Edible Flowers

by frankbeswick

Some plants grown for beauty can also grace our tables and flavour our drinks.

Planet Earth is a wonderful place, rich in the blessings of nature. There is a great variety of edible plants to enjoy. We can savour their leaves and petals in salads, we can dine on their roots, and we can use them in drinks. Sometimes flowers make a delightful garnish. In this article I am focusing on garden plants, for I am conscious that while I am writing in the UK most of my readership is American, so there is a difference between the wild plants in the two countries.

Picture of a dahlia courtesy of Stevebidmead, of Pixabay

Common Edibles

Most of us eliminate dandelion from our gardens, as we call it a weed,but in fact most parts of it are edible. I have read different opinions of the stem. Some say that no plant with a milky sap in the stem is edible, but others make an exception for dandelion. I have played it safe by never eating the stem, but I have consumed dandelion leaves in salad, finding them tasty, and I have made their flowers into wine. Just a word of advice here, two glasses of it make you want to urinate! The roots of dandelion used to be picked to make dandelion coffee.  

One common garden flower that was originally introduced as an edible is the dahlia. Its great variety of flower shape conceals the fact that it is related to the daisy and the sunflower, and we know that the latter produces edible seeds. Dahlia petals can be used in salads, but use only the petals,not the reproductive organs. The bulbs are edible. Initially they taste like celery, though they become sweeter with storage. Tuberous begonias are also edible,you can eat the leaves, flowers and stems. However, those with gout, rheumatism or similar conditions should avoid eating begonias as they contain oxalic acid. 

The Rosaceae, the huge family to which roses belong contains a great variety of edible plants, including apples,  pears and quinces,as do plums, damsons and cherries. Rose petals can be added as a garnish to salads, though darker cultivars are said to have the stronger flavour. These petals can be used to provide a subtle flavour to a homemade wine. Take a pint of petals, soak them for three days and then add sugar, yeast and yeast nutrient. Leave to ferment out and mature.Some cooks garnish ice cream with rose petals. Rose hips, the little swellings behind the flower are full of vitamin C, they are made into rosehip syrup,but the seeds inside have to be filtered out as they are an irritant. This syrup can be made in  a domestic kitchen.

Some other members of the Rosaceae are eaten or drunk. Potentilla repans, cinquefoil, has petals that are brewed into a herbal tea. Another member of this family is Potentilla anserina, sometimes known as Argentina anserina, popularly called silverweed, is known for its edible tubers. Before the advent of the potato silverweed was a staple food in the Celtic regions of the British Isles, where it was known as the seventh bread.

Pumpkins and Others

Pumpkins, known as Squashes in the UK, and Zucchini, along with marrows, have lovely flowers that are perfectly edible and are highly  prized by chefs. They can be fried in a tempura/batter, but also stuffed with soft cheese and honey or with an olive tapenade, a kind of sauce. They can be eaten raw, but take out the stamens etc from the middle. The pumpkin will happily grow on after the flower has been taken.

Another quite large plant, all parts of which are edible, is fennel, a popular medicinal herb. There are two main types, bronze fennel and florence fennel. All parts of the plant are edible and it is known to have medicinal uses, being a remedy for stomach pains. An infusion of fennel is sometimes given to babies as gripe water to cure wind. Florence fennel has a large, edible root,but bronze fennel is grown mainly for seeds. The flowers and leaves of both kinds can be used in teas or infusions. Fennel pollen is a popular addition to soups and stews, to which it adds great flavour. This large herb is used in conjunction with many dishes, but it has a longstanding association with fish dishes.

Another large plant common in gardens with edible leaves, flowers and fruit is hibiscus. It is commonly said that all varieties of hibiscus are edible, but it is also worth noting that there are many hybrids of hibiscus with other flowers, not all of which may be edible. Hibiscus is used to make a tea which has a good medicinal reputation. Herbalists recommend it for bringing down high blood pressure and for weight loss. Some claims that it can lower blood sugar are made, which would make it a useful ingredient in the diet of a prediabetic keen to prevent their becoming diabetic. It is also said to be good for the liver. As it is rich in anti-oxidants it might well have anti-cancer properties.   

Lavender petals are edible and can be used to make a fragrant tea. Flowers and flower buds can be sprinkled on cakes or ice cream to provide extra flavouring.No other part of the lavender is edible.

A beautiful blue flower is the herb borage, which grows in gardens. It is a prolific self-seeder which will easily spread in your garden.The leaves make a a kind of tea, and they remind me of cucumber, but the flowers make a garnish which adds both taste and beauty to a summer salad.Salads can also be augmented by nasturtium leaves, which add a slight peppery flavour.

 

Considerations

I have left out some plants intentionally. One is honeysuckle, whose berries are sometimes eaten, because although some species of this plant, whose technical name is Lonicera, are edible, some varieties are toxic and can cause heart problems. It takes a very knowledgeable person to know which is which, and I do not think it is worth the risk. Similarly, I have omitted calendula, marigold, because although calendula petals have medicinal value, there is another plant,  tagetes, which has the name marigold, which does not have the same medicinal value. Bear in mind also that not all plants that are edible for humans can be eaten by our domestic animals, so if you keep pets, even horses, do your research on what they can eat. 

This article focused on garden plants, but it is not exhaustive, and anyone taking an interest in edible flowers should get themselves a good book on the subject, because there is always a danger of misidentifying less common plants, especially hybrids. Flowers are part of the great blessings of Mother Earth, we can enjoy them and sometimes eat them.

Updated: 05/20/2020, frankbeswick
 
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frankbeswick 11 days ago

Hibiscus and Okra belong to the plant family Malvaceae, the Mallows, but they belong to different genera within this family. Okra belongs to the genus Abelmoschus, whereas Hibiscus belongs to the genus Hibiscus. So Okra is not a variety of Hibiscus. A variety is a botanical term for a distinction within a species [below species level] but genus [plural genera] is a classification above species level.

frankbeswick 11 days ago

Ewell or Euell Gibbons, a backwoodsman and healthy food enthusiast, who died in 1975.

blackspanielgallery 11 days ago

As for Ule Gibbons, I am uncertain of the spelling, since I only heard the name aloud. It could have been Yule, and again after these many years it might be remembered incorrectly.

I called the drink I had hibiscus tea, but I recall it being in a contained at a salad restaurant that I do not visit now, and am not certain it was tea, since I am not up on the exact definition. In one restaurant it was mixed with strawberries, if I recall. The contained was like tea containers, so I assumed it to be tea. Of course it was iced, (Not your style.)

I do not plan to return to the restaurant specializing in salads. On my last visit I got a tray with cheese in it, and had to put it with the used trays and get another. Then, sitting with a view of the washing station I observed trays being washed on the inside, then stacked. Realize the used trays were also stacked, so food from the inside on one would stick to the bottom of the other. Since no care for the bottom of the .trays was given, it then transferred to the inside of another "clean" tray. Not sanitary at all! Healthy food ruined with lack of sanitation. It could easily have been the individual washing, and not the restaurant's policy, but there are far too many other options to chance it.

frankbeswick 12 days ago

Yesterday I tried to get hibiscus tea from my local health food shop, as they did not stock it, so I contented myself with apple and cinnamon, for the cinnamon serves the same purpose as hibiscus- blood sugar control. At my last medical test I just crept into the prediabetic range, and as high blood sugar worsens Covid 19 [which I don't have] I wanted to take precautions.

I had not heard of Ule Gibbons.

blackspanielgallery 12 days ago

I have had hibiscus in drink, and I believe okra is a variety of hibiscus, flowering for a day, then producing a pod which we use in gumbo. I often wonder why people do not use yellow crooked neck squash and zucchini as flower gardens, since they produce beautiful yellow flowers.
I recall a person named Ule Gibbons who was an expert in edible plants. He was popular in the 60s. I know not if he was known outside the U, S., but suspect he was.

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