Edible Flowers: Pretty Safe and Plenty Pretty
These buds are for you — blossoms that are as at home on a dinner plate as in a vase
Flowers make a lovely addition to the dinner table. They also can prettify a dinner plate. What’s more, many edible flowers are blooming with flavor and nutrients — vitamin A and C, as well as small amounts of calcium, iron and other.
This doesn’t mean that it’s safe to pluck just any old blossom from your garden or a patch of wildflowers to toss into a salad, though. Read on to find out how to safely identify, grow and use edible flowers in your cooking.
While many flowers that grow in the wild are perfectly safe to eat, a handful of varieties are dangerous or poisonous. The best way to be sure you don’t gather a bouquet of flowers that could make you sick is to do some research. One great source for identifying safe varieties of edible flowers: the agricultural extension service from a large university, such as North Carolina State University.
Besides learning which flowers are safe to eat, consider environmental factors. If you live in a farming area, the soil may be contaminated with agricultural runoff. Grazing animals, crop sprays and fertilizer can potentially contaminate soil, which in turn contaminates plants. Be sure any flowers you pick are a safe distance from active farms.
Related: 7 Poisonous Plants to Avoid
Any flowers sold for consumption in the supermarket will be safe to eat, but they can be hard to find. Relatively few grocery stores carry edible flowers and those that do are likely to have a limited selection.
Another source: a flower shop. Some sell blooms marked as edible, but even if they don’t, they may offer a variety of flower that are known to be safe to eat in general. Ask the florist if the blossoms in the store are okay to eat. Flowers grown for bouquets may have been sprayed with fertilizers or herbicides that aren’t intended for contact with edible produce.
Similarly, “decorative flowers may be stored in water containing a preservative solution that won’t necessarily affect petals, but that you definitely don’t want to ingest,” says Alexandra C. Townsend, a florist in New York City.
If you have a green thumb, consider sowing your own culinary crops. Many edible annuals can be grown from seed, including violets and violas, pansies and dandelions.
You also can harvest flowers from vegetable plants. Greens like broccoli and arugula produce beautiful, edible white and yellow flowers; squash and zucchini produce delicious blossoms. Obviously, if any of these wind up on your dinner plate in flower form they won’t go on to produce veggies. But given how prolific certain plants are (think about end-of-summer zucchini) sacrificing a few future fruits seems a small price to pay.
Prepare them properly
Because flowers produce large amounts of pollen, most people with severe allergies or asthma should savor flowers with their eyes rather than their taste buds.
Even if you don’t have allergies, it’s a good idea to remove the pistil and stamen at the center of a flower. These are the organs that produce and store the bulk of pollen in a flower. It’s also a good idea to remove the sepal — the green leaf-like portion just below the edible blossom. Whether plucking in the wild or in your garden, most blossoms are best eaten within three to four hours of picking. If that’s not practical, you can store cut, long-stemmed flowers in water inside the fridge. Short-stemmed varieties are best stored in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel to maintain humidity.
Gently wash edible flowers in cold water before you prep them, dry them by hand and snip off the stems (they tend to be fibrous and chewy). Try edible flowers fresh in salads or lightly cooked in omelets. Or try these seasonal summer treats.
Lavender and Honey Spiced Nuts
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. In a large metal bowl, whisk 1 egg white until it’s white and frothy. Stir in 1 ounce of honey, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and ¼ cup of fresh lavender petals. Add 1 cup of raw nuts, such as almonds, pecans or cashews. Mix with a spoon until the nuts are fully coated. Bake the nuts in a single layer on a nonstick baking sheet for 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a perforated rack to cool before serving.
Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Herbed Ricotta
Start with 12 squash blossoms; clean and set aside. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together 1 cup ricotta cheese, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves and flowers. Scoop 1 heaping teaspoon of the mixture into the center of a squash blossom, carefully wrapping the petals around the mixture. Continue until you’ve filled all the blossoms.
In a separate bowl, whisk together 2 eggs. Scoop 1 cup of cornmeal onto a small plate. Heat a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan with an inch of vegetable oil until a candy thermometer inserted in the oil reads 375 degrees. One at a time, dip the stuffed squash blossoms into the egg mixture and then roll through the cornmeal. Drop each into the oil and fry until the flowers are lightly brown, turning once. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to cool.
Tip: Leave the stem on the squash blossoms to make it easier to dip them in the egg and cornmeal. They can be removed after frying but are relatively tender and can be eaten too.
Arrange 24 violets face up on a sheet of plastic wrap. In a small spray bottle, combine 1 cup of water with ½ teaspoon of almond extract. Spray flowers lightly until petals are evenly saturated. Sprinkle with fine sugar, making sure coat them evenly. Allow the flowers to dry overnight in a warm spot. Store in an airtight container for up to three days. They make a sweet, crunchy snack that’s also great as a desert garnish or in a salad.