For centuries, edible flowers have been eaten raw, fried, baked, stuffed, candied, made into jams or jellies or infused into vinegars, teas or wines. They’ve also been incorporated into baked goods, pancakes and butter, added to cheese or frozen into ice cubes. Consider adding edible flowers to your winter garden and choose those that add interest and color to your garden, as well as new flavors to your meals.
Try the edible blossoms from your vegetable plants. Flowers from arugula, radish, broccoli, beans and okra are tasty and can be eaten raw or added to a soup or stir-fry.
Some other favorites and their uses are briefly described here.
“Johnny Jump Up” is a small pansy that can be eaten fresh or used in many ways. Garnish a cake with these beauties. Throw them into a salad or float their colorful faces in a punch or soup bowl.
The smaller members of the orchid genus Epidendrum are wonderful salad additions. Each of the various colors has a unique and often tangy taste. These orchids are often epiphytic plants, suitable to grow in pots or in crotches of trees around your property.
Tagetes tenuifolia is a petite marigold that is an edible gem. It can be used whole as a garnish or the petals can be sprinkled into a recipe for great color and a distinctive taste.
Calendula officinalis imparts a saffron color to food. Remove the petals and soak them in warm milk (dairy, soy, rice, almond or coconut) to add color to cakes, breads, grains or desserts. The yellow petals can also be used to flavor and color salads.
The flowers of many herbs add light flavors to a variety of dishes. Consider chive flowers in white or purple to flavor soups or salads. Basil, dill and fennel flowers carry some of the flavor of the herb into a dish while gracing it with lovely blossoms. Rosemary flowers retain the flavor of their herb and are often used to impart a mild flavor. They are great to throw on steaks or fish fresh off the grill.
Lavender flowers are beautiful in lemonade and can add flavor and aroma when chopped into cakes, muffins, scones or cookies. Lavender can also add healing properties to a recipe. Lavender’s aroma can be calming to your nerves, and in large quantities, the oil from the flowers offers relaxing qualities that can help with depression or insomnia.
Roses, especially the miniatures, have been used in the culinary world for ages. Used as a garnish, an ingredient or infused into jellies and syrups for its color and fruity taste, roses are versatile edible flowers.
Nasturtium flowers have always been a gardener’s standby for salad accents. The plants grow well here and can hug the ground or climb a wall, if given a chance. They produce a bounty of tangy flowers in orange, yellow and red. Their pretty round leaves can add a kick to salads or a tasty treat while gardening.
Large daylily blossoms are tasty fresh and, like the equally large squash blossoms, they can be stuffed and baked. Look for recipes online for baking these beauties.
Teas and infusions can be made from most edible flowers. Passion flowers can be steeped in hot water to make a tea that can relieve stress and anxiety or they can be thrown into your bath water to have a similar effect.
Edible flowers make lovely vinegar infusions for salad dressing or recipes calling for flavored vinegars. Use mild apple cider, rice or white wine vinegars to soak flowers. Leave them covered in a sealed container for several months and you will have a vinegar flavored and colored by the flowers.
Several other flowering plants can add sparkle to your table in many ways. Anise hyssop has a lovely purple flower with an anise flavor. Borage flowers are a beautiful light blue that offers contrast with salad greens. Small carnations and others in the Dianthus genus can add attractive pink and white blossoms to a dish. The bright red flowers of pineapple sage bloom in profusion on an attractive shrub and add a color spark wherever they are used.
Many more flowers offer tasty additions to your cooking. To learn about them, watch for local classes offering information about choosing edible flowers for your garden.
Diana Duff is an organic farmer, plant adviser and consultant.
Tropical gardening helpline
Scott asks: Some of my lemon tree leaves have gray dusty looking stuff on them. What is it and what, if anything, can I do about it?
Answer: It sounds like your lemon is infected with powdery mildew. Despite the name, this mildew can appear in dry, as well as damp locations. Either the fungus Oidium tingitaninum or O. citri cause powdery mildew on citrus.
The fungi produce lots of dry, powdery spores spread by air currents. They are host specific, however, and the fungus on your lemon tree will probably only transfer to other citrus plants.
Several controls can be used. Start by removing infected leaves, but not more than a third of the plant’s foliage. Dispose of the leaves away from all citrus plants.
An effective spray can be made from products in your home and enhanced by using horticultural equivalents.
1 to 2 tablespoons baking soda (Alkalinity retards the fungus’ growth.)
1 to 2 tablespoons cooking oil or a light horticultural oil (Neem oil may help ward off insects that carry other diseases.)
1 teaspoon liquid soap or an insecticidal soap (Soap helps combine and spread ingredients.)
1 gallon of water
Mix thoroughly and spray the infected portions of the plant until they are dripping with the spray. Shake your applicator continually to keep the ingredients in solution and be sure to apply late in the day so as not to fry the leaves in hot sun.
Apply again in a week or two to any fungus that remains.
Other relatively safe chemicals can also be used. Wettable sulfur works well as does potassium bicarbonate. Read and follow the labels carefully. Do not apply sulfur in temperatures over 90 F or within two weeks of any product containing oil. Use sulfur only on plants listed on the label. Serenade is a bacterium, Bacillus subtilis, that helps prevent powdery mildew from infecting a plant and is registered for organic use in Hawaii.
Email questions to Master Gardeners at email@example.com. Call the University of Hawaii’s Cooperative Extension Service office in Kainaliu at 322-4892 between 9 a.m. and noon Thursday.
In my article on the Kona County Farm Bureau last week I mistakenly stated two of the large companies promoting biotechnology in Hawaii, Monsanto and DuPont, were Kona County Farm Bureau members.
The companies are not members of the bureau, though many of their employees are.