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CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A rose by any other name may smell as sweet. But how does it taste?Delicious, according to edible flower enthusiasts.At tea at Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire, England, in 1999, Denise Schreiber tasted rose petal ice cream for the first time: “I put a spoonful into my mouth and discovered heaven on earth. The fragrance of the roses enveloped my tongue like nothing else I had ever eaten. I was in love.”That discovery opened up “a whole world of edible flowers and recipes,” which she details in “Eat Your Roses … Pansies, Lavender and 49 Other Delicious Flowers” (St. Lynn’s Press, 2011), the book that grew from the seed planted by that first fragrant bite.Noelle Akin remembers tasting honeysuckle flowers as a child. “My aunt showed me that you could just pull the flower off the plant, and then lick the back of the flower and it’s secreting sugar,” said Akin, now manager of training and education for Petitti Garden Centers.But she didn’t really discover the range and versatility of edible flowers until she received a box of produce from The Chef’s Garden in Huron during the pandemic.“A.J. [Petitti, the company’s president] sent us this gift of flowers and some greens and some really cool unusual things,” she said. “And I thought, wow, I never really even thought about using these plants as edibles or garnishes or what have you.”The list of plants that produce edible flowers is long and wide-ranging, including both obvious and more unusual choices.“Some of the flavors are sweet to bitter, some of them are more aromatic or citrusy or perfumey than others. You have a soft, succulent texture, you might have a fuzzy texture, you might have a crisp texture or waxy texture,” Akin said. “Depending on what you prefer, your personal tastes, try them and see what you think.”The mint family is a good place to begin, she said, since it includes not just spearmint and peppermint but many other common garden plants, including basil, oregano, sage and lavender, which is perhaps the best-known culinary flower.“What can’t you use lavender for in the kitchen?” Schreiber writes in her book. She recommends English lavender, angustifolia, for its “sweet, subtle quality.”It is a key ingredient in herbes de Provence for savory dishes, and is often added to baked goods; when Schreiber gave a talk in February at Dayton Nursery in Norton, she passed out Russian tea cakes made with lavender. Akin suggested adding lavender to shortbread cookies. Jeni’s, the ice cream brand out of Columbus, has offered a Wildberry Lavender flavor for two decades.Bee balm (monarda), another member of the mint family, has edible petals, as well as being a great plant for pollinators, Akin said. It comes in a range of colors and is a native plant for Ohio. Schreiber likes bee balm with fish.Flowers of plants that produce fruit and vegetables can be tasty and attractive. Squash blossoms are popular in Italian cuisine, often stuffed with cheese, battered and fried, but other edible vegetable flowers include broccoli, beans and peas. Try blossoms of fruit trees, including apple, plum, cherry, nectarine and peach.The flowers of alliums such as onions and chives offer flavor without too much bite, Schreiber said. In one of the recipes in her book, parcooked green beans are tossed with onion flowers, pine nuts, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and garlic-infused butter and olive oil, and roasted at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes to crisp them up. Chive flowers, which will be blooming soon in local herb gardens, are pretty sprinkled on salads or folded into eggs.Pansies and violas — even the wild violets on your lawn — can be used for syrups and jam, and are popular edible decorations, whether floated in an ice ring, tossed in salads, or candied and used to adorn desserts.Another ubiquitous lawn flower, the humble dandelion, has a multitude of uses, according to Schreiber. The greens can be eaten raw in salads, but flowers should be cooked, and can be added to stir-fries or made into jelly, wine, liqueur and syrup. Young flowers are sweeter, turning more bitter with maturity.Many plants commonly grown as ornamentals produce edible flowers. The rose petals that inspired Schreiber are just one example, used in desserts, syrups, candies, baked goods and beyond. She noted that more fragrant roses will have a stronger flavor, and that the bitter white base of each petal should be pinched off.Daylilies, tulips and gladiolas, with the reproductive parts removed, can be used as an edible “cup,” and daylilies can be sauteed or stuffed like squash flowers. Dianthus, stock and hosta flowers are edible, Akin said. Lilacs can be mixed with cream cheese or yogurt, according to Schreiber’s book, and make sweet and fragrant decorations.You might even be able to forage from some of your hanging baskets. The box Akin received from The Chef’s Garden contained fuchsia flowers.“I had never eaten them until last year, but fuchsia is so popular out there. Those flowers are fine to eat. They are fairly juicy, I have to say. So it might not be for everybody. They do have a little bit of a bitter flavor to them.”Nasturtiums make a colorful addition to salads; both the leaves and the vividly colored flowers have a peppery bite. “Nasturtiums in a garden are fantastic plants because they’re a really good companion plant for vegetables and other herbs and other flowering plants,” Akin said. Schreiber writes that the seed pods can be pickled and used like capers.Calendulas, also known as pot marigolds, lend peppery flavor and bright yellow/orange colors to baked goods, soups, breads, corn muffins and compound butters.If you’re ready to start eating your flowers, both Akin and Schreiber say it’s a good idea to start gradually.“You never know how a certain individual will react to plant material, even though it’s considered non-toxic,” Akin said. “You want to sample it, see how you react, and then go from there. Start with a very small quantity, start slowly, and then work your way into it. I wouldn’t consume a lot of flowers at one time.”Schreiber agreed that flowers should be introduced slowly, like any other new food in your diet. In her talk, she offered several more “rules” for safe consumption, including: • Eat flowers only when you are positive they are edible. Just because it is served with food does not mean a flower is edible (such as decorative flowers on a wedding cake). And some are poisonous.• Eat only flowers that have been grown organically, without sprays. Flowers from florists, nurseries and garden centers have probably been sprayed.• Children under the age of 4 should not eat flowers because of possible reactions, and If you have hay fever, asthma or severe allergies, avoid eating members of the daisy family.• Remove pistils and stamens; eat only the petals.• Do not eat flowers picked from the side of a road. Besides exhaust emissions, you don’t know whose dog was there before you!The best way to know that your flowers are safe to eat is to grow them, Schreiber said. You’ll know they’re fresh and free of herbicides and pesticides, you get the satisfaction of harvesting your own food along with saving money, and they’re beautiful to boot.Akin offered some growing tips for edibles in your landscape. Start by preparing the soil before planting, ideally creating a 50/50 mixture of clay and organic matter such as compost, leaf humus, manure and/or peat.During the growing season, use a slow-release organic fertilizer such as Plant-Tone, and make sure your plants get one inch of water per week, whether by rainfall or watering deeply. For containers, water whenever the soil dries out.A cold, hard spray of water is the best first defense against pests. You can also squash soft-bodied insects like aphids, and hand-pick slugs (“I know that’s not appealing for a lot of people,” Akin said with a laugh.)If you must use an insecticide, neem oil is a certified organic product and is safe for edibles. Apply in the early morning or late evening, when pollinators are inactive.When you’re ready to pick your harvest, whether it’s flowers, fruit or herbs, it’s always best to do so in the morning when they’re “plump and full of water” for the best flavor, Akin said, even if you won’t be using them until dinnertime. Keep them in the refrigerator or another cool place, between two moist paper towels.“There’s quite a bit that you can grow that’s available out there, at your local garden center,” Akin said. “And if not the plant, the seeds. That’s a lost art, too. A lot of people don’t grow seeds, but it’s economical, it’s fairly simple to do, and I think it’s a great way to get your growing on and grow what you like to eat.”Asian Noodles Vinaigrette with NasturtiumsAuthor’s note: This recipe came to me after I had sampled a cold noodle dish at a friend’s house. The simplicity of the dish requires cooking only the noodles and dressing it with an Asian style vinaigrette that is slightly sweet with a little heat. The natural peppery flavor of nasturtiums makes in an ideal flower to add to the noodles.⅓ cup rice vinegar1 teaspoon sugar2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated1 tablespoon honey2 teaspoons sesame oil2 teaspoons Chinese sweet chili pepper sauce¼ cup canola oil1 pound cooked linguini1 carrot, peeled and grated1 red bell pepper, seeded and julienned½ small cucumber3 green onions, sliced on the diagonal1 cup nasturtium flowers and leaves, chopped¼ cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro leavesWhisk together vinegar, sugar, ginger, honey, sesame oil and sweet chili pepper sauce. Slowly whisk in canola oil until combined.Add cooked noodles, carrot, pepper, cucumber, green onions, nasturtiums and parsley/cilantro. Gently toss and serve.From “Eat Your Roses … Pansies, Lavender and 49 Other Delicious Flowers” by Denise Schreiber (St. Lynn’s Press, 2011; $8.69 Kindle)Rose Petal JamAuthor’s note: This delicately pink colored jam is best made with fragrant red or pink flowers for good color. Perfect to serve with tea crackers or to put on a warm croissant for a winter treat.½ pound dark red, red or dark pink rose petals2 cups granulated sugar4½ cups water½ cup lemon juiceRemove the bitter white bases from rose petals, then rinse petals and drain completely. Place in a glass or stainless steel bowl. Lightly sprinkle a small amount of sugar over the petals, covering them thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight.Place remaining sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Stir in rose petals and let simmer about 20 minutes.Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a rolling boil. Continue boiling for approximately 5 minutes until mixture thickens and the temperature on a candy thermometer is 220 degrees.Remove from heat and place in jelly jars and process in a hot water bath.From “Eat Your Roses … Pansies, Lavender and 49 Other Delicious Flowers” by Denise Schreiber (St. Lynn’s Press, 2011; $8.69 Kindle)Floral ButtersButters are an easy way to add floral accents to your food without a lot of fuss. The flower should match the food you are serving. Feel free to experiment. Butters can be made sweet or savory. Always start off with the lower amount of flower since some can be quite strong (especially lavender, monarda and lemon verbena).Use them on toast, on meat and fish or incorporate it into your baking if the recipe calls for butter and the flavor would match. Lavender butter and a sugar cookie recipe would be a lovely match. Melted lavender butter could be drizzled over a smoked pork chop. Chive flower butter on toast topped with a poached egg is a great twist on an old and sometimes bland dish.Simply combine a stick of real butter, softened, with one of the following: Calendula petals: ½ cup, mincedChive flower: 1 floret fresh, mincedEdible flower mix (dried): 2 teaspoons, finely crumbledLavender: 1 tablespoon fresh flowers and/or finely minced leaves, or ¼ tablespoon dried lavenderLemon verbena: 1 teaspoon finely minced flowers and/or leavesMonarda (bee balm): 1 tablespoon fresh, minced; or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried monardaNasturtiums: 1½ tablespoons fresh, minced flowers and/or leaves.Pineapple sage: 1 teaspoon leaves or flowers, finely mincedRose petals: 2 tablespoons fresh, minced, with white heels removed; or 1 tablespoon dried, finely crumbledThyme, basil or oregano flowers: 1 teaspoon, mincedMix with a spoon or hand mixer. If you like, you can use butter molds and keep in the freezer until ready to serve. Or refrigerate and use within a week.Be aware that lilacs do not make a good butter. Their fleshy flowers can become quite nasty looking and discolored.From “Eat Your Roses … Pansies, Lavender and 49 Other Delicious Flowers” by Denise Schreiber (St. Lynn’s Press, 2011; $8.69 Kindle)Note to readers: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links we may earn a commission.
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