Edible Flowers

 Sue Williams
Adams County Master Gardener

Back in the day, Shakespeare’s day that is, theater audiences snacked on delicacies like stewed primroses, drank rose water and made cordials from carnations. Written accounts of medieval feasts mention edible flowers in their meal diaries. "Marigolds seasoned the venison, roses graced the stew, violets mingled with wild onions in the salad." Edible flowers were especially popular in the Victorian era during the reign of Queen Victoria. At the present time, cooking and garnishing with flowers is more popular than ever for home gardeners, chefs and TV food personalities. Admittedly, I have been an "edible flower gourmet" since childhood. It was pure pleasure for me to pinch violets, pick pansies, and cut chive blossoms to bring to my mother for salads and blue chive omelets. I loved the smell of our lavender patch from which we made jellies, cookies and vinegars to give as gifts.

Harvesting Blooms

There are a few simple but important guidelines to keep in mind when harvesting edible flowers. First and foremost, be sure the flower is edible. Only use flowers that have not been sprayed with pesticides or chemicals. Pick blooms in the early morning when the water content is high and the flowers are at their freshest. Clean the blooms by gently washing them under a fine spray of water or soaking them in a cold bowl of water. Remove the stamen and pistils, blot them on a paper towel, and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator up to a week. Know your edible flowers. Read on for some favorites to consider using this summer. Keep it simple and let the delicate taste of the flower shine.

Five Favorites

Below is a short list of edible flowers grown in the Penn State Extension Master Gardener Trial Gardens at the Natural Resources and Agricultural Center in Gettysburg.

  • Bee Balm (monarda didyme) is a hardy perennial also known as bergamot. Some plants have an orange and lemon taste while the wild bee balm’s red flowers taste like oregano and mint. Use monarda in jellies and preserves, fruit salads and try it in cakes or scones.
  • Chives (allium schoenoprasum) The lavender-pink chive flowers bloom in spring through June. Pinch off the flower, break into tiny florets and sprinkle on salads, or add to omelets and soups. Alliums include leeks, chives, garlic, garlic chives and are all edible herbs with mild to strong flavors.
  • Lavender (lavandula angustifolia) Lavender is a woody perennial with more then a hundred varieties of white, pink, and shades of blue and purple. The blossoms are produced on stems 8 to 10" long and bloom in June in our zone. Use lavender to flavor honeys, jellies, cookies and cakes, drinks, grilled meats, chicken and fish. Harvest for drying when the first buds appear, bind the stems with a rubber band and hang in a dry, dark, warm spot. When they are fully dried, pack in plastic bags for culinary use.
  • Nasturtiums (tropaeolum majus) These bright annual flowers come in orange, red and yellow shades. They bloom from midsummer until the first frost. Add nasturtiums to salads, vinegars, and soups and use as a bold and colorful garnish. Chef Marty Qually of Quisine 360 picks them fresh from home gardens. "They lend a peppery taste to salads and they survive!"
  • Squash Blossoms (curcubita pepo) Edible flowers from the squash family--zucchini, yellow crookneck, pattypan, winter squash--are used in Italian and Mexican cuisine. The large and beautiful flowers may be stuffed, breaded and fried as a tasty appetizer. The blooms last only about a day, so you need to use them shortly after picking.

For an expanded list of edible flowers, visit two websites I found helpful in my search: www.whatscookingamerica.net/edibleflowers and www.fitnessandfreebies.com/food/edible flowers

Read other articles on growing herbs or vegetables

Read other gardening articles by Sue Williams