make sure no systemic or sprayed pesticides have been used on the rose bushes.

For a longer list of edible flowers consult your local library or obtain one of the numerous cookbooks available on the topic of edible flowers and their use. You can also get a list of edible flowers at the following address:

A final word of caution… if you want to give edible flowers a try, proceed gradually. Introduce new flowers into your diet one at a time. Certain flowers might upset your digestive system or lead to an allergic reaction.

Published: 6/19/2004 2:22 PM



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