Get It Growing: Flowers Provide More Than You Can See Or Smell; Some Are Edible

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  10/27/2006 9:10:58 PM

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Get It Growing News For 11/10/06

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Flowers are the delight of gardeners. Their beautiful colors, shapes and fragrances are the inspiration for gardening efforts by countless hobby horticulturists.

But there is more to flowers than what meets the eye or the nose. Your taste buds also can appreciate the many edible flowers that we can grow.

Cultures all over the world cook with flowers for the unique flavors and colors they provide to food. I like to cook – a surprising number of gardeners do – and I’ve gained quite a reputation with dinner guests for using edible flowers regularly in dishes I prepare, especially salads.

Using edible flowers in cooking has not been common in America, but before you think the idea too radical, remember that most of us enjoy eating broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes, all of which are flower buds. Like growing and using fresh herbs, I think using edible flowers will become increasingly popular. Indeed, many restaurants already are making use of edible flowers in a variety of dishes.

Not all flowers are edible. Indeed, some flowers, like the plants that produce them, are poisonous. Because most people are not familiar with edible flowers, you need a good, reliable source of information, which lists flowers that are safe to eat.

A number of books on edible flowers are available, but I have found "Edible Flowers from Garden to Palate" by Cathy Wilkinson Barash (Fulcrum Publishing, $29.95) is an excellent source of information. This combination cookbook and gardening guide includes 280 recipes using edible flowers from herbs, vegetables and ornamentals. The author also provides general gardening advice and detailed background and cultural information for each of the 67 flowers included in the book.

The most popular and well-known edible flowers are covered in a section called "The Big Ten" that includes calendula, chives, daylily, mint, nasturtium, pansy, rose, sage, marigold and squash blossoms. The author is very precise in designating which flowers are edible, including careful descriptions, photographs and the scientific or Latin names of the plants.

A number of plants grown for their edible flowers are cool-season plants, which thrive in Louisiana from now until May, making this an ideal time to plant them. Many will bloom through the winter with their peak season next spring. Roses bloom heavily until early to mid December.

Some plants producing edible flowers, which can be planted now, include arugula (Eruca vesicaria sativa), borage (Borago officinalis), broccoli (Brassica oleracea), calendula (Calendula officinalis), chicory (Cichorium intybus), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), chrysanthemum (Dendranthema grandiflorum), coriander (Coriander sativum), dianthus (Dianthus deltoides), carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus), daylily (Hemerocallis sp.), English daisy (Bellis perennis), Johnny-jump-up (Viola tricolor), pansy (Viola x wittrockiana), mustard (Brassica sp.), nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), radish (Raphanus sativus), rose (Rosa sp.), society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), tulip (Tulipa) and violet (Viola odorata).

According to Barash, to get the maximum quality, you should pick flowers during the coolest part of the day, preferably early morning. Select flowers before they reach their prime – ones that are young and not completely open. The flowers should appear very fresh and bright.

Harvest flowers on the day you intend to use them. After harvesting, place long-stemmed flowers in a container of warm water and put them in a cool place until they are used. Pick short-stemmed flowers within three to four hours of use. To store, place short-stemmed blossoms between layers of damp paper towels or put them in plastic bags in your refrigerator. Just before using the flowers gently wash them in cool water.

Removing the stamens and pistils from the flowers before eating is optional. Barash recommends that only the petals of some flowers be eaten. These include calendula, chrysanthemum, lavender, rose, tulip and yucca.

Barash also provides these guidelines about using edible flowers:

If you do not positively know that a flower is edible, do not eat it!

–Use only edible flowers for garnishes.

–Do not eat flowers that have been sprayed with pesticides.

–Because of the possibility of pesticide use on them, do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centers.

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.

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Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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