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A Bouquet to Eat

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 2 August 2002

My daughter Wendy lunched with her beau; his order arrived garnished with a pansy. "He was surprised there are flowers you can eat," she said — and decided to give him a bouquet of edible flowers.

The flowers of garden vegetables mostly taste like the vegetable, and are good in salads and stir-fries: squashes, pumpkin and cucumber, beans (especially pretty: scarlet runner bean flowers), and garden peas (Pisum species, not ornamental sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus). Also broccoli, arugula, and radish (white, pink and lavender flowers).

Fruit tree flowers to eat: peach, pear, almond, and plum — petals only. Other flowering trees: redbud (taste like beans), lilac (some are lemony, floral and pungent) hawthorn (sweet and sour); other fruit: elderberry, strawberry.

Many herbs have edible flowers: angelica, basil, borage (bright blue little stars, taste like cucumber), calendula, chamomile, chives, coriander (cilantro), dill, fennel, hyssop, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, mints, oregano, parsley, scented geranium, sweet woodruff, sweet cicely, thymes, watercress....

To me the surprises are flowers of plants we usually think of only as ornamental: tuberous begonia, petunia, impatiens, tulip (flower but not bulb), hollyhock, snapdragon, daylily (not species of true lily, Lilium), English daisy (Bellis), marigold, rose of Sharon, cornflower (Centaurea), forget-me-not, primrose (Primula), Dianthus (pinks and carnations), nasturtium, peony, yucca (petals only: slightly bitter with hint of artichoke), violets, and the pansy that started this list (minty taste).

Go slow eating flowers, watch how your body reacts. To be cautious, avoid pistils and stamens; eat only petals. (An exception worth trying is squash blossoms batter-dipped and fried, or stuffed like green peppers.) The white base of rose petals is bitter. If you suffer from allergies, hay fever or asthma, it might be smarter not to eat flowers.

Don't eat flowers that grew beside a road, or could have been treated with chemicals dangerous to eat.

Here's an edible bouquet from what's blooming in my garden right now: crimson 'Raspberry Wine' bee balm, which tastes lemony-minty (and smells it, too), pale pink 'The Fairy' rose (faintly sweet, darker roses are more tasty), tiny blue bells of Campanula chochlearifolia (lettucey), and cherry-red 'Cerise Queen' yarrow (earthy, fresh, spicy, aromatic). Every bouquet needs some geenery; I used ferny-looking leaves of sweet cicely (licorice-like) and sprigs of bright variegated pineapple mint (tastes like its name).

Doing this research has got me looking forward to tasting over 200 edible flowers that grow in this climate — and I haven't even started on wild plants and weeds: dandelion wine, chicory "coffee", roasted cattails....

Next Date

For more information

Edible Ornamental Plants, from Plants for a Future

Edible Flowers — from the Montreal Botanic Garden

From the Garden to Your Table, from The Planter's Palette

Cooking with Edible Flowers, by Jim Meuninck. This site is the most complete I found; with the most recipes — and interesting ones!

Choose Your edible Flowers Very Carefully, by Ann Lovejoy, at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer site.

Edible Flowers, by Amy Barclay de Tolly and Peggy Trowbridge, at About.com. A brief but comprehensive presentation, identifying problematic substances in some flowers commonly cited as edible (apple blossoms, johnny jump-ups).

North Carolina State's Extension Service provides this chart, by Cyndi Lauderdale. Mentions problematic substances. One problem: when it mentions that tulips are bulbs, and good stuffed, this does *not* mean the bulb is edible: it's the flower that's good stuffed; the bulb is toxic.

Ten Rules of Edible Flowers, from Iowa State University.

Honeysuckle? some say it's edible, The University of Illinois says no.

© Copyright 2002 Catherine Holmes Clark