I have been to many an office party in a fancy hotel conference room, haven’t you? Even if not, I am sure you have had those fancy salads they serve, filled with flowers, fancy lettuces and vegetable leaves. There, among the Romaine, Arugula and Spinach, you have seen yellow, red or orange blooms. What on earth are they? You don’t see them in the grocery store and you don’t see them in most restaurants, but they are obviously ok to eat, and even downright delicious! Even though it’s not common on our menu, the truth is, many cultures use flowers in their traditional cooking. The Italians use squash blossoms and the Indians use roses. Flowers can be spicy, herbacious, floral and/or fragrant. And what they can add to your food is amazing.
As I noted, many of us have eaten flowers in salad. Some of us have had teas made of blooms, like Roses and Dandelions. But they can actually be obtained easily and sometimes for free and used in a many inspired ways that can improve your food. You can use the blooms from chives, garlic or basil in pasta, vegetable sauces and in soups. You can make milk based desserts like custards or ice creams out of Roses or Carnations. You can pickle the buds of flowers like Nasturtiums or Cloves. The ideas are endless as are the recipes. Here are the different flowers that are good to eat with a few interesting recipes thrown in:
Before you get all carried away and start hunting down flowers in the wild, be careful to both know for sure which ones you can eat and also that they haven’t been exposed to heavy pesticides or weed killers. If you are not sure about a flower, check a reference book or a website with pictures. Very few flowers are poisonous but there are some that are (like Nightshades). The safest way to do this is to get the flowers from a friend, a florist or to grow them yourself. Some health food stores have dried flowers in bulk. Never just pick flowers from a roadside or a ditch, unless you are absolutely sure about the origin and genus of the plant. Car exhaust can make flowers too filthy to eat safely and general chemical pollution can make them dangerous. Always just eat the petals or leaves and not the stamens, stems or pistils. If you are allergic to any flower at all, double check to make sure some flower you are going to eat is not related. If you are allergic to Ragweed, for instance, you cannot eat Goldenrod or Chamomile. So always check to be sure.
Once you have targeted the flowers you want to buy, grow or forage, then follow some simple rules. After picking, to keep them fresh, wrap them in moist paper towels and refrigerate until use. If you wait too long (usually longer than 10 days) and the flowers have gone limp, dip them in ice water for a fast revival. As a rule, the fresher, the better. And before using, wash thoroughly to remove harmful residues.
Anise Hyssop :
As you can guess, these taste like Anise. Make a great flavoring. Use in baking cakes and pies, making sauces or confectionary. Good mixed in with cream cheese, added to curry or in making liqueurs. Add to the water you boil crabs in. Delicious. Mostly cultivated and found in gardens.
You can eat these, as well as the leaves. Spicy and peppery. Add to salads to perk them up, use in soups and stews. Steam the entire plant as a vegetable. Grows wild on disturbed ground. Can be found along roadways and in open fields.
Petals only. Use in salads as a decorative addition. Can be found both cultivated in gardens and growing wild in certain areas.
Eat flowers the same way you do the leaves; in soups, stews and sauces. This plant is very rarely found growing wild in the US. Mostly cultivated. Consider growing your own. The flowers are usually pinched off to encourage branching; when pinching, save the flowers for pesto!
INGREDIENTS: 2 1/2 cups fresh Basil leaves and flowers, 2 Garlic cloves, Salt, 3/4 cup grated Parmesan, 1/4 cup Olive Oil and 1/4 cup Pine Nuts or grated Walnuts.
METHOD: Pound the Basil, the Garlic, the Nuts and the Salt to a pulp. Use a mortar and pestle or a wooden spoon to crush. Add to a bowl and stir in the Parmesan. Add the Olive Oil, drop by drop, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon. Pour over Pasta.
Bee Balm / Bergamot:
Mild, minty flavor. Looks gorgeous on salads. This is called “Bee Balm” because it attracts Bees in cultivated gardens. It was orginally named after the Bergamot Orange, which has a similar scent. Bergamot was popular with the Oswago Indians and was widely planted. It can now be found wild in certain areas of the country but is mostly cultivated.
Bergamot Creamed Cheese
INGREDIENTS: 8oz soft cream cheese, a handful of fresh bergamot blooms
METHOD: Blend the flower petals into the cheese, whipping until mixed in well. Can be eaten in any way cream cheese is eaten. Especially good on herbed breads.
Also called Bee Bread. Taste like cucumber. Use the star shaped blue flowers only. Boil like Spinach or fry in a fritter batter. Originally from the Middle East, this plant has transplanted well to the US and can be found in hedgerows and along roadsides. Use the flowers when first picked; they lose flavor over time and when dried.
Calendula / Marigold :
Add to salads. Peppery and tangy. Bright and colorful. Flowers can be used to make yellow food coloring. Do not eat the leaves. Can be found growing wild in some northern climates; is mostly cultivated in gardens. The petals are used to make bright yellow herbal dyes.
Marigold Pasta Sauce
INGREDIENTS: 1 1/2 cups Milk, 1 large Onion (cut into quarters), 4 tbsp Marigold petals (fresh or dried), 2 large Carrots (sliced lengthwise), 1 Bay leaf, 4 oz Butter, 3/4 cup flour, 1 1/2 cups grated Cheese, Salt and Pepper
METHOD: Place the Milk, Onion, Marigold petals, Carrots and Bay leaf into a saucepan. Cover and simmer gently for about 10 minutes or until the Carrots are soft. Pour through a sieve into a container and set aside the Carrot and Onion pieces. Melt the Butter in a pan, add the flour and cook for several minutes, stirring until smooth. Gradually add the Milk mixture and simmer for 2 minutes or until smooth. Press the cooked Carrot and Onion through the sieve and add to the sauce. Fold in the Cheese and the Salt and Pepper. Cook the pasta of your choice and top with the Marigold sauce.
Carnations /Clove Pink /Dianthus:
Sweet, aromatic. Also known as “gillyflowers”, these are great when pickled. This is a cultivated perennial mostly found in flower gardens. Rarely found growing wild. In Colonial times, they were preserved in sugar, syrup or vinegar and drank as a cordial.
INGREDIENTS: 1 cup fresh Clove Carnations, 1 1/2 cups white Wine Vinegar, 1/2 cup Sugar, 1/2 stick Cinnamon and 2 blades of Mace.
METHOD: Cut off the calyx and the white heel of the petals. Thoroughly wash the flowers and leave on paper towels to dry. Put the Sugar, Cinnamon, Vinegar and Mace into a pan and heat slowly, stirring occassionally, until the Sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes and then remove from heat and cool. Pack the clean and dried flowers into sterilized mason jars and pour the Vinegar mix over them. Do not use metal lids. Close and lock the jars and store in a cool, dark place.
Too bitter to eat. The petals are used in teas and homemade wines. The stamins are also often used to make yellow dyes. The entire plant makes a great compost activator. Both German and Roman Chamomiles are cultivated widely. Can sometimes be found growing in the wild, in areas where the soil is full of weeds. Check for the distinctive, apple like scent before picking. Corn Chamomile and Stinking Mayweed look the same but are not as desirable. Use Chamomile by putting the flowers only in tea bags and brewing like you would any tea.
Delicate flavor similar to anise. Naturalized in the US, this plant grows in the wild and is also cultivated in herb gardens. The white flowers bloom in early summer and are full of seed heads. Use the flowers raw as a garnish or add at the very end of cooking. The flowers and seeds are used in making a vinegar that can be used for medicinal purposes.
Also known as Endive. Mildy bitter and earthy. Blanch flowers before using. French and Belgian Endive have been naturalized in the US and it is widely grown. Can be found growing wild in limey soils and the leaves look like Dandelions. The flowers are purple. Both the leaves and flowers are good, braised in butter or oil.
Endive and Walnut Salad
INGREDIENTS: 3 heads of Chicory Flowers and Leaves, sliced, leaves from 2 Corn Salad plants, 1 bunch of Mustard seedlings, 2 tbsp sprouted Fenugreek seeds, 1 bunch of Celery (chopped), 3 chopped Scallions, 1 handful of Chickweed leaves, 1/2 cup chopped Walnuts, 1 tsp of Lovage seeds and Salad Dressing.
METHOD: Toss and serve. This is especially good with a Vinaigrette.
These have a mild onion flavor. Chinese chives are garlicky. Chives are mostly cultivated in the US, found in herb and vegetable gardens but the perennial version grows wild all over the place. The flowerheads are a distinctive purplish-pink and ragged. They stand tall on skinny stalks and are easy to spot. Add both the leaves and flowers to food in the way you would onion powder. Nice on top of a baked potato smothered in sour cream!
Very spicy. White Ones are used in Chinese cooking. Tasty in a stir fry and adds a touch of spice to savory casseroles. These flowers are so widely cultivated you can even buy them in your grocery store! But I bet you never thought about eating them. Add the petals to pickling spices and use to preserve fish. Sprinkle on cooked dishes to add a touch of spice without the heat.
Cilantro / Coriander:
This is a pungent, strong smelling plant. Although mostly cultivated, it can be found growing the wild in bare places. The plants looks a lot like Parsley and the leaves are often called “Chinese Parsley” because of their pervasive use in Asian cooking. The pink flowers bloom in midsummer and have a strong, unmistakable scent. Use the flowers in curries, chilis and other hot foods. Remove the seeds before using and set aside for use as the traditional spice.
This plant tastes like sugared licorice. The most common genus is Red Clover and this has pink blooms that look like Thistle. Dry the flowers to make oils, teas, wines and dyes. Red Clover Wine is especially good. Found growing wild in sandy, alkaline soil, often in rows.
Popular in teas, wines and salads. Can be added to baked goods. This plant grows wild just about everywhere; in fact your yard has a few as you read this. You know them when you see them. Just be sure they haven’t been doused with herbacides or pesticides and are clean when you pick them. Roadside filth can make the plant inedible. The flowers are especially good in pancakes. Although the tea is commercially made and readily available in most health food stores, there is something exciting about picking the plant fresh and for free. See my previous post for a great recipe to make Dandelion Wine. Other ways to use Dandelions including blanching (to reduce bitterness) and then tossing in butter, toss the flowers on a salad (toss the greens in, too) or use in soups like the French specialty, creme de pissenlits. Cultivated Dandelions are less bitter than the scraggly ones in your yard so if you have a garden, grow some beautys of your own.
Tastes like the leaves and seeds. Use the flowers the same way. The tiny, yellow flowers grow in an umbrel and are, in fact, filled with the seed heads, from which you can remove the seeds for use, as well. Dill seeds are a popular spice and can be bought in any grocery. This plant is widely cultivated all over the world and is rarely found in useable condition in the wild. Although if you do find a wild bed of Dill, it will get bigger and more productive in short order. This is a prolific seeder. From a distance, Dill smells just like Caraway until you get close and it gets more bitter. Use Dill flowers where you don’t want the full force of Dill seeds, like on potato salads, in mild summer soups or in breads.
These flowers have a muscatel flavor and are used to make wine and jellies. The plant, Elder, is found all over the northern climes of the US, growing wild and in landscapes. This is a twisted, shrubby tree that is never taller than 30 feet. Can be found in the wild along hedgerows and in waste areas. The tree produces both flowers and berries, which both can be used in similar ways. One of the most popular homemade wines is Elderberry Wine. You can eat the blossoms whole or as fritters, add them to stewed fruit, to homemade jams and jellies and in egg dishes. Do not eat the berries raw. Do not eat the leaves.
INGREDIENTS: 1 cup sifted Flour, a pinch of Salt, 1 head of Elderflowers (flowers only), tsp Sugar, 1/2 tsp grated Orange peel, 2 Eggs, 1 1/4 cups Milk, 2 tbsps melted Butter, juice of 1 Orange and melted Honey.
METHOD: Mix the Flour, Salt, Elderflowers, Sugar and Orange peel in a bowl. Add the eggs and beat well. Add the Milk, still beating the mix. After well beaten, leave to stand for 30 minutes. Stir in the melted Butter. Grease a heavy pan and heat it until it’s very hot. Using a tbsp of batter for each, cook the pancakes, tipping the pan until the cake is thin, lacey and patterned with a gold color. Pile on a warm plate above the oven (not inside the oven or they get soggy). Roll up each pancake and sprinkle with Orange juice and melted Honey.
ALTERNATIVE: Make the batter without the Elderflowers and then dip the flowers in it before frying. In this way, you have Elderflower fritters. Dip in the OJ and Honey.
Tangy and sharp. Make a beautiful garnish. Mostly cultivated in gardens and landscapes.
Piquant in flavor. These flowers are great dipped in batter and deep fried. Use the same recipe as the Elderflower Crepes. Use Glads as creative servers for sauces, creamers and salads. They make great pitchers. Infuse in oil or vinegar to enhance their peppery heat and then toss into salad dressings and soups. Slice them up raw and toss them into a salad. Add them raw to soups and stews to enhance the flavor and then remove before serving. For the most part, Glads are cultivated and you can buy them from the local florist. It is worth the while to grow your own to save on the cost.
These flowers taste like cranberries; they are very tart. Use a little at a time. They are very good in tea, they give it zing! Often added to fruit salads to counteract sweetness. These plants are cultivated but they also grow in the wild. Throughout the south, they have escaped gardens and landscapes and spread out into the forests and swamps. Easy to spot.
This plant is often used in herbal medicine as a laxative. Pretty pink, mauve or red flowers that are often used to dye white wines to red. Makes a gorgeous, eye catching garnish. They have a bland flavor that reminds of vegetables; use to season veggies and salads. Hollyhock is mostly cultivated and found in fancy flower gardens. Grow your own.
Holy Thistle / Blessed Thistle:
Steam flowers whole and eat like artichokes. Use with dips & sauces. Boil as a vegetable and serve with butter. These are mostly thought of as weeds. They are found in waste areas and where the ground is disturbed. The flowers bloom in late summer. Pick fresh.
Use only the cultivated kind of Honeysuckle. The wild ones are poisonous, especially the berries. The cultivated genus has sweet tasting flowers that are especially good with fruit. Buy fresh from the florist, grocer or other vendor or grow your own.
Honeysuckle and Peach Cheese
INGREDIENTS: 2 lbs Peaches, 1 1/4 cups Water, 1 cup Honeysuckle Flowers (washed and drained), juice of 1 Lemon and granulated Sugar. Makes about 1 lb.
METHOD: Halve and slice the Peaches (do not peel). Shell and crack six Peach pits. Put the Peaches and the pits in a pan with the Water, Honeysuckle flowers and Lemon juice. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes or until the fruit is tender. Then press the fruit through a nylon strainer and weigh the pulp. Add an equal weight of Sugar and cook together over low heat, stirring frequently, for about 45-60 minutes or until the paste is thick and dry. Once you can draw a spoon through the paste and leave a trail, spoon it into gelatin or mousse molds. Cover with wax paper and then seal with jam pot covers. Label and store in a cool, dry, dark place. Eat when you like.
Pretty flowers with a bland flavor. They make a gorgeous garnish and do not take away from the flavors in a dish. They can be found occassionally in the wild, in clusters along fence rows or in the bush. They create bright shocks of varied color in otherwise shabby landscapes. They are highly cultivated in gardens and landscapes and do well in a flower bed. Grow your own if you want the best quality.
This flower is sweet and fragrant. It is most often used in cosmetics. If you have any growing near your home, you know how they smell. The night blooming genus sweetens the air in a summer evening. They are cultivated but also often found in the wild, growing in sunny areas in fertile soil, climbing over fences or on abandoned arbors. Often escapes from fenced landscapes. Use the flowers in teas or desserts. Especially good in confections. Strongly scented so use a little at a time.
Johnny-Jump-Up / Wild Pansy / Heartsease:
This plant is well known for it’s effects in a mild cardiac tonic and in reducing blood pressure. Sweet Violet, also used as a medicinal, is closely related and looks similar. The flowers taste like mint. Drop a few in your tea or sprinkle petals on ice cream or coffee. No matter how you take it, this plant is good for your heart. This plant self sows freely and can be found growing wild in semi shaded areas. The flowers are yellow with purple and white marking and look like Sweet Pea. Violets and Garden Pansies make colorful additions to the salad bowl.
Summer Fruit with Heartsease
INGREDIENTS: 1/2 cup + 1 tsp soft Margarine, 1/2 cup Sugar, 2 tsp clear Honey, 1 1/4 cups self rising Flour, 1/2 tsp Baking Powder, 2 tbsp Milk, 2 whole Eggs + 1 White, 1 tbsp Rosewater, 1 tbsp Cointreau, 16 Wild Pansies, Superfine Sugar, Confectioners Sugar, 1 lb Strawberries and Strawberry Leaves.
METHOD: Preheat oven to 375. Grease a Ring Mold with 1 tsp of Margarine and dust with Flour. Add the soft Margarine, Sugar, Honey, Flour, Baking Powder, Milk and 2 Eggs to a mixing bowl. Beat well for 1 minute. Add the Rosewater and the Cointreau and mix in. Now, pour the mix into the Ring Mold and bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Allow to stand for 30 minutes or until cool and then turn out on a serving plate. Put the Egg white into a small bowl and beat. Once whipped well, dip the Pansies in the mix or paint them with it. Once painted or dipped with Egg white, dust them with the Superfine Sugar. Set them aside to dry. Now, sift the Confectioners Sugar over the cooled cake. Fill the center of the ring with the fresh Strawberries. If there are extra Strawberries that won’t fit, set them out alongside the cake on the rim of the plate. Decorate with the Strawberry leaves and the crystallized Pansies. I usually set the Strawberry leaves on the plate with the Strawberries and place the Pansies on the cake itself to encourage eating.
Sweet and spicy, Lavender has a fresh citrus scent and is often used in cosmetics, perfumes, shampoos and potpourri. Both French and English Lavender are used in the same ways, although they have slightly different scents. English Lavender grows wild in the Meditteranean but both French and English Lavenders are cultivated worldwide. If it is found in the wild, it will be found on woody hillsides. Most often found in herb and flower gardens and landscapes. Inexpensive to grow but can also be purchased from florists, herbalists and at health food stores. Can be used in homemade cosmetics, perfumes and oils. The flowers are used dried and most often in baked goods. Also delicious in jams and vinegars or crystallized in the same way as Pansies and Angelica. See the recipe for Heartsease for how to crystallize flowers.
INGREDIENTS: 5/8 cup + 1 tsp Butter, 1/2 cup granulated Sugar, 1 beaten Egg, 1 tbsp dried Lavender Flowers and 1 1/2 cups self rising Flour.
METHOD: Preheat oven to 350. Cream the 5/8 cup of Butter and the Sugar together and then stir in the Egg. Once blended, add the Lavender flowers and the Flour and mix in. Grease 2 Cookie sheets with the 1 tsp of Butter. Drop spoonfuls of the mix onto the sheets, using a small spoon. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the cookies are golden. Serve warm and enjoy!
Popular in salads. Fresh, floral taste. Just toss whole, fresh flowers in and enjoy! Found growing in the wild or in suburban lawns, as it’s name implies. Chances are there are a few in your neighborhood.
Linden Blossom Tea is a popular folk remedy for nervous tension and anxiety. The flowers can also be used to flavor sweets and liqueurs. Only use fresh flowers because older flowers are known to cause mild intoxication. The flowers bloom in midsummer and have a lovely, sweet nectar that attracts Bees. You can spot a Linden Tree in the summer by looking for the swarms of Bees. The tree is decidious so you will find it bare in cold winters but it often stays bushy and flowered through the winter in southern climes. Can be found growing in the wild everywhere. Often planted by city governments because the wide spread helps to cover blighted or undeveloped landscapes.
Related to Geraniums, these wild plants have mild flavored blue or red and blue flowers that bloom throughout the summer. They are tasty in salads. The flavor is very mild. As the name implies, this plant grows in lush meadows near water. Look for birds and wild geraniums when hunting this tasty flower.
These flowers are spicy. They have a cress-like, mustard flavor and are very high in vitamin C. The fresh buds are tasty when pickled, they look like Capers and can be used the same way. This is a perennial climber from South America that can be found growing wild along fence rows, up the sides of old trees or on telephone wires. The flowers are orange, red or yellow and they bloom in late summer and early autumn.
Tangy Flower Fritters
INGREDIENTS: a pinch of Mustard Seeds, 2/3 cup of Water, 3 tbsp Sunflower Oil, 1 cup sifted Flour, pinch of Salt, 1 stiffly beaten Egg White, handful of Nasturtium Blooms and Sunflower Oil for frying.
METHOD: Steep the Mustard Seed in the Water for 10 minutes. Beat the 3 tbsp of Oil into the Flour, adding the Salt as you go. Once well mixed, add the Mustard Water and beat again. Leave to stand for 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, fold in the Egg White. Do not let sit. Immediately dip the Nasturtium Blooms into the mix until covered and fry in a pot filled with 1/2 inch of Oil. When they are crunchy and golden, remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with Salt if you like before serving.
It is hard to find Roses growing in the wild. They are mostly cultivated and highly guarded in special gardens everywhere. Roses are an expensive, prime flower cherished by florists. They are often given as gifts. But Rose blooms are also aromatic and rich tasting. They make fantastic confections, jams, breads and candies. If you are growing Roses you now have a way to use the expired blooms. They don’t have to look pretty to taste good!
Rose Petal Jam:
INGREDIENTS: 1 lb fresh Rose Petals, 6-8 Rose Geranium Leaves, 3 cups Granulated Sugar, 1 1/4 cups of Water and 3 tbsp Lemon Juice.
METHOD: Discard any damaged or discolored Petals and remove the white heels from the remaining ones. Wash and dry the Rose Petals and the Rose Geranium Leaves and dry them. Once dry, place them in a bowl. Pour in half the Sugar, stir well and then leave, covered, for two days. Stir the Sugar occassionally. After two days, remove and discard the Geranium Leaves. Put the remaining Sugar into a pan and cover with the Water and Lemon Juice. Heat gently until the Sugar is dissolved. Add the Rose Petal Sugar, stir well and continue to heat gently. When all the Sugar has dissolved, bring the mix to a boil and allow to boil rapidly for 20 minutes, stirring now and then. After 20 minutes, pour the mix into warm Mason Jars, cover and set aside in a cool, dark place.
Salad Burnett Flowers:
This plant is native to Europe and Britain and can be found growing wild in grassy places on chalk or limestone. In the summer, green flowers bloom in tight bunches on round heads. They have a nutty, sharp, cucumber-like flavor. Excellent when stirred into butters and cheeses; try it in Creamed or Potted Cheese. Use the petals only; discard the stamens. Sprinkle on boiled vegetables and freshly made soups.
Although many of you are probably familiar with Thyme, just as you are with Basil, I bet you’re suprised to hear about their flowers. Like Basil, Thyme Flowers taste like the plant and can be used in the same way you use Thyme. Although this plant is highly cultivated and sold as a spice, it can often be found growing wild on stony hillsides in southern Europe. The flowers bloom in midsummer and are often surrounded by Bees. In cultivation, there are varigated species that range from lemon scented to smelling like Caraway. Pick and choose the aromas you like the best and use the flowers in the same manner you are using the leaves.
This flower makes a gorgeous, tasty garnish. These are bright, purple blue flowers that look almost like Lavender from a distance. They are hardly ever cultivated and must be culled from the wild. It is mostly found in very dry places along the coasts or along the sea shore. They have a sweet nectar that has a very mild but pleasant taste. Add as an accent to fancy desserts. This plant is related to Borage and can also be found growing wild in hedgerows and along roadsides. It can grow up to 3 feet tall with prickly leaves that are spotted with red. Self seeds profusely so if you find a stand in the wild, there will always be more. Add the flowers to salads, make into sweet cordials or crystallize them and eat like candy.