The culinary use of flowers dates back thousands of years to the Chinese, Greek and Romans. Today there is a resurgence of interest in edible flowers. Are all flowers that aren't poisonous edible? Definitely not. Listed below are a few simple rules to follow before sampling flowers.
- Eat flowers only when you are positive they are edible. If uncertain, consult a good reference book on edible flowers prior to consumption.
- Just because flowers are served with food does not mean they are edible. It's easy and very attractive to use flowers for garnish on plates or for decoration, but avoid using non-edible flowers this way. Many people believe that anything on the plate can be eaten. They may not know if the flower is edible or not and may be afraid to ask.
- If pesticides are necessary, use only those products labeled for use on edible crops.
- Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centers. In many cases these flowers have been treated with pesticides not labeled for food crops.
- Do not eat flowers picked from the side of the road. Once again, possible herbicide use eliminates these flowers as a possibility for use.
- Remove pistils and stamens from flowers before eating. Eat only the flower petals for most flowers.
- Different flavors occur in plants when grown in different locations because of soil types, fertilization, and culture. Environmental conditions play a big role as well. What has excellent flavor at one time may taste different at the end of the season or the next year.
- Introduce flowers into your diet in small quantities one species at a time. Too much of a good thing may cause problems for your digestive system.
- If you have allergies, introduce edible flowers gradually, as they may aggravate some allergies.
- Enjoy the different flavors and colors that edible flowers add to many foods.
Collect flowers at the optimum time. Pick fully open flowers in the cool of the day. Flowers that are not fully open (unless buds are desired) or those starting to wilt should be avoided. Sample a flower or two for flavor before harvesting. Remove the pistils and stamens because the pollen can detract from the flavor of the flower as well as cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. After harvest, place long-stemmed flowers in water and then in a cool location. Short stemmed flowers should be placed between layers of damp paper toweling or in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Immediately before using, gently wash the flowers to remove dirt and check for insects. Before washing, test one flower for colorfastness. Some tend to discolor in water.
Only the petals of some flowers such as rose, tulip, yucca and lavender are edible. Separate the flower petals from the rest of the flower just prior to use to keep wilting to a minimum. Roses, dianthus, English daisies, and marigolds have a bitter white area at the base of the petal where it was attached to the flower. Break or cut off this portion before using.
This article originally appeared in the July 21, 1995 issue, p. 112.