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Eating The Not-So-Wild Flowers From Your Garden
Covid has made many of us want to “get back to nature,” to forage and harvest wild plants. In my book, Eating Wild, I list fifty different wild plants with numerous recipes that we can safely eat. However, the truth is that there are dozens of plants in our own gardens that we ignore, even though they are perfectly safe and often very tasty.
Nasturtium tops the list for me. The flowers, seeds and leaves are all uniquely delicious. I pick the leaves to use in sandwiches (tuna is my favorite in this plant) and in salads. The leaves are broad and crunchy, adding a peppery flavor to any dish. Be sure to harvest them before the pests get to them and dot the leaves with white spots. Flowers are excellent in chilled drinks, add color and flavor to salads and appetizer trays, and on their own are both tangy and sweet. The seeds are especially valuable. Use fresh and green for fish dishes to pop as winter snacks, or pickle in vinegar (apple cider vinegar seems to coordinate well).
Of course, purple coneflower (Echinacea) is healthy and edible, its root replacing Seneca root as a remedy for colds and coughs. Of the nine North American species, three are definitely edible while the others are not known to be toxic or poisonous. Make a tea from the roots or flowers and use the grated dried root as a slightly bitter topping for beef. Soaked in vinegar, it works like horseradish!
Who doesn’t love the scent of marigolds? (Personally, I love the fragrance) However, marigold flowers give the color of turmeric and taste similar to saffron in food. The tender, green part of the leaves adds a sharp flavor to salads and can be mixed with boiled vegetables for a unique taste. Sprinkle flower petals over ice cream and custard or in cold drinks like 7-Up or Sprite. Gin can also be enhanced with a few sprigs of marigold flowers. As an added benefit, marigold petals in the cupboard can freshen up for weeks.
One of my favorite show flowers is the portulaca. Purslane, a weed, is a close relative and both are edible. Purslane buds and flowers, like most edible flowers, go well in salads. It is also very high in vitamin A.
Pansies, dahlias and roses are also edible. Dahlias are interesting in that the flowers and tubers are the most edible parts, and both taste similar. I think they remind me of Christmas with the chestnut flavor. I thinly slice the radish and use tartar sauce or mayo (not whipped dressing) with it. Pansies, like their wild cousins, violas, are edible, but, being so small, give them little flavor on their own. Oddly, they have a slightly minty flavor but are not members of the mint family (which can be identified by its square stem). In the wild or in the garden, roses have both edible flowers and edible leaves.
Often, we ignore what’s under our noses as food, which is strange, because the main attraction of flowers is that they delight our sense of smell!
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