Flower or Food?

Nasturtium canapes

You might have heard of dandelion gourmet salad mix or stuffed squash blossoms, but what about calendula paella, orange-marigold iced tea, or nasturtium pesto?  Here are some commonly eaten flowers:

  • Calendula- Can be used as a saffron substitute (it’s even called “Poor Man’s Saffron”).  Petals are a little bitter, so are often used for coloring rather than flavor.
  • Dandelion- Young blossoms (bitter sepals removed) have a sweet or honey-like flavor that turns bitter as the flower matures.  Young leaves are tasty in salads or cooked as greens.
  • Daylily- Mature buds taste like green beans or eggplant.  The open flower is milder.  The darker the flower color, the more bitter.  Buds can be stored in the freezer and then blanched later to open them up.  Try stuffing with goat cheese spread or chicken salad.
  • Signet Marigolds (Tangerine gem, lemon gem, and starfire are signet marigold varieties, other marigolds can be “repugnant” according to edible flower expert Cathy Wilkinson Barash) White parts at bases of petals are really bitter and should be cut off, but the rest of the petal tastes like spicy tarragon.
  • Nasturtium- Flowers have a spicy, peppery taste.  Leaves are also edible and reminiscent of watercress.  Pickled flower buds, a.k.a. “Poor Man’s Capers,” are used in place of capers.  Try adding petals and leaves to a caprese salad.
  • Pansy- Petals have a sweet green or grassy flavor.  The whole flower can taste like wintergreen.
  • Redbud- Buds and open flowers add a nice crunch to salads.  They taste like a mix of tart apples and green beans.
Elderberry flower fritters

You can also eat bachelor’s buttons, chrysanthemum, dianthus, elderberry, hollyhock, impatiens, lilac, roses and lots more.  Check for recipes and tips on picking/cooking flowers safely from Edible Flowers from Garden to Palate and Edible Flowers: Desserts and Drinks by Cathy Wilkinson Barash and Edible Flowers by Claire Clifton.  These books are available at the Knox County and UT AgVet libraries.

Marigold butter
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