Edible flowers

 

photo from Pixabay

Edible flowers have been in use for thousands of years – records indicate that edible flowers have been used for cooking and medicinal purposes by ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Indian cultures.  Since the 1980’s, edible flowers have seen a resurgence in popularity with chefs and home entertainers.  This isn’t surprising, considering these blooms can add color, flavor, and even nutritional value to the simplest of dishes. I first became interested in edible flowers when I attended a presentation at CSU Extension in Larimer County about how to grow and use edible flowers in cooking. I was fascinated by the diversity of flower dishes and the elegance they can add to any dish. If you are considering experimenting with edible flowers, it is important to first consider flower safety and quality.

Flowers come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. They can easily spruce up a garden salad, sauce, or dessert. They also have unique flavors that can add to the flavor profile of a dish. Chive flowers, for example, have an oniony tang while pansies and violets possess a sweeter tone.  Flowers can contribute to the aroma of baked goods, as in the lavender shortbread cookies below.  While edible flowers can add to the sensory characteristics of a dish, they also have nutritional benefits. Edible flowers are an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and phosphorus.  They are also a good source of antioxidants, with an average of 5.5 grams of antioxidants per kg.

Before we jump into how to use edible flowers, we must first discuss the safety of edible flowers. There are 3 important things to consider when choosing edible flowers:

  1. Not all flowers are edible.
  2. Just because a flower is “edible” doesn’t mean it is “palatable”.
  3. Only use flowers that were not grown in fertilizer or treated with pesticides.

There are many species of edible flowers. However, there are also some species that are poisonous and unsafe for human consumption. For a list of safe flowers, refer to the CSU Extension Factsheet 7.237, “Edible Flowers”.  Popular flowers include lavender, marigold, pansies, violets, and hibiscus. Many people don’t realize that squash blossoms, broccoli, and artichokes are also considered “edible flowers”!  Although a flower may be “edible”, there are some flowers that are too bitter to be appealing to eat. These flowers are best used as a garnish for your dish rather than an ingredient. You can taste test flowers to determine how they suite your dish. For example, I like to add chive flowers into salads and savory dishes because of their strong flavor. However, I prefer lavender and marigold for desserts to compliment the sweet flavor. Please refrain from purchasing flowers from a garden center or florist, as these flowers are often treated with pesticides and fertilizers. Edible flowers can be found at some grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and online. You can also obtain flowers from local gardeners who grow their flowers “organically” without fertilizer or pesticides. For my edible flower experiments, I use the flowers from my mom’s garden that have been grown organically.

If you are new to edible flowers, it is a good idea to introduce flowers into your diet slowly to avoid stomach pain and to pinpoint allergic reactions. Edible flowers may exacerbate seasonal pollen allergies, so proceed with caution.

For best quality and freshness, use flowers within 1 day of harvesting. Wash the flowers thoroughly by dipping them in room temperature water and placing on a towel to dry. Remove the stamen, sepal, and pistils from all flowers before tasting. For larger flowers, such as roses, you may desire to use individual petals. In this case, cut the white portion off of the bottom of the petal, as it typically has a bitter flavor.

With flower safety in mind, consider brightening up your next event with edible flowers! Below is my latest edible flower experiment!

photo by Caitlin Jacobsen

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

Prep: 1 hour | Cook: 14 min | Adapted from: The Beach House Kitchen

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp. culinary lavender (I used some from my mom’s garden! You can also find lavender at Walmart, some organic food stores, or online.)
  • 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest (If you, like me, don’t have a zester, you can make lemon zest with just a veggie peeler and a knife! Check out this blog for details.)
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pure cane sugar for sprinkling

photo by Caitlin Jacobsen

Procedure:

  1. In a small bowl, sift together flour and salt. Set aside.
  2. Place 1 Tbsp. of the granulated sugar, lavender, and lemon zest in a mortar and grind lightly with the pestle. (I also don’t have a mortar, so I just used a bowl and the bottom of a jar to grind the sugar, lavender, and lemon.)
  3. Place lavender mixture in large bowl with remaining sugar and butter. Cream together until smooth. Add vanilla. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture until it forms a dough. Shape into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  4. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into shapes (I used a 1 3/4 inch cutter) and place on prepared sheet. Sprinkle with some pure cane sugar, then place in the freezer for 15 minutes. (This will prevent your cookies from spreading when they bake)
  5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  6. Bake cookies for 12-14 minutes until lightly browned around the edges. Cool on sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Can be store in an airtight container for 5 days.

The cookies turned out so well! Buttery and lemony with a hint of lavender! They would make a great party dessert this spring. My next experiment? Spring Salad with Edible Flowers!

Spring Salad with Edible Flowers

Adapted from: The View From Great Island

Ingredients:

  • 5 oz baby spring mix
  • 1 small sweet onion
  • Assorted edible flowers (You can buy edible flowers at some natural food stores next to the fresh herbs!)
  • ¼ c. dressing of your choice

Procedure:

  1. Peel and slice the onion into paper thin rounds.
  2. Pour the dressing into the bottom of a very large salad bowl.
  3. Place the greens and onions on top of the dressing.
  4. Scatter the edible flowers across the top of the salad.
  5. Toss the salad and dressing just before serving.
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