Wild and Cultivated Flowers You Can Eat
By Rebecca Slater, student
University of Vermont
Contact: Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
If you do all your shopping at the grocery store or local farmer's market, you are missing out on some interesting foods, those found in your own backyard. I'm talking about edible flowers.
Here are some you might want to sample:
APPLE (Malus sp.)--Apple blossoms have a mildly sweet, floral flavor. These trees grow wild in some parts of the Northeast. If you eat blossoms from cultivated apples, make sure they haven’t been sprayed yet. They also work well as a pretty pink and white garnish.
BEE BALM (Monarda didyma)--Bee Balm is a hardy perennial. The red flowers have a minty flavor, as Monarda is a member of the mint family. Anyone who has grown Bee Balm knows that it is very easy to grow and can become somewhat invasive in a spot it likes.
CALENDULA (Calendula officinalis)--Calendula is a lovely, self-seeding annual. The deep yellow or orange petals add a beautiful touch to a green salad and can also be used as a garnish. Calendula has a slightly bitter flavor, and it best used with tangier greens.
CHICORY (Cichorium intybus)--Chicory is a common roadside weed with beautiful periwinkle blue flowers in midsummer. Many people who lived through the Depression remember making a coffee substitute out of Chicory. Make sure you don't pick flowers on heavily traveled roads because of the pollution absorbed by the plant. Chicory has a pleasant, mild-bitter taste that has been compared to endive.
CHAMOMILE (Chamaemelum nobile)--English Chamomile is a hardy perennial that prefers moist soil and full sun. The flowers are small and daisy-like and have a sweet, apple-like flavor. CAUTION: Ragweed sufferers may also be allergic to Chamomile. It contains thuaone and should be eaten in moderation.
DANDELION (Taraxacum officinale)--Yes, this is the common weed. If the yellow flowers are picked young, they have a sweet, honey-like flavor. Mature flowers are bitter. Do not eat Dandelions from lawns that have been sprayed! If in doubt, ask or just don’t eat them. As you know, Dandelions will grow just about anywhere.
DAYLILY (Hemerocallis fulva)--Daylilies, which are hardy, indestructible perennials, have lovely blossoms in many shades. Their flavor is a combination of asparagus and zucchini. Some people think that different colored blossoms have different flavors. They make a nice garnish and may be stuffed for hors-deuvres or made into fritters.
DIANTHUS (Dianthus sp.)--Dianthus, or pinks as they are sometimes called, are annuals or hardy perennials that prefer sandier soils and full sun. The spicy, clove-like flavor is more intense in some species. D. caryophyllus, a tender perennial grown usually as an annual, is reported to have great flavor. Always remove the white-colored base of the petal, as it may be bitter.
ELDERBERRY (Sambucus canadensis)--Elderberry is a large shrub or small tree that grows wild in many parts of the Northeast. The blossoms are a creamy color and have a sweet flavor. The fruit is used to make wine. CAUTION: All other parts of this plant are poisonous! Do not even eat the stems of the flowers!
LAVENDER (Lavendula sp.)--Lavender is a beautiful and wonderful smelling perennial or small shrub depending on where you live. The flowers are lavender, of course, and have a perfumed flavor. The flavor may be very intense, so use them sparingly. Lavender prefers a light, well-drained soil and full sun.
LILAC (Syringa vulgaris)--The common Lilac, a familiar shrub sometimes seen growing next to abandoned farmhouses (and in yards everywhere) is remarkably hardy and easy to grow. An added bonus is the beautiful purple or white "lilac-scented" flowers in late May and June. The flowers, which have a delicate floral flavor, make a beautiful garnish or can be added to vanilla frozen yogurt for a treat.
MINT (Mentha sp.)--Mints are clean-smelling, hardy perennials. Members of the mint family are characterized by their square stems. The flavor of the flowers is minty, with different overtones depending on the variety. Other members of the mint family with edible flowers are Bee Balm (mentioned above) and Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis).
ROSE (Rosa sp.)--Roses can be shrubs or climbers. Some are hardy, some are not. They all prefer rich soil and full sun (except for a few species that will grow in some shade) The beautiful, perfumed flowers, which come in shades of pink, red, yellow, or white, have a perfumed flavor. It is important to remove the sour petal base.
SCENTED GERANIUM (Pelargonium sp.)--This is a tender perennial usually grown for its scented leaves. Scented geraniums come in many "flavors," ranging from rose to nutmeg to lemon and mint. The flowers may be white, pink, red, or purple and resemble the flowers of the annual ivy-leaved Pelargonium. The flower flavor generally corresponds to the variety. For example, a lemon-scented geranium would have lemon-scented flowers.
SQUASH BLOSSOMS (Cucrbita pepo sp.)--The blossoms of the annual squash plant are a vibrant yellow color and possess a mild vegetable flavor. They prefer soil enriched with organic matter and full sun. Squash blossoms, like daylilies, may be stuffed or made into fritters.
SWEET WOODRUFF (Galium odoratum)--Sweet Woodruff is a spreading, groundcover perennial with pretty, star-shaped white flowers in early May. The flower flavor is sweet and grassy with a hint of vanilla. Sweet Woodruff prefers partial to full shade and rich soil.
Remember that flowers aren't just appealing to the eyes or nose any more. Many are edible and can be used to add a "touch of spice" to your everyday dishes.