Bartlett on Gardening: Please Eat the Flowers

I used to enjoy shocking visitors by garnishing the salad with nasturtium blossoms. Now edible flowers are mainstream. Publications from the Sunday supplement to trendy journals include recipes featuring flowers.

If you plan to explore this dietary horizon, eat only flowers which you know are edible. Some common ones are poisonous. Use only edible flowers which you are certain have been grown to the same standards as other food crops--any pesticide used must be approved for use on food. I only use blooms which I have grown without the use of pesticides.

(Photo, left: Boarage and calendula)

In general, when preparing flowers for the ​​table, pick them the morning of the day you serve them. Like fruit, flower flavor is best in blossoms at their peak, open, but not fading. Short-stemmed flowers can be stored between damp paper towels in a plastic bag. Place long-stemmed ones in water. Keep them in a cool place. Before preparing, gently wash and inspect each flower, removing the stamens and pistils. These flower parts hold pollen which can alter flavor and cause allergic reactions. If using only petals, cut off the white end where it was attached if that part is bitter.

You may be wondering what flowers taste like. That varies widely from the radish-hot nasturtium to the cucumber-mild borage. Flowers of chives taste like onions. To use them, break the blooms into individual florets so that the flavor is not overwhelming.

​​Daylily petals are mildly sweet in the pale yellow Hyperion but rather bitter in darker-colored cultivars. Always do a taste test before using flowers in recipes. As with any other crop, flaver is affected by growing conditions.

One of my favorite edible flowers is the squash blossom. It has no more flavor than the zucchini but provides a way to limit squash development or salvage the situation when there are lots of male flowers but no females. Generally squash blossoms are batter-fried so folks are less aware that they're eating something different.

In beginning to explore edible flowers, resources include books on herbs (many of which have edible flowers), cookbooks, and even seed catalogs. Recipes in magazines might make a good starting point. Don't expect to love every petal any more than you like every vegetable. And even if not eaten, edible flowers can be used as interesting garnishes.

I've a recipe for lavender cookies. Contact me via The Planet and I'll send it to you. (

Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets lack of familiarity with a plant stop her from trying it in the ornamental beds around her home.

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