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Flowers Provide Culinary Variety

Flowers are the delight of gardeners. Their beautiful colors, shapes and fragrances are the inspiration for gardening efforts by countless hobby horticulturists. There is more to flowers, however, than meets the eye or the nose. Your taste buds can also appreciate the many edible flowers we can grow.

Cultures all over the world cook with flowers for the unique flavors and colors they provide to food. I like to cook – a surprising number of gardeners do – and I’ve gained quite a reputation with dinner guests for using edible flowers regularly in dishes I prepare, especially salads.

Using edible flowers in cooking has not been common in America. But before you think the idea too radical, remember that most of us enjoy eating broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes, all of which are flower buds. Like growing and using fresh herbs, I think using edible flowers will become increasingly popular. Indeed, many restaurants make use of edible flowers these days. Not all flowers are edible. Of course, some flowers, like the plants that produce them, are poisonous. Because most people are not familiar with edible flowers, we need a good, reliable reference on the subject listing those flowers that are safe to eat.

A number of books on edible flowers are available, but I have found “Edible Flowers from Garden to Palate” by Cathy Wilkinson Barash an excellent source of information. This combination cookbook and gardening guide includes 280 recipes using edible flowers from herbs, vegetables and ornamentals. The author also provides general gardening advice and detailed background and cultural information for each of the 67 flowers included.

The most popular and well-known edible flowers are covered in a section called “The Big Ten” that include calendula, chives, daylily, mint, nasturtium, pansy, rose, sage, marigold and squash blossoms. The author is very precise in designating which flowers are edible, including careful descriptions, photographs and the scientific or Latin names of the plants.

A number of plants grown for their edible flowers are cool-season plants that thrive in Louisiana from now until May, making this an ideal time to plant them. Many will bloom through winter with their peak season next spring. Roses bloom heavily until early to mid-December. Some plants producing edible flowers that can be planted now include arugula (Eruca vesicaria sativa), borage (Borago officinalis), broccoli (Brassica oleracea), calendula (Calendula officinalis), chicory (Cichorium intybus), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), chrysanthemum (Dendranthema grandiflorum), coriander (Coriander sativum), dianthus (Dianthus deltoides), carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus), daylily (Hemerocallis sp.), English daisy (Bellis perennis), Johnny-jump-up (Viola tricolor), pansy (Viola x wittrockiana), mustard (Brassica sp.), nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), radish (Raphanus sativus), rose (Rosa sp.), society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), tulip (Tulipa) and violet (Viola odorata).

To get the maximum quality, you should pick flowers during the coolest part of the day, preferably early morning. Select flowers before they reach their prime. Choose those that are young and not completely open. The flowers should appear very fresh and bright. Harvest flowers on the day you intend to use them. After harvesting, place long-stemmed flowers in a container of warm water and put them in a cool place until they are used. Pick short-stemmed flowers within three to four hours of use. To store, place short-stemmed blossoms between layers of damp paper toweling or put them in plastic bag in your refrigerator. Just before using the flowers, gently wash them in cool water. Removing the stamens and pistils from the flowers prior to eating is optional. Barash recommends eating only the petals of some flowers, including calendula, chrysanthemum, lavender, rose, tulip and yucca.

When using edible flowers, Barash gives these guiding rules:

  • If you do not positively know that a flower is edible, don’t eat it.
  • Use only edible flowers for garnishes.
  • Do not eat flowers that have been sprayed with pesticides.
  • Because of the possibility of pesticide use on them, do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centers.The above article was produced by the Louisiana Agricultural Center. For more information log on to www.lsuagcenter.com.

About the author

Dan Gil

Dan Gil

Dan Gill is an Associate Professor in Consumer Horticulture with the LSU AgCenter, a position he has held since 2001. He earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in horticulture from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Before moving to Baton Rouge to take on statewide responsibilities, he was headquartered in New Orleans as an extension horticulturist from 1980 to 2001. While there, he became established as a reliable source of helpful, useful advice on lawn and garden topics through his media work.

He is the spokesperson for the LSU AgCenter’s Get It Growing project, a statewide educational effort in home horticulture utilizing radio, Internet, TV and newsprint. Gardeners throughout Louisiana read his columns in local newspapers watch his gardening segments on local TV stations, listen to him on local radio and access content on the Internet.

In the New Orleans area, Dan appears weekly on the Channel 4 Morning News, writes a weekly gardening column for The Times-Picayune and hosts the Saturday morning Garden Show on WWL 870-AM, a live call-in radio program that reaches southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

Dan is author of Month-by-Month Gardening in Louisiana and co-author of the Louisiana Gardener’s Guide, Month-by-Month Gardening in Texas and Texas Gardener’s Resource. His “Only in Louisiana” column appears monthly in the Louisiana Gardener Magazine, and his articles have also appeared nationally in Fine Gardening Magazine.

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