Petal to the Metal: Dining on Daisies
by Michael Braunstein
Friend Anna had a problem. It’s springtime and she couldn’t decide what to plant in the small space bordering the front porch. I suggested a couple rows of Swiss chard so she could have greens for the kitchen. “I want something pretty, with colors,” she complained. “Well, there’s rainbow chard and it’s gorgeous.” She wasn’t convinced. Solution? Flowers. The right varieties can find their way to the dining table just as easily as Swiss chard, colorful and tasty. But rule of thumb for life in general: Just because it’s pretty doesn’t mean you should pick ‘em.
Flowers have always been more than just an optical distraction or ornamental addition. Flowers themselves can be a dish to enjoy. Even if you have lowered your nose to enjoy a blossom, you may still be one of those who turns up your nose at the thought of eating a rose or daisy petal. Well, chew on this: you’ve already eaten flowers before if you have ever had broccoli or artichokes. All they are is a form of immature flower.
No Chemical Crocus, Please. When gathering flowers for the dining table, follow some common-sense rules. Some parts of blossoms have more allergens than the petals. You may want to avoid the internal workings such as the pistils and stamens where the pollen is formed and stored. And with most flowers, you’ll want to discard those little green sheath-like outer petals called sepals as they can add bitterness to the taste. The exception is with pansies, violas and Johnny-jump-ups where the sepals add a spicy flavor. And if you’ve never tried them before, begin conservatively so that you know which flowers agree with you.
If you’re one of those people who still allow poison sprays like herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizers near your house, then don’t eat the flowers. Those poisons don’t just disappear after they have been applied to lawns or gardens. They stay in foods and flowers and chances are you don’t want them in your body.
Then, some flowers are considered just plain poisonous. A partial list includes azalea, crocus, daffodil, foxglove, oleander, rhododendron, jack-in-the-pulpit, lily of the valley, poinsettia and wisteria. Informed foraging is fine but eat flowers from a proper location or source. You wouldn’t eat a hamburger you found lying by the side of the road. Don’t presume it’s ok to pick the flowers there either.
Pick flowers in the morning or evening when water content is at its peak. Sample a flower or two for flavor before harvesting. Remember, the taste of a plant is due largely to the area and environment it grew in. Check for insects and pick healthy blooms. Gently rinse to remove dirt and allow to drain. Once harvested, flowers will not keep long – even when refrigerated – so plan to serve within a few hours of harvesting.
Some flowers people often enjoy eating include the following.
NOTE: Included information on the healing properties of these flowers is from The Herb Book by Jonathan Lust.
Apple Blossoms (Malus species) The flowers are delicate, with a floral taste. Appleseeds are considered unhealthy in large amounts. Dr. Lust: Apple wine was described by the physician Galen in the 2nd century as a cure-all.
Basil flowers (Osimum basilicum) Basil leaf is a favorite for salads, pasta sauces and pesto. But the blooms have a flavor of their own. As with most every plant, when energy is put into producing a bloom, something has to give. That means that other parts of the plant may lose some taste. The blossoms taste much like the leaves, but with a milder essence. There is a hint of lemon or mint.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) Calendula is actually the common marigold but the typical ornamental isn’t the best tasting. These are best when selected specifically as one of the edible varieties. They taste a little like saffron, spicy, tangy, peppery, adds a golden hue to the plate. (Interesting fact: Commercial chicken feed often includes marigold petals to give a strong yellow tint to the hens’ eggs. Tricky.) Lust: Anti-spasmodic, flowers good for colitis, cramps, ulcers; for fever and anti-nausea.
Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) Has a faint apple flavor and is good as a tea. Lust: medicinal properties soothe asthma, help against insomnia, decoctions ameliorate toothache.
Dandelion This dandy is the lion king of the nutrition jungle. Flowers are excellent tasting, leaves are wonderful in salads and sources tout the powerful blood purifying properties of the plant. Don’t eat the ones out of your yard if you use poison.
Hibiscus This is a beautiful bloom that makes a wonderful tea decoction, resulting in a rose-colored tea with a lemony flavor. Lust describes that the musk-mallow version is considered an aphrodisiac. (I will not confirm.)
Lavender (Lavendula species) Floral, perfumey flavor. Lust: Soothes migraine headache, flatulence, dizziness. Note: This is one of the blooms that some sources say may be harmful in large amounts.
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) My Omaha favorite. Has a distinct lemony taste with floral, pungent overtones. Great in salads.
Common Mallow (Malva sylrestris) Has a sweet, delicate taste like — guess what? — Yep, marshmallow. Chew the thick twig stem or use the blossoms. At certain times of the year when the twig stem is moist, you’ll swear you’re eating a marshmallow. Blossoms are sweet.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) is a delicate trumpet-shaped bloom. Buds are often pickled and used like capers. The blossom petals have a sweet, mildly pungent, peppery flavor. Lust: Excellent chopped and blended with cream cheese or butter. Medicinal qualities include antiseptic, expectorant, good for chest cold, promotes formation of new blood cells.
Rose (Rosa rugosa or R. gallica officinalis) Rose petals have a sweet, aromatic flavor. The stronger the fragrance, the stronger the flavor. The lower (whitish) part of the petal is bitter. Rose hips are also edible. Note that rosehips are often included in supplemental vitamins as a premium ingredient.
Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Important to remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit HeartlandHealing.com.