Edible Flower Facts

In summertime the flowers are all in bloom. It's time to think about harvesting some summer sunshine and adding it to the menu.

Over the centuries, flowers have been an important part of world cuisines. Chinese cuisine has included chrysanthemums, lilies and lotus for over six centuries. The ancient Romans used roses and violets to flavor foods served at state banquets. Stuffed squash blossoms have their origin in both Spanish and Italian cuisine, and everyone seems to have used rose petals for special occasions.

Edible flowers enliven any menu item. Flowers can be shredded and used in cold salads, beverages, salad dressings and soups. Whole flowers can be filled with savory stuffings and poached, steamed or fried. Small flowers, buds and flower petals can be candied or crystallized, used to create confections or to decorate baked goods.

Finding edible flowers
To get started with flower cookery, you'll need to find a reliable supplier of edible flowers. Many flower varieties are edible, but just as many are not. Flowers from gardens that have been heavily sprayed or treated with chemicals are not good choices. Generally, unless you have carefully raised and nurtured edible flowers yourself, you will want to purchase them from a produce market or a farmers market (be sure and ask if the flowers are meant for eating). When purchasing edible flowers, select flowers that appear to have opened very recently. Except for daylilies, you won't want to use unopened flowers or buds. Wilted or faded flowers will probably have bitter or pale flavors.

As soon as you can, you'll want to gently rinse edible flowers under cool water. If you like, you can refresh edible flowers in ice water for about one minute before draining. Drain the flowers on paper towels. If you are not going to use the flowers right away, store them in the refrigerator, placed between damp, cool towels. Most edible flowers, picked at their peak and stored properly in a cool place, should last three to five days.

It bears repeating that some flowers are not edible. Not only are they not edible, they can be poisonous. Be certain you have identified flowers before you start nibbling.

As you are rinsing your edible flower purchases, take a taste of several petals. This will get you thinking about the best dishes to in which to use various flowers.

Cooking with edible flowers
A great way to get acquainted with the flavor, texture and workability of edible flowers is to use them in a cold salad. Shred, chop or tear whole flowers or petals into small pieces and toss with cold greens, pasta or rice and shredded vegetables. Go a little further and toss some flower petals into salad dressings, allowing the flavor to infuse before serving.

In addition to edible flowers, the flowers of culinary herbs are generally safe to eat. The rule of thumb is if the leaf is edible as an herb, than the flower is also edible. Herb flowers usually have the same flavor as the herb, just a little more subtle. Lavender and chamomile are the exceptions to the subtlety rule. These two flowers have a stronger flavor than their leaves.

To really spruce up a salad, use mixed edible flowers in a variety of colors. Sort out the small blossoms and set several aside. Shred the remaining flowers, as if you were making flower confetti. Carve "napkin rings" from cucumbers or zucchini. Your salad mix should be baby lettuces or a combination of sweet and snappy lettuces, such as arugula and tatsoi. Arrange a handful of lettuces like a bouquet and thread them through the edible ring. Sprinkle a chilled salad plate with shredded flowers and center the salad bouquet in the middle of the plate. Garnish with a single blossom and serve chilled.

Edible flowers add fiber and small amounts of vitamins and minerals to your meals. And they're all low in fat and sodium-no cholesterol or salt here!

Deep orange and red petals may contain small amounts of beta carotene and potassium. Rose petals and hips and hibiscus may have some vitamin C.

Chrysanthemums contain natural chemicals thought to soothe sore throats, and purple cone daisies ( also called echinacea) are thought to help bolster the immune system.

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