Edible flowers give meals zest

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Carol O'Meara - Colorado State University Extension

Carol O’Meara – Colorado State University Extension

BOULDER COUNTY – The Boulder Valley Rose Society is filled with wonderful people dedicated to showcasing the queen of flowers. They fill borders and beds with perfumed beauty, pamper and prune them, and take pride in the showy flowers. They love the rose and use it in every way possible, except one:

It turns out they get a little prickly at being told “they’re gorgeous, let’s eat them.”

One of the joys of being a gardener is baffling your friends by encouraging them to eat something they’re not used to. I love the look of suspicion they quickly smother, as if they briefly think I’d poison them in full view of the neighborhood. At a recent BVRS meeting where I spoke of edible flowers, that look crossed their faces as I talked about eating roses; it was as if I’d suggested they braise their toddlers and serve them with a side of fava beans.

They knew about nasturtiums, squash blossoms and chives; those have been main stream in cooking for years. But a new world open ups when you nosh on other blossoms.

Delicious, cucumber-like Borage (Borago officinalis) popped into salads or dips, sautéed Daylily buds (Hemerocallis fulva), cheerful pansies (Viola x. Wittrockiana) in festive salads, or Scarlet Runner Bean blossoms (Phaseolus coccineus) highlighting steamed green beans all have a place on the summertime table.

Finding flowers for cooking may mean growing them yourself. If you do, treat them as you would any vegetable and grow them organically, following the five rules for eating flowers:

1. Be absolutely positive about identification – not all are edible, and some can be harmful. Know beyond doubt what you have before eating it.

2. Common names are misleading, so don’t pick a flower based on its moniker. Sweet peas, for example, are poisonous, while yucca is tasty.

3. Many greenhouses and florists spray plants; these flowers are not suitable for eating. Use only those picked from your garden or from a reputable, food-grade source.

4. Flowers may cause allergic reaction in some people with asthma or hay fever, or give you a digestive malfunction. Start slowly, and eat only small amounts of them at first.

5. Many chefs garnish with flowers that aren’t edible. Check with the kitchen before eating them.

Flowers degrade faster than herbs, so plan to use them within a few hours. Keep them fresh by storing in the refrigerator. Pick flowers on cool mornings, choosing those that are just becoming fully open and avoiding those that are wilted or starting to fade. Pinch, don’t pull flowers from the stem.

Remember, they’re delicate, so wash flowers with a fine spray of water just before using them. Try these:

Daylilies: Packed with vitamin A and C, these flowers also have three grams of protein in every bud. Harvest buds when they’re one-and-a-half to two inches long; larger than this and they’re bitter.

Pansies: Harvest by picking the stem all the way to the plant, keeping the flower intact.

Pop petals into ice cube trays, fill with water and freeze for an elegant touch in drinks, or use fresh in salads.

Roses: Pull or snip petals from the bud. The white inner portion of the petal is bitter, so snip it off before using. A rose’s perfume gives a clue to its flavor, and varieties that have a stronger scent generally taste better. Look for those that smell like food; you’ll find roses can be citrusy to spicy, sweet to mild.

With many flowers, such as roses, tulips and lavender, only the petals are edible. Remove the stamens, styles and pistils from inside the flowers, and snip off the outer, green sepals. If the flower is tiny, gently pull the petals from the bud to use. Others, like runner beans, honeysuckle and pansies may be eaten whole.

Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, e-mail comeara@bouldercounty.org or visit ext.colostate.edu/boulder.

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