Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 14, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments. We hope you enjoy it was we count down to the holidays.)
You may have to wait until the coming growing season to try most of them, but here are two flowers that will make your holiday table sing:
Tulips: Red and yellow petals are the best-tasting, imparting a pea-like flavor. Why not try some in your holiday salad or take a whole blossom, remove the structures inside (the stamens and pistil), and stuff it with crab salad, meat salad, or any other stuffing you can conjure up. How about a stuffed red tulip blossom on a single leaf of lettuce or on a bed of spinach? The colors are festive, and it’s guaranteed to impress your guests! Check your local florist as a source for tulips at this time of year. Be sure to ask what chemicals, if any, were appliled to the tulips. The best source is, of course, blossoms from tulips you have forced into bloom on your own.
Roses: Rose petal flavors run the gamut, from almost tasteless to, well, very “rosy.” If the rose is quite fragrant, you might use its petals as a colorful, decorative accent to other foods, but I would advise not eating them. The effect for me was akin to spraying my wife’s favorite floral perfume directly into my mouth! Roses from a florist tend to be very bland, so don’t hesitate to scatter some petals in a salad or arrange them in some flavored gelatin before it sets. Again, be sure to check with the florist about any chemical polution of the petals.
Here are some other blossoms to try next spring and summer:
Violets: Blossoms are almost flavorless, but make a colorful accent in salads. If you look upon violets in the lawn with same disdain as you do dandelions, think about the delicious irony of having their flowers for lunch before you nuke them with your favorite herbicide! Violets can also be candied. They don’t really make good candy, but can be used as a decoration on cakes or other foods. The recipe is very simple: Wash the flowers and let them dry. Dip the petals or brush them with some freshly-beaten egg white. Dip in or sprinkle with sugar. Allow to set thoroughly and store in a saved candy box, egg carton, or other paper container.
Nasturtiums: Flowers have a slight peppery taste. They look lovely in a salad or as an appetizer stuffed with anything that strikes your fancy. Be creative! Then slip a nasturtium leaf under each stuffed blossom for an especially attractive combination.
Lilacs: Here is a flower that you can actually bake in bread or cookies and will retain its color. Like violets, lilac blossoms have practically no taste, so you can add them to your favorite food without fear of altering its flavor. Why not try some raw, sprinkled over meat dishes immediately before they’re served or as an interesting adornment for a dip or two of vanilla ice cream?
There are a host of other flowers that can be consumed. Among them are bee balm (Monarda), chamomile, daylily, hibiscus, hollyhock, johnny-jump-up, linden, pansy, pinks (Dianthus), pumpkin, red clover, and squash.
You can also literally be a weed-eater. The leaves of many common weeds in the flower or vegetable garden are edible. They include chickweed, chicory, dandelion, sorrel, lamb’s quarters, pigweed, and plantain. Use them in mixed-green salads or, in the case of lamb’s quarters, cook as you would spinach.
A word of caution: Since there are poisonous flowers and leaves as well, it’s always a good idea to research the edibility of a given plant part before you eat it. And a seasonal note: While I wouldn’t recommend eating poinsettia leaves, bracts, or flowers, most authorities now agree that they are not poisonous. I suspect that the association with poisonous plants came about because poinsettias have a milky sap, which is characteristic of a number of poisonous plant species. Happy Holidays and Guten Appetit!
© Larry Rettig 2007