2010-08-12 / Features

The Potting Shed

From Garden To Plate
By Carole McCray

McCray McCray Say the word flower and thoughts of a bouquet or a single bloom come to mind. Flowers can be more than that. We give them as gifts and place them at our table for decoration. Now see them in a different mode – good enough to eat. They leave the garden

and find their way to the table in salads, as garnishes on soups, floating in punch bowls and decorating cakes.

Edible flowers are not new phenomena. The ancients used flowers as medicines and in cooking. Different cultures have incorporated flowers in their cuisines. Stuffed squash blossoms are popular in Hispanic dishes; lotus and daylilies found their way into Chinese cooking. And if you think you could not eat flower buds or petals, think again if you have eaten broccoli, cauliflower or capers. They are all flower buds.

Important tips

Check flowers for any signs of disease of insect damage.

Pick and wash flowers in cool water the same day you are going to use them.

Nasturtiums Nasturtiums When using them, go lightly so not to overpower the flavor of the dish.

Never use flowers purchased at a florist; best to be safe and grow your own for consumption.

Use only flowers that are free of pesticides and other chemicals.

Those with allergies, hay fever or asthma should not eat or be served flowers.

Popular edible flowers

Borage is an herb with a beautiful, deep blue flower. The brilliant starshaped flowers can be sugared to garnish a cake or decorate a drink. The leaves have a subtle cucumber taste and are a tasty addition to a salad or for brewing herbal vinegar. Borage prefers full sun and reaches heights of 2 to 3 feet.

Calendula has a showy bright-orange flower. The dried petals make a good substitute for saffron. The flowers close at night and sometimes on dark days, but reopen again in morning sun. Flowers can be single or doubles and bloom from summer into the fall, reaching from 1 to 2 feet tall in full sun.

Nasturtiums like full sun and soil with good drainage. The brightgreen, round leaves are covered with a mix of colors – deep yellow, orange, red, maroon and creamy white. Both leaves and flowers have a peppery taste and are tasty additions to salads and sandwiches. The small buds can be used like capers. Either the dwarf variety, growing no more than 18 inches in height, or the creeping variety with long stems that can trail along the ground or in a container. If left to climb, the curling variety can go vertical up to 6 feet if given a good support such as a trellis or fence.

Pansy flowers frozen in ice cube trays add an elegant touch when floated in a punch bowl or added to lemonade, iced tea or any cold beverage. Pansies make a pretty addition to a salad bowl.

Scented geraniums are noted for their fragrant and interestingly shaped leaves. The scent is noticeable when brushing against the leaves, or it can easily be smelled if you walk by the plants on a very hot day. The miniscule flowers are insignificant, and it is the leaves with exotic scents of rose, lemon rose, cinnamon, nutmeg, apricot, lime and pine that make the plant so appealing and charming. The leaves are edible and used to flavor cakes, jams, puddings and beverages or any other imaginable way you might want to add them to a particular dish as a garnish or flavor enhancer. Scented geraniums are annuals in colder climates; however, they can winter over as lovely houseplants. Outdoors in the garden or in a container, provide them with plenty of sun, welldrained soil and water during dry periods.

Edible flowers add a magical touch to a menu when serving guests. Play it safe when choosing edible flowers. Everyone’s palate will enjoy a special treat.

Carole McCray lives, writes and gardens in the scenic Laurel Highlands east of Ligonier, Pa. She is an award-winning writer; her most recent award was the Garden Writers Association Award for her article on Native Seeds which appeared in The Christian Science Monitor newspaper. She can be reached at mountain26@ verizon.net.

Photos courtesy of Lynn Rawl, AgriLife Extension Service, San Antonio, Texas.

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