Fresh herbs have been enjoying something of a renaissance as of late. While beloved old standbys like parsley and basil are perennial favorites, recently I’ve been noticing an upswing in those overpriced little vacuum packed boxes of fresh marjoram, thyme, rosemary, and other more esoteric herbs you can find in nearly any grocery store nowadays. Every farmers market has tablefuls of fresh sage and coriander, waiting to be chopped into chimmichuris and pestos, or crisped in butter for a sauce’s base note. But one particularly fragrant corner of the common garden has been sadly ignored by the garden-to-table gastronomic revolution. While we are happy to have them adorn our kitchens and dining rooms, many cooks are unaware of the simple deliciousness of edible flowers.
First, a few ground rules. Always make sure that the flowers you use haven’t been treated with pesticides or other chemical agents. Unlike fruits and vegetables, which you can easily rinse off, flowers suck up chemicals greedily, so make sure any flowers you find were organically and/or biodynamicly grown. If you’re foraging for your own flowers, only gather types whose edibility you are certain of, which you know haven’t been treated with pesticides or chemical fertilizers. I don’t want any of you poisoning yourselves, you hear? What follows are a few of my favorite edible flowers, and their uses. I hope you enjoy exploring the delicious potential of your summer garden as much as I do!
Lavender is one of the more readily available flowers on this list, but most people don’t realize that it is as delicious as it is fragrant! While lavender sachets are great for perfuming sock drawers and bathwater, they are equally, if not even more delightful in sweet baked goods like pound cakes and shortbread cookies. I also love heating lavender with sugar and water to make a deliciously floral simple syrup to use as a sweetener for lemonade and summertime cocktails, and lavender honey is wonderful drizzled over peaches or vanilla ice cream.
These deliciously peppery little flowers are more at home in savory recipes. One of my favorite things to do with them is toss the petals into a salad with baby greens and herbs, watermelon, feta, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes. Top the whole thing with a simple vinaigrette and you have a deliciously seasonal salad! Nasturtium blossoms are also wonderful mixed into compound butter, stuffed with soft cheeses, and tossed whole into stir- fries and egg dishes like savory custards and frittatas.
Rose petals are easily available; just be extra certain that you’ve bought organic flowers. Aside from being toxic, pesticides can give the petals an unpleasantly bitter chemical taste. If you were inspired by John’s quest for a superior cup of tea, you can make a delicious pot of rose petal tea, using either fresh petals alone, or drying them in the oven and mixing with black tea in an airtight container. Rose petals also candy beautifully, and are delicious atop cakes and custards.
A often neglected weed of a flower, dandelions that haven’t been drenched in pesticide can be particularly difficult to find. Still, if you manage to track some down, the rewards are considerable! The entire plant is edible in one form or another. The bitter greens are high in antioxidants and other good things, and are lovely braised or in salads. The roots make an excellent liver cleansing tea. And the flowers themselves can be made into fritters, jellies, and even wine!
I hope that these recipe ideas provide you with a jumping off point for your own florally inspired cuisine! Just remember the cardinal rules of only using organic and pesticide free flowers, and let your imagination roam free.