Archive for Thursday, June 2, 2005

Edible flowers expand menu

June 2, 2005


There is a popular 1950s book and a Doris Day movie titled "Please Don't Eat the Daisies." Although I'm not old enough to remember either, growing up I can remember asking myself: "Why would I want to eat daisies?"

The culinary use of flowers dates back thousands of years to the Chinese, Greeks and Romans. And, recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in edible flowers and "non-vegetable" vegetables.

As you continue to plan and plant your flower and vegetable gardens, you may wish to include some of these plants to spruce up a salad or lend a new flavor to a meal:

Most gardeners are familiar with the commonly consumed portions of vegetables. Each part considered edible is unique to the specific plant or group of plants. However, there are a whole host of plant parts that are, in fact, edible and rather nutritious. For example, snap beans are well known for their pods and seeds. Did you know that the leaves are edible as well?

Likewise, we traditionally eat beets, a modified stem portion of the plant. Here again, the leaves can be consumed in salads or as a garnish. Other plants whose leaves are edible include broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, kohlrabi, okra, onions, English peas, sweet potatoes and radishes. The stem tips of both cucumber and sweet potatoes are edible.

Who doesn't enjoy a juicy slice of cold watermelon on a hot Fourth of July? Don't stop with eating just the interior pulp; the rind of the fruit is edible, too. Finally, if you're still hungry, the blooms of squash have long been considered a delicacy in fancy restaurants. Their unique yellow-orange color and sweet flavor add a touch of sunlight to an otherwise dull green salad.

Vegetables are not the only plants that produce edible parts. There are a wide variety of flowers, both ornamental and herbs, that are full of flavor and easy to grow. Specifically, herbs provide us with many exciting possibilities because not only are the leaves, stems and seeds edible, but the blossoms are as well.

Try adding the flowers of these to your next meal: oregano, sage, thyme, savory, marjoram and basil. The essential flavor-making oils found in the stems, leaves and seeds are also found in the blooms. For an added zing to a salad, include the flowers of onions, chives or garlic. The sweet, fragrant and flavorful blossoms not only will add flavor, they also will add texture and color, making the display more unique and fun.

Other flowers not traditionally considered a regular on the menu but are, indeed, edible are rose petals, pansies, chrysanthemums, daylilies, nasturtium and fuchsia.

The trick to cooking with or adding flowers and "non-vegetable" vegetables to a meal is proper selection, handling and preparation. Here are a few tips to get you started:

¢ Eat flowers only when you are positive they are edible. If uncertain, consult a reliable reference book.

¢ Only consume plant parts that either have not been sprayed with pesticides or have been sprayed with pesticides that are labeled for food crops.

¢ Remove the pistils and stamens from flowers. The pollen they produce can detract from the flavor and may cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals.

¢ Pick and use fully open flowers.

¢ Wash them with cold water to remove dirt and bugs and store them in a cool place until you are ready to use them.

¢ Sample a flower or two for flavor and desirability before adding them to the mix.

¢ Finally, introduce these parts into your diet a little at a time. Too much of a good thing can be hard on the digestive system.


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