Growing edible flowers in containers will give you the ability to add some serious punch to your summer salads, drinks, and entrees. Imagine the surprise of your luncheon guests when they see a beautiful salad garnished with glorious colorful tuberous begonia petals, a cake with candied violets, and a refreshing drink of lavender lemonade. These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to eating and garnishing with edible flowers.
Societies have been eating edible flowers for hundreds of years. The Greeks and Romans wouldn’t think of having a banquet where edible flowers were not included. Asian, European, East Indian and even Colonial American cultures all used flowers in their cuisine. Victorian England was the height of the edible flower era.
Edible flowers fell out of favor for a while, but there is a renewed interest in learning how to use these flowers in every day meals. Edible flowers are actually full of vitamins and minerals. Before you decide to use edible flowers, carefully read the caveats and instructions below:
Proper Identification is the First Rule of Safety
Never eat a flower you are not familiar with. If you can’t positively identify the flower, don’t risk your safety by tasting it. I follow this rule even when I am eating out and flowers are served. Asking for information about the flower is perfectly acceptable. Always follow this caveat:”When in doubt, leave it out!”
If you are planning on growing edible flowers in containers, to be on the safe side, check this Listing of Toxic Plants and Flowers. Although this listing is for North Carolina, it is very extensive and you will most likely find the most common toxic flowers listed there. For a more thorough listing of toxic plants in your area, check with your local Cooperative Extension Service.
Be Aware of the Origin of the Flower
If you haven’t grown the edible flowers yourself, ask where the flowers came from. You never want to eat a flower that has been sprayed with pesticides. For this reason, never eat flowers that have been purchased from a florist as these have most likely been sprayed.
Never eat flowers that have been picked by the roadside, as these most likely have been sprayed with an herbicide to control growth.
Never use non-edible flowers as garnish. Many people assume anything on a plate is edible. Think safety first and avoid using all non-edible flowers near food.
Introduce Flowers Into Your Diet Slowly
Introduce new flowers into the diet slowly to be able to pinpoint allergic reactions. If you have hay fever, asthma or allergies, it best not to eat flowers since many allergies are due to sensitivity to pollen of specific plants. For this reason, remove stems, anthers and pistils since this is often the cause of allergies and also because they may be bitter.
If you’re not sure where these parts are on a flower, check out this diagram of the Anatomy of a Flower to better understand these directions.
Educate Your Children About Edible Flowers
If you serve edible flowers and you have children in your life, be sure to teach them the safety basics of edible flowers. Instruct them in the fact that although you eat some flowers, not all flowers are safe for consumption.
You know how children are, they’ll often think if one flower is edible, all flowers are good. Make certain they understand the danger of eating flowers indiscriminately.
Growing Edible Flowers in Container
Many edible flowers can be successfully grown in containers. Grow your edible flowers in containers as you would any ornamental flower. Avoid using any pesticides on your edible flowers. Check fertilizer labels to insure your flowers will be safe to eat. If in doubt, rely on organic fertilizers.
If you spray other parts of your lawn or garden, locate your edible flower containers away from those areas to prevent chemicals from drifting onto your flowers.
Directions for Harvesting and Using Edible Flowers
Pick flowers early in the morning, after the dew has evaporated. Use them at their peak for the best flavor. Choose flowers that are opened and look their best. Avoid faded, wilted flowers that are past their prime as these will be bitter and unappetizing. Check to be sure the flowers are free of insects and diseases.
The white base of the petal of many flowers may have a bitter taste and should be removed from flowers such as chrysanthemums, dianthus, marigolds, and roses. You can do this with each petal individually or to save time, if you are using a lot of flower petals, grasp the entire flower in one hand, compressing the petals together, and snip off the flower just about the white section of the petal. This is done while the flower is still on the plant.
After removing the stamens and pistils, swish the blossoms in lukewarm water and leave in a colander or lay on paper towels to dry. Do not expose them to direct sunlight. When dry place them in a plastic bag, and store then in a refrigerator. Damp paper towels placed in the plastic bag will help maintain high humidity. Some varieties may last longer if not washed until ready to use.
If the flowers are limp when you are ready to use them, they can be revitalized by floating them on icy water for a few moments. Don’t leave them there to long, only long enough to allow them to revive.
Preserving Edible Flowers by Crystallizing
Many fresh flowers also can be preserved for later use by a process known as crystallizing. Choose flowers with larger petals, such as pansies, begonias, apple blossoms, etc., and paint the petals with an egg-white wash.
Beat the egg white in the small bowl until slightly foamy, if necessary add a few drops of water to make the white easy to spread. Paint each flower individually with beaten egg white using the small paintbrush. When thoroughly coated with egg white, sprinkle with superfine sugar.
If you worry about food borne illnesses from the raw egg white, use dehydrated egg whites. These flowers are edible if the dehydrated egg powder has been pasteurized. After painting, dust the petal with super-fine granulated sugar and dry it.
Place the coated flowers or petals on wax paper on a wire rack. Let dry at room temperature (this could take 12 to 36 hours). Flowers are completely dry when stiff and brittle to the touch.
Store crystallized flowers in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. These flowers should last up to a year, if you can keep them that long.
Uses for Edible Flowers
The uses of edible flowers is limited only by your imagination. They can be integrated into your entrees or used fresh in salads. Some flowers can be stuffed to make an extraordinary appetizer, or like squash blossoms, deep fried in batter. Edible flowers can be crystallized to use as decorations or frozen in ice cubes to add to drinks. These flowers can also be used to make teas, wines, or vinegars. Jams, jellies, butters, marinades, the list goes on.
So there you have it, the dos and don’ts of using edible flowers. Once you start adding these great additions to your meals, you will find it adds a new dimension to your dining experience. You may find yourself looking for new recipes and ways of using edible flowers on a regular basis.
Check this link for a listing of edilble flowers suitable for growing in containers.