People grow flowers for many different reasons. They grow them to add color to their landscape, as a border for walkways, or to highlight an architectural structure, to name a few possibilities. One of the reasons to grow flowers that many people never consider is for food, flavoring, or garnish.
The popularity of edible flowers is cyclic. Use of edible flowers has been traced back to Roman times. Edible flowers are part of several different cuisines around the world including Asian and Middle Eastern. They were popular in Victorian England, with early American settlers, and in the 1970's in the United States (although in the 1970's, edible flowers were perceived as "fancy" and quickly went out of fashion again). Some quite common and frequently used vegetables are technically flower buds. These include broccoli, artichokes, and capers.
Several years ago restaurants in California began specializing in edible flowers on their menus. Now, such restaurants exist all across the United States including in Texas. The Sonic Drive-In here in Abilene featured a milk shake last year with lavender flowers in it.
People cooking at home are taking advantage of the delicate flavors, beautiful colors and elegant presentation edible flowers make possible. Edible flowers used for the making of the main dish, a salad or a dessert provide a delicious change in the menu. They may also be used to make teas or wines to accompany the menu.
When cooking with flowers keep in mind that not all flowers are edible. Some flowers are quite poisonous. The common names of some poisonous flowers are the same or very similar to the common names of the edible flowers. Using the scientific name of the flower provides the safest way to identify edible and non-edible flowers when purchasing. Before harvesting a large amount of any flower, do a taste test to ensure that the flavor is acceptable and not made bitter by the minerals in the soil.
Be careful when harvesting edible flowers. For the best flavor, harvest early in the morning. Also, first be sure the flowers are actually edible. Do not harvest from roadsides. Roadside flowers may have been sprayed with pesticides not designated for human consumption or contaminated with automotive fluids or fumes. Do not harvest flowers from beds fertilized with untreated animal manure within four months of harvesting. Finally, do not use flowers as food purchased from florists, garden centers or nurseries unless they are designated as safe for consumption according to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension at North Carolina State University.
The safest way to get edible flowers is grow them yourself. Information on how to do that can be found in The Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasy. Cooking with Edible Flowers by Miriam Jacobs provides, as you would expect, recipes for cooking with edible flowers. Hoopla gives the Abilene Public Library access to both these titles. If a gardener desires a trip to the wild side, see Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn't Know You Could Eat by Ellen Zachos or A Quick Guide to Wild Edible Plants by Lytton John Musselman. Both are available in paper at the Abilene Public Library. Check them out!
Article Contributed by A. Marie Skufca, Information Services Librarian at the Main Branch of the Abilene Public Library