Edible Blooms Add Flavor and Color to Summer Fare
by April Thompson
|photo courtesy of Marie Viljoen|
Fruits, leaves, stems and roots are commonly eaten as part of a plant-based, farm-to-table diet, but until recently, the only flowers on the table were in a vase. Today’s health-conscious foodies are finding edible flowers to be a fantastic way to eat the rainbow, adding fun flavors and colors to all sorts of dishes.
Urban homesteader Holly Capelle turned her family’s backyard in the Portland, Oregon, suburbs into expansive edible gardens, enjoyed by their flower-eating chickens and children alike. “We grow everything from seed, including 15 to 20 edible flower varieties, from spring through fall,” says Capelle. “I love to grow edible flowers for two reasons: one, to eat, and second, for the natural pest control they provide. I think of flowers as a beautiful army that I can eat along the way.”
Capelle’s favorite edible flowers are pansies and violets, as they “pop up again and again all growing season and make a beautiful garnish without overpowering flavor.” The home gardener likes to freeze the fresh flowers in ice cubes, press them on the outside of herb butter or dry them between pieces of wax paper to later add to the tops of homemade chocolate bars, along with dehydrated strawberries, lemon balm, mint or other botanical flavors.
The family’s fowl get in on the flower fun, too. “We make frozen treats for the chickens out of edible flowers, corn and strawberries, which they love in summer. We also add dried flowers like marigolds to their nesting boxes,” she says, adding that marigolds, with their bright orange hues and distinct flavor, are great in scrambled eggs or as a substitute for saffron.
For larger blooms like sunflowers, Capelle recommends pulling off the often-hard centers. “I often see whole zinnias on edible cakes, but no one wants to eat an entire zinnia. With daisies, for example, I will pull off the petals and recreate the flower on top of a dish, using peppercorns or chocolate chips in place of the center,” she says.
Capelle also loves chamomile for its distinctive, apple-like flavor that has the “feel of fall,” and dianthus, with a slightly spicy taste like cloves. “Nasturtiums are another super defender in the garden, with a delicious peppery flavor and nice orange pop of color in a salad,” she adds.
“Flowers brighten any dish up, especially hors d’oeuvres, omelets and soups. Pea soup is an ugly soup, but sprinkle some microgreens and a viola on top and it’s beautiful,” says Jan Bell, of Gilbertie’s Organics, in Easton, Connecticut. The 34-acre farm, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, grows herbs, vegetables and microgreens in 24 greenhouses, including a microgreen blend with nasturtium and viola flowers. “If you pick the flowers on herbs, the plant will grow better and last longer,” Bell adds.
Flowers like wild violets, chive blossoms and common milkweed can add bold color and flavor to vinegar with pinkish purple hues that power up salad dressings. Bell also likes to dry chive flowers to use year-round. “They are a nice purple sprinkle to add to dishes when things are boring in winter,” she says.
Marie Viljoen, a New York City forager, chef and author of the cookbook Forage, Harvest, Feast: A Wild-Inspired Cuisine, incorporates numerous wild and cultivated flowers, including tree flowers like magnolia and black locust, into her hyperlocal, seasonal meals.
Even common garden roses can add a delicious dimension to dishes and drinks, according to Viljoen. “I like to ferment roses into a simple soda, using organically grown rose petals, honey or sugar and tap water. It’s ready within a few days, or else you can leave to ferment a few months to make a sipping vinegar,” she says. “You can also combine really fragrant rose petals with a neutral honey like clover, then strain after a few days for a rose water essence you can add to yogurt or other dishes.” Viljoen also uses rose petals as edible garnishes for deviled eggs or as edible plates for goat cheese balls on her gourmet picnics.
Some flowers are for the eyes only, however. Many can be poisonous, so it’s important to ensure a particular species is edible before digging in. Viljoen also advises carefully distinguishing between poisonous lookalikes when foraging: A delicious daylily and a toxic true lily look similar, but are in different plant families, for example. She also says to look for organically grown flowers that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides.
Connect with Washington, D.C., freelance writer April Thompson at AprilWrites.com.
Flower Power Edible Recipes
Spicy Magnolia Salad Cups
Yield: four appetizer servings
All magnolia petals have a strong, gingery flavor with a hint of cloves or menthol, depending on the variety. Blooming through summer, North American southern magnolia flowers (Magnolia grandiflora) are the size of dinner plates. Their substantial, fragrant petals make beautiful edible cups for assertively flavored salads or ceviche. Here, blandly creamy avocado, crisp peppery radish slices, quick-pickled onion and a kiss of high-quality soy sauce fill the luscious petals with complementary textures and flavors. Pick the whole petal up like a taco and bite to get the full effect in a mouthful.
1 ripe avocado, cubed
3 radishes, very thinly sliced
2-3 Tbsp quick-pickled red onion rings
2 pickled Japanese knotweed shoots (optional)
¼ tsp chili flakes
2 tsp soy sauce (like organic Ohsawa nama shoyu)
Roasted sesame oil
Flower Spring Rolls with Tamarind and Peanut Sauce
by Tara Lanich-LaBrie
Spring rolls are a great way to eat all the fresh veggies, flowers and fruits of the season, and they look like little paintings with flowers on the outside and different colors and textures throughout. In the summer months, our bodies naturally gravitate toward eating more raw vegetables and fruits to cool our system and attune to the season of lightness. The grounding aspect in these petal rolls comes from the root veggies and the piquant, velvety peanut sauce. They are easy to make with whatever veggies and fruits we have on hand and are a great meal to take on the trail. Gather whatever ingredients sound delicious at the local market or farm, forage some delicacies if you have the time and put on your favorite music to inspire making these rolls.
Package of spring roll wrappers/rice wrappers
2-3 cucumbers or summer squash, cut into lengthwise strips
Edible flowers (optional) such as scarlet begonias, nasturtiums, rose petals, calendula, dandelion petals, sweet alyssum, radish flowers, bachelor buttons, violets, violas or pea flowers
1 bunch mint (about 1 cup)
1 bunch cilantro (about 1 cup)
Combination of fresh root vegetables in an assortment of colors, such as turnips, radishes and carrots, sliced in thin sticks
Spinach, nasturtium leaves or other tender green leaves to create a background for your petals
1 avocado, sliced thin (optional)
Asparagus, sliced in thin sticks
Red pepper, sliced thin, lengthwise
10-oz pack of thin rice noodles
Snap peas, purple or green, sliced lengthwise
All of these ingredients are recommendations or suggestions meant to inspire, but they are merely ideas. Use what is available. Spring rolls are excellent with almost any combination of fresh ingredients. I use a general framework of one-third each of crunchy or harder ingredients, like cucumber, squash, radish and carrot; softer ingredients like avocado, peach, mushroom and iceberg lettuce; and flowers, herbs, leaves such as rose petals, calendula, basil, mint and squash blossoms.
First, prep all the ingredients and set up a space to roll and see all of the ingredients. It isn’t necessary to cut everything perfectly, and tearing lettuces or other leaves is a great way to save time and create texture. I like to have my ingredients separated by type or color to create the rolls like a painting, using a palette.
Have a bowl with water that is large enough to dip the spring roll wrappers. Next to this, have a plate that is large enough to hold the wrappers. Have bowls or plates or a large cutting board with all the ingredients laid out to access everything easily and quickly.
Quickly dip a rice wrapper into the water and place it onto the plate. Add flowers or individual flower petals to the wrapper. Layer the petals to about a half-inch of the edge of the wrapper. There is really no wrong way to create these rolls.
Starting in the middle of the roll, on top of the petals and background leaves, make a line of crunchier or “harder” veggies like carrot, cucumber or radish sticks. Add up to nine sticks about two to three inches long each to make a line in the center. They can be close together and on top of one another.
Next, add softer veggies or fruit (peach/mango/mushrooms/avocado) next to or on top of the line of harder veggies. Now sprinkle on the cilantro/mint/basil (roughly 1 to 2 tablespoons total per roll, unless you love these flavors and want to add more). Add leaves, lettuces, sprouts or spinach on top of this center line. It doesn’t need to be perfect at all, so let things spill out and over.
Try to work as quickly as possible while adding ingredients; it will get faster as you make them. Then begin to lift one side of the roll using both hands and carefully pull up into the center of the roll toward the line of filling. Use your thumb to tuck the ingredients under and your fingers to bring more of the wrapper across over the line and then roll it all so the top goes under. You will need a small amount of the wrapper clear of ingredients at the end so it can seal with the roll you have made. (I don’t tuck the sides at all because doing it this way is faster and generally holds together better.)
Tamarind and Peanut Sauce
1 cup crunchy peanut butter (no oils, sugar or additives)
1 can full-fat coconut milk
4 Tbsp maple syrup
2 Tbsp (heaping) tamarind paste
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
½ tsp sea salt, to taste
Sprinkle of cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan. Heat on low and stir or whisk until all ingredients are blended well. If you like a thinner sauce, add water, a tablespoon at a time, but wait a few minutes until it is incorporated fully. Peanut sauce thickens more as it cools.
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