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Edible flowers for your garden

By By Amelia O’Brian/Horticulture Columnist
Feb. 3, 2002
Dear Gardener,
While in Boston last summer on vacation, I ate at a very upscale restaurant. The salad was beautiful. Sprinkled amongst the baby greens were flowers. I had never eaten flowers before, but was instantly intrigued. I would love to add some edible flowers to my vegetable garden this summer. Do you know of any edible flowers from which I can choose? Also, are there other uses for edible flowers besides in salads?
Dear Reader,
I actually developed a workshop on edible flowers during an internship in college. It was one of my favorite projects. I spent hours trying recipes and tasting flowers. Some were good and some a little too bitter for my tastes, but it was a fun experience. I did find out that there are a lot of edible flowers out there of which I was not aware. Many of these would look great incorporated into a vegetable or a flower garden.
There are a few flowers already present in your veggie garden that are edible. Try frying up some squash blossom fritters or tossing some runner bean flowers and pea flowers into a salad. NOTE HOWEVER: Do not eat sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus)! They are poisonous.
Nasturtiums are probably the most commonly known edible flowers. They have peppery, watercress- type flavor. An interesting fact is that if they do not get much water during the growing season they will taste very hot. With the proper watering conditions, they will taste mild.
Flowers of some common annuals are great to eat. Begonias have a light, lemony taste that is great dipped whole in flavored yogurt. Marigolds are edible, but you need to test different varieties. Some can be quite unpleasant. Tulips have a sweet, pea-like taste with a crisp texture. Just be sure to remove the stamens and the stigmas. Violas and pansies taste sort of lettuce-like. They look beautiful as garnishes and in salads.
There are a few other noteworthy edibles like apple and plum blossoms, roses, and violets. There is also my favorite discovery of that long ago summer daylilies. Daylily blossoms taste sweetly floral to spicy and musky. The buds can be stir fried or deep-fried and the petals can be used in salads and soups.
Most of us have seen flowers used as garnishes on cakes and in salads, but there are many other uses for edible flowers. When using them for decoration they can be used fresh, crystallized or glazed. Syrups, honeys, oils, vinegars and teas are also good uses for edible flowers. Dip the flowers in batter and fry them up or make soups from them. Two of the most beautiful uses are making flower butters and flower sugar. The colors are great and provide a conversation piece when being served.
Always be sure to follow the same guidelines when growing as you would any other edibles. Grow in contaminant free soil and reduce the use of pesticides. Be sure to wash all flowers well before using in the kitchen.