When people think of edible gardening, they usually think of the vegetables and fruits they grow each summer. In reality, there’s a lot more to eat in our gardens. Flowers have been used in cooking since medieval times. By growing these edible flowers in the right conditions, you can be serving up unique and beautiful dishes to impress any guest.
When choosing to use flowers in your cooking, it is important that you know how they were grown. Most flowers you’ll use should be grown in your yard, organically, using no pesticides or harmful fertilizers. If you want to take a cutting off of a nursery bought perennial, either check with the garden center on how it was cared for, or wait until the following year.
With any flower you are getting ready to serve, be sure to wash the blossoms thoroughly and carefully before eating. Start by washing the blooms in salt water and then in clear, cold water. This will help get rid of any dirt or grit, as well as any tiny insects that may be hiding in the petals.
Despite growing your garden organically, all of your flowers are not edible. Before harvesting any of your plants, do some research to be sure it is safe to eat the blossom. While many are not considered edible simply because they don’t taste very good, others are actually poisonous. Some of these to stay away from include sweet peas, clematis and iris. Other plants with stamens or styles in the center, such as tulips, can cause an allergic reaction if it is left in. So be sure to remove any stamen or styles before serving.
Some of the most common flowers that are safe to consume are pansies, violas, violets, nasturtiums, marigolds, lavender, roses, monarda, lilacs, begonias, daylilies, scented geraniums and mustard. You can also eat the blossoms of edible plants like zucchini, apple, citrus and runner beans, as well as the flowers of edible herbs, like chives.
All of these flowers have very different flavors. Nasturtiums are peppery while lavender and roses have a more delicate flavor that is delicious when mixed with homemade ice cream.
There’s lots you can do with these flowers when cooking, just be sure their flavors go along with your dish. Always try out your recipe before serving it at a party. Many of these plants vary in flavor just among their own varieties. For instance, orange or yellow bay leaves have a stronger flavor than the maroon variety.
You can use flowers to create flavored butters, delicious jellies or condense them into a liqueur to be poured on desserts. You can also candy them to create a dessert in itself. You can add them to salads, roasts or sauces, as well as float them in teas, soups or your punch bowl. Freeze them into ice cubes made of lemonade to add to iced tea or lemonade. You could use zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese as a unique side dish. Lastly, they can make great decorations on any cakes, cupcakes or as a garnish on any plate. If you are using edible flowers with a hot dish or beverage, add them at the very last moment. The heat will make them wilt.
When planning your garden this year, try to incorporate some of these edible flowers into the landscape. Your summer barbecue will never be the same.
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Now if we could only get some warmer weather.....Happy Spring!
Common Names: Shamrock, Clovers
Scientific Name: Oxalidaceae
Plant Type: Annual, Perennial, Houseplant
Sun: Part Shade
Water: Evenly moist soil, but be careful to not overwater
Bloom Time: Early Spring, Fall
Bloom Color: White, Lavender, Yellow, Pink
Height: 4 to 12 inches
‘Tis the season for shamrocks. Throughout the month of March you can find these plants everywhere in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. These beautiful plants, however, can be great houseplants during the winter, as well as accents in your container gardens throughout the summer.
Oxalis describes a huge family of bulbous plants that includes about 900 varieties. The ones you will find in garden centers typically come in three colors of foliage, green, red (look more like a purple) and maroon. There are some varieties with large leaves and other with much smaller leaves, all in the shape of shamrocks. There are also varieties that are known as weeds, invading your lawn or popping up in your garden bed, but there are others that are not as invasive.
Oxalis foliage not only vary in color and size, but their blooms vary in color as well. You can find oxalis with white, lavender, pink or even yellow blooms. These plants typically bloom best during the cooler months, like early spring or fall. They can, however, keep blooming sporadically throughout the summer, especially when they are fertilized. Their beautiful flowers and unique foliage make for great container plants, with lots of texture to add to you pots.
Much like their habits vary, so do their hardiness. Certain varieties are not perennials in our area, while others can tolerate the Midwest winters. Those that can make it through a winter here are often called woodsorrels. These include the weed variety that we all see in our lawn and garden.
Most oxalis that you’ll find for sale at garden centers around here do best in part shade, with well-drained soil that is kept evenly moist. While they don’t love the heat of the summer, they will do okay as long as they only get a few hours of sun or filtered sun. You’ll notice on really hot summer afternoons, in the evening, or in a heavy rain, that the leaves fold down, appearing to be wilted. No worries though, the plant is supposed to do this.
These charming little plants make a great gift or decoration during this time of year, but shouldn’t be forgotten about during the remainder of the season. Adding one to your container garden in the spring or to your home in the winter will add texture and color.