Edible flowers are not to eveyone's taste. Some are wonderfully fragrant and delicious; others are lemony; some are spicy and tangy; others taste green and weedy; and some even taste fishy. Edible flowers are a good way to add color and seasoning to your summer salads.They brighten up any herb butters and dress up a dessert. When added to a bowl of sugar or a bottle of vinegar and left to steep for several weeks, they create inventive, tasty combinations.
Some flowers need a little bit of preparation before they are ready to tickle your tongue. For many edible flowers you should only eat the petals; the stamens and pistils (the central bit) of some flowers should be removed before eating.
You only eat the petals of the following flowers: bee balm (Monarda), borage (Borago), daylilies (Hemerocallis), pot marigold (Calendula), tuberous begonias (Begonia x tuberhybrida) chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum), safflower (Carthamus) and tulips (Tulipa).
If you are stuffing tulips or daylilies, remove the stamens and pistils before you add your filling. For a complicated flower, such as borage, it is actually quite simple to separate borage's star-shaped flower from its hairy stem by holding the stem with one hand and pinching the middle of the star-shaped flower and pulling.
Other flowers such as pinks (Dianthus) and roses (Rosa) can have a bitter white edge at the base of the petal. If it is bitter, the edge should be cut off before using. Some marigolds (Tagetes) are divine, others are not. Try the lemon-flavored Tagetes 'Tangerina Gem' and 'Lemon Gem'.
Whichever edible flowers you choose, make sure you taste it before you prepare it. Different cultivars will have a wide range of flavors and some will be appealing while others can be quite astringent. For example, the petals of fragrant tulips are said to have a superior flavor over tulips that lack in fragrance.
For the best flavor, harvest flowers either when they are in bud or have just opened. Harvest on a dry day, mid-morning, after the dew has evaporated and before it gets too hot. It is best to use flowers when they are fresh; they can be refrigerated for several days, but do not dry or freeze well. Below are some tips for preserving edible flowers.
In fancy pastry shops, you will sometimes find cakes and cookies adorned with crystallized flowers. It is a simple, yet time consuming, process. Rose petals, violas, scented geraniums, borage and edible pea blossoms are easily candied.
Collect newly opened flowers in the morning on a dry day. Keep part of the stem on so that they are easy to work with. Wash the flowers and let them dry. Slightly beat one egg white in a bowl. Using a small paint brush, paint both sides of the flower with the egg white. For less delicate flowers, simply dip them in the egg white. Then sprinkle with finely ground (superfine) granulated sugar.
Lay flowers on a cake rack; move them occasionally so they don't stick to the rack. Put the flowers in a warm, dry place (e.g. oven with pilot light on) and let dry for several days. Separate flowers and store in a sealed tin.
Place several flowers in a clean, glass bottle and fill with white wine, red wine or cider vinegar. Place the bottle out of direct sunlight and let it steep for three to six weeks. Shake the bottle at least once a week to mix the vinegar. If the flowers are small, you can strain them out with cheesecloth before using the vinegar. Apple blossoms (Malus), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), nasturtiums (Tropaeolum), pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), redbud (Cercis) and roses (Rosa) all work well in vinegars.
The rule of thumb is to add 3 or 4 sprigs of herbs or flowers per cup of vinegar. When adding garlic or hot peppers, one per cup is recommended. Some recipes call for heating the vinegar slightly before making the floral addition, but do not boil. Others just use room temperature vinegar. Use a cork or plastic lid because vinegar erodes metal.
Jazz up a summer iced tea or punch bowl with edible flowers frozen in ice cubes. Pansies and violas (Viola), borage (Borago) and roses (Rosa) all make colorful additions to a punch bowl.
WARNING: Not all plants are edible. In many cases only certain parts of plants are edible. Many plants are poisonous. Please make sure that you identify your plants correctly. Also note that many nursery-bought plants and florist's flowers are sprayed with fertilizers and pesticides that don't belong in your food.
It's better to buy organically grown flowers or better yet grow your own. Many plants with edible flowers are beautiful and easy to grow. Always wash leaves and flowers well before eating or cooking with them. If you use leaves or flowers as decorative garnish on platters of food, make sure that they are edible and well washed.