Monday, August 6, 2012

Edible flowers

I will never meet my nutritional needs by growing edible flowers; though they are full of antioxidants and micronutrients, I simply couldn't  eat enough to survive.
A fragrant and delicious daylily

But I like things to be pretty as well as useful, so I grow as many edible flowers as I can, and I make a point of eating - or at least tasting - them all. Besides, without flowers, it wouldn't feel like a garden.

My current favorite is the daylily. I once spent a few weeks on a sheep farm in Iowa. The ditch across from the us had a bank of daylilies perhaps a quarter mile long and five feet across. They grew wild (or maybe naturalized), but looked like the most meticulously cared for garden lillies.

The plant opens new blossoms daily, so you can eat them all today and by tomorrow morning more will be back. If you don't eat them, no problem. They are naturally self-deadheading, so spent flowers don't clutter them up.

Daylilies form large, thick mounds that compete well with grass, but they don't spread much by seed, nor do they runner (at least mine haven't), so they are not in immediate danger of taking over the garden.

They transplant beautifully, and tolerate a huge range of soil and climate types. Some are fragrant, which makes a good dried flower for soups, but can be overwhelming if eaten fresh. I like the less scented varieties in abundance, as a primary vegetable in stir fries. If you use the unopened buds, there is no chance of insects being inside them - not true of all edible flowers.What's not to like?

Help! They're taking over
A pretty orange nasturtium
Nasturtiums are stronger stuff, physically and in flavor. They clamber over structures, run down hills and if not managed, drop their seeds and start again next year. Their flavor is spice verging on the horseradish, with a sweet pocket of nectar in the spur. I love their color and enjoy their flavor in moderation. They are especially good as a layer in sandwiches, instead of mustard. Beware. They are beloved of aphids, which do not add to the beauty of your garnish.

We dug this plant up from a
I mostly grow roses and honeysuckle for their beauty and scent. But once a year, I make a rose and black current jelly that is outstanding.  Roses - you know their scent, sweet, and feminine, depending on variety anything from exotic to grandmotherly. Black currant, on the other hand, smells like tomcat piss.

How can that improve such a celestial perfume as roses? All I can say is, the musk in cologne is a similar phenomenon. If you caught a whiff of straight musk from the source it would probably not please you. But in a perfume, it pulls down the lighter notes, acting as a counterpoint and holding them in your palate longer. Floral scents can be frivolous, musky ones bring us back to the earth and deeper.

I imagine the satiny roses casting down their petals and tangoing with a dark, somber stranger.

Borage, a rare, naturally blue food
I grow borage because it's easy, its flowers are blue, and it smells of cucumber. The whole plant is edible but so hairy, I never get much pleasure from it. But the flowers add a coolness to salads and beverages. Garnish a cucumber and yogurt soup to counter point all the pallor.

My darling lemon thyme
Fennel flowers - pollinators love it too
The flowers of many herbs are edible, including oregano, basil, sage, thyme, fennel, arugula and dill.

Add them to salads, or throw them and some garlic or chive blossoms into hot olive oil and toss with pasta.

Marjorum (or maybe Oregano?)
Bursts of various flavors will keep you guessing. Some of the flowers are a bit papery. You could fussily remove their sepals, or you could just live with it.

You can laminate edible flowers between sheets of homemade pasta for confetti noodles. I'll get pictures when it happens but it's a lot of work, and I've got a gallon of goats' milk to deal with every day right now, so not this week.
I can't believe I can grow this stuff!

Oh - I forgot. I grow the big eating flowers - broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes, all eaten in the unopened bud. Kale will sometimes produce a multitude of broccoli-like shoots for a week or so in spring, right before going to seed. Snap them off and saute with garlic and red pepper flakes.
Viola or Johny jump-up

Tonight I'm scattering viola, calendula, basil and thyme over an omlette of home grown eggs and home made goat cheese.
Alongside, I'll serve a bowl of Sabzi, a Persian dish of mixs herbs, in this case a few salad greens with a hefty helping of flowers. Drizzled with olive oil and home made feta, it will be almost- but not quite - overpoweringly flavorful.

 Dessert will be shortbreads with some of that rose and currant jelly. We can sip some clover, fennel and bee balm flower tea, and call it a night.

There will be more flowers waiting tomorrow.

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