4/16/12

Please Eat the Flowers!


"Am I supposed to eat the flowers?" I often hear this question when I add fresh flowers to a salad I've brought to a potluck. Many flowers are edible, but we are more accustomed to eating other plant parts in our salads, like leaves (lettuce, spinach), roots (radishes, carrots, onions), fruit (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers), stems (celery, asparagus), and seeds (chick peas, peapods). Add broccoli to your salad, and you are even eating unopened flower buds. Flowers can add color, beauty, flavor, and, in many cases, nutrients, to a dish.

Many edible flowers grow wild, and others grow on trees and shrubs, and in our cultivated flower, vegetable, and herb gardens. Use caution if you intend to harvest any flowers to eat. Here are good rules:
  • Be 100% positive of the plant identity - Use reference guides, like my favorite for wild edibles, Peterson Field Guide: Edible Wild Plants. Some online references are included at the end of this post.
  • Know what plant part is edible - Even though a plant is in your veggie garden, the flowers might be poisonous to eat, while another part of the plant is edible - such as the case with potatoes. Inversely, some flowers are edible while the other parts of the same plant are toxic. You wouldn't want to make a mistake and end up with a mouthful of poison ivy!
  • It is best to harvest plants grown on your own property, from locations where you know they have not been exposed to pesticides, herbicides or pollution from vehicle exhaust fumes. Do not use florist flowers, which might be treated with chemicals. If you pick from someone else's property, get the owner's permission. Gathering plants is prohibited on most state and federal lands, such as in a National Forest.
  • Don't eat too much of any one plant - Eating too much of even the most mild substance can cause illness
  • Beware of allergens - If you are allergic to strawberries, you might also react to strawberry flowers, for example. Perhaps try only a very small amount of a blossom the first time. While blossoms might be delicate they can still pack a chemical punch. Introduce them gradually into the diet if you are not sure. Also, some flowers have known side effects, such as yellow violets which can act as a laxative when eaten in quantities.
  • Harvest sustainably - In the case of wildflowers, don't overpick any one species or you might wipe them out from that location, and don't pick if there are just a few of one plant. Keep in mind that the flower is the plant part which produces the fruit and seeds… if you pick strawberry flowers, you'll have that many fewer berries. Also, tread softly in the wild and respect the land.
  • Cultivate wild edibles - You can scatter white clover seeds as a groundcover, collect the fluffy white seed heads from dandelions and plant them in a pot, or grow your own chicory from purchased seeds, just as a few ideas.
  • Learn the best way to eat your flower harvest - Flowers can be eaten raw, cooked, stuffed, fried, steeped as tea, coated with sugar to use to decorate cakes, or infused to flavor vinegar, jelly, wine, or alcohol. With some flowers it is best to just use the petals, others need the inner parts (pistils and stamens) removed.

Here is just a partial list of edible flowers:
WILD PLANTS or TREES
Bachelor's Buttons
Chicory
Clover
Dandelion
Redbud Trees
Violets
Mustard
Indian Strawberry
Pink Showy Primrose
Wisteria (note, only flowers are edible, everything else is toxic)
Blackberry
Daylily
Violet
Yucca - young flowers
Wild Rose

HERBS
Borage
Chamomile
Chive
Lavender
Mint
Basil
Calendula
Fennel
Dill
Cilantro
Oregano
Rosemary
Sage

CULTIVATED FLOWERS, BERRIES, SHRUBS, FRUIT TREES
Carnation/Dianthus
Chrysanthemum
Strawberry
Citrus
Apple
Fuchsia
Gladiolus
Hibiscus
Hollyhock
Impatiens
Jasmine
Johnny Jump-Up (violet family)
Pansy
Lemon Verbena
Lilac
Nasturtium
Rose
Sunflower
Violet

GARDEN VEGETABLE PLANTS
Onion, garlic and other alliums
Radish (don't harvest the root, let the plant grow)

Squash, Pumpkin, Zucchini
Peas, Peapods
Broccoli, Collards, Mustard Greens

There's lots of information online about edible flowers, helping with identification, plus creative ways to use them. Here are some websites I've used:
http://www.foragingtexas.com
from the UK:   http://www.torrens.org.uk/FFF/index.html
http://www.pfaf.org/user/default.aspx (Plants For A Future)
http://www.eattheweeds.com/

Have fun using edible flowers and let me know of those you use and how you use them!

DISCLAIMER: Judy's Good Food Blog cannot take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants.