Those capers dotted over your salmon are pickled nasturtium buds, and the vanilla we love comes from the seedpod of an exotic orchid. Saffron? Those pricey red threads are the hand-harvested, fine stamen of a Spanish crocus, while rose petals and orange blossoms are used extensively in Greek, North African, and Indian cuisine.
The green flower of the hops vine is what gives your favourite brew added depth and complexity. And here’s a real shocker; an artichoke is actually a flower, a member of the thistle family. Okra is a member of the Mallow family which also includes cotton and holly hocks! So, taking the next step and sprinkling a few petals over a salad or a cake isn’t such a leap after all, now is it?
Let your imagination take you down the garden path. Imagine candied pansies on cupcakes, or deep red bee balm adding colour and a sweet peppery kick to mixed greens. Pluck tiny zucchinis with the blossom still attached from the vine, stuff, batter and deep-fry them for a spectacular spring appetizer.
And don’t forget the bar. A sprig of mint in bloom is beautiful in a tall, cold mint julep and an apple blossom suspended in an ice cube takes iced tea to new heights. Or how about floating pretty little basil flowers in a martini? Play, have fun, be creative, but stick to what we know is safe and edible.
Edible flower dos and don’ts
- Don’t eat store-bought flowers unless you can confirm they are organic. You’re better off growing your own, or buying from a certified organic grower or someone you trust.
- If you’ve never eaten raw flowers before and don’t know if you might be allergic or not, take a taste before you eat a whole bouquet.
- Remember, even though a flower is technically edible, it may not be palatable to you. So experiment, and find out what you like, then plan your menu.
- Also, just because the flower is edible, it doesn’t necessarily mean the whole plant is. Do some research or ask an expert to identify the edible and inedible parts of a plant.
- Always wash as well as possible, and do expect to drive out the odd multi-legged visitor. After all, growing organic means living with insects.
- Never gather flowers from roadsides or train tracks. These plants have been absorbing toxins from vehicles and petro-chemicals.
- If you purchase flowers for consumption, buy them from the produce section of a grocery store or specially gourmet shop. The ones for sale at florists and greenhouses have definitely been treated with chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and fungicides.
- Gourmet grocers who sell edible flowers often sell the just the detached petals. In most cases, that’s all you want to eat. Depending on the blossom, you may want to remove pistils and stamens from the centre of the bloom.
- And never, ever, eat a flower that you do not know for certain is edible. Once again, ask an expert. Click through this guide of 14 edible flower pics so you know what to look for >>
Here’s a list of edibles from Flowers Canada (www.flowerscanada.org).
|African Violet||Sweet William or Pinks ||Lilac |
|Aster||Fruit blossoms (apple, peach, pear, apricot) ||Passion flower|
|Bee Balm, Bergamot ||Fuschia||Peony|
|Christmas Cactus||Gladiolus blossom||Squash, Zucchini and Pumpkin flowers|
|Chrysanthemum petal tips||Hibiscus blossoms||Strawberry blossoms|
|Citrus (orange, lemon, lime) blossoms||Hollyhock blossoms||Apple Blossom|
|Dandelion||Iceland poppy||Carnation and Dianthus|
|Day Lily||Lavender flowers||Day Lily|
Grow your own
The Canadian climate is well suited to many edible blooms, from bee balm to nasturtium to marigolds. You can start from seed or from seedlings, either way, be mindful of pesticide and fungicide use. Many seeds are treated with both. It’s best to buy organic seeds and plants. Also, try choosing species to grow that are native to your area. They will fare better and have their own resistance to indigenous pests and diseases. When you are gardening, again, avoid all chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
But even if you are garden-challenged or have no space, take heart. Many edibles will thrive in containers or even inside on a windowsill. Try letting your herb garden go to flower—basil, thyme, mint—then add the tiny blooms to finished meats or vegetable dishes, especially if the dish is flavoured with the leaf of the plant.
How to candy a flower
Candied violets, rose petals, or pansies are beautiful garnishes for spring and summer cakes, cupcakes, and even sugar cubes for that extra-special tea party. Some blooms work better than others for this, and pansies are one of the better choices; their sturdy structure holds up under the weight of the sugar.
Remember, choose organic, pesticide-free blooms!
Gently rinse under cold water and set flowers aside on a clean tea towel. Let dry. Lightly beat an egg white, and, with a small paintbrush, apply a thin coating of the egg white to each petal.
Cover a plate with a layer of super fine sugar and set painted pansies onto the sugar. Lightly sprinkle more of the sugar over the pansies to cover. Gently shake off any excess sugar and set on wax or parchment paper for several hours or until fully dry.
Click through our slideshow of 14 edible flowers so you know what to look for >>