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The Barefoot Gardener: Edible Bouquets

May 10, 2019, 10:11 AM HST (Updated May 10, 2019, 10:11 AM)
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Honeysuckle in the author’s yard makes a beautiful garnish or a sweet-tasting addition to desserts. PC: J.M. Buck

Want to add some color to a salad or other culinary creation? Think flowers. That’s right—numerous flowers are actually edible.

We don’t really think about it, but some common vegetables are actually flowers. Broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes and capers are all unopened flower buds.

Broccoli, when allowed to mature, will burst open in small yellow flowers that make a striking addition to salads or a colorful garnish when sprinkled on cooked meats and vegetables.

The list of edible flowers is long, so I will only go over the most commonly found blossoms (some may surprise you).

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Garlic and chives produce feathery purple flowers that add a peppery flavor. The spice saffron is from the stamen of the crocus flower. Arugula flowers taste similar to their leaves. They range in color from white to purple and are generally eaten raw in salads.
Marigolds and nasturtiums, which are essential in organic gardens for pest control, also sport tangy, edible blossoms.

Do you have a pond with cattails growing in it? The shoots and root ends of the cattail are edible and the pollen can be used in biscuits and breads.

Banana blossoms are also edible and are commonly used in Southeast Asian dishes. Remove the torpedo-shaped blossom from the end of the banana cluster and peel back the purple petals until you reach the tender white part. Slice the blossom then soak it in water until all of the sap is gone. The blossom can then be eaten raw or cooked, though keep in mind that unless the banana plant is a Southeast Asian variety, the blossom tends to be bitter if eaten raw.

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The petals of the carnation are quite sweet and can be used on desserts. A fun and classy thing I like to do is serve my guests a sweet wine with carnation petals floating in it. You can bet it will get some comments!

Chrysanthemums are another edible bouquet flower. Blanch the petals before sprinkling them on a salad for a tangy, slightly bitter essence.

Cornflower (also called Bachelor Button) is a natural food colorant and has a slightly spicy, clove-like flavor. The petals are very good when mixed into a pineapple garnish.

Just about anyone can find dandelions growing in their yard. Pick the flowers when they are young or before they have bloomed. The buds have a sweet honey-like flavor that is good steamed or tossed raw in salads.

Some other edible blossoms are hibiscus, fennel, rosemary, basil, camellia, impatiens (very bland, but pretty), gladiolus, honeysuckle, fuchsia, jasmine (usually used for scenting rice and tea), mint, lavender, lilac, peonies, peach and pear blossoms, sunflowers, geraniums (but not the citronelle variety), yucca blossoms, begonias and violets.

When using edible flowers, it is important to use only the petals. Remove stalks, stamens, anthers and flower bases. When preparing the blossoms, wash them thoroughly and gently under cool water, making sure to remove any bugs, dirt, and wilted or browning petals.

Also, use only flowers that you know have not been sprayed with pesticides. Picking flowers from the side of the road is not advisable, as the county often sprays herbicide for weed control, and also particulates from the road, including tire rubber, gathers on roadside plants.

Do not use store-bought flower bouquets for culinary purposes: these are usually sprayed with noxious chemicals that can prove harmful if ingested.

It is easy to grow most of the flowers in the above list in your own organic garden, and doing so can provide year-round color, spice and fragrance to your home, garden and cooking.

Happy gardening!

J.M. Buck
J.M. Buck has been a Hawai‘i news writer and columnist since 2003. She has extensive writing experience and has served the media industry in a variety of capacities, including news editor, investigative reporter, online publisher, columnist, web content writer, graphic designer and photographer. She has lived in the Hawaiian Islands for most of her life and is a graduate of University of Hawai‘i.
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