In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
January, 2010
Regional Report

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Chive blossoms are pretty and edible.

What's for Dinner?

Although humans seldom crave a dish of juicy flowers, many are edible. So what do flowers actually taste like? Here's what my subjective taste buds have to say after random browsing through the years. Remember that different cultivars and cultivation practices will also influence taste, so your pansies might be more palatable than mine!

Nasturtiums. This is the most pungent edible flower according to my taste buds. Nasturtiums offer a sharp, peppery taste that is more intense the more you chew. Both the vivid flowers and dark green leaves are edible with similar flavor. Scatter a handful in a salad of field greens.

Pansies. I love to pick a posy of pansies, but I've never sampled one with anything I could label as remotely "flavorful." However, the visual appeal of flowers can also stimulate the appetite. Try spreading a wheat cracker with herb-flavored cream cheese, and then place a sweet-faced pansy in the center. Pansies are great for livening up dessert decorations.

Johnny-jump-ups. After bland pansies, I enjoy the strong, anise flavor in these tiny violas, from the same family as pansies. "Tastes like Beamon's gum," says my friend, tossing another one in his mouth. (If you remember Beamon's, you are likely of a "certain age" or shop at one of those stores specializing in old-time candies!)

Borage flowers and bachelor's buttons. Both have a light, "grassy" flavor. Their beautiful sky-blue color adds impact to salads, casseroles, or rice dishes when tossed in just before serving. The delicate star shape of the borage is lovely floating in a tall, cold glass of lemonade.

Squash blossoms. Large, trumpet-shaped flowers have a mild "vegetable" flavor and a pleasing crunchy texture. Stuff them with your favorite rice and vegetable mix, or saute lightly with a bit of chopped onion, garlic, and fresh herbs. Daylily flowers are a similar option.

Herb and vegetable blossoms. Don't forget about the blossoms on herb plants, which taste pretty much like the herbs themselves. My favorites are the umbel-shaped flowers of chives, which lend a bit of zip when tossed in a salad or sandwich. Also try sage, pineapple sage, lavender, mint, and scented geranium. Let a few vegetable plants such as broccoli, kale, and mustard greens go to flower. Not only do they attract beneficial pollinating insects, but their bright yellow colors add interest to a tossed salad.

Harvesting and Tasting Flowers
To start your tasting tour, choose flowers that are pesticide-free. For maximum freshness, pick young flowers in the morning. Sugars and volatile oils, which give flavor, are at their peak before heat and photosynthesis convert them into starch. (That's the same reason for harvesting herbs early in the day.) Some sources say picking late in the afternoon is also okay, but in the low desert's intense sun, I find early morning is preferable to maximize flavor.

Wash gently in cool water and pat dry. Remove sepals (the base) or any white at the base of a flower or petal, which is bitter. Also, remove the stamens and styles (insides of the flower) before eating. Flower pollen can detract from the flavor and some people are allergic to it. If you have allergies or asthma, you may be better off avoiding flowers. Store flowers between damp paper towels or on top of ice in a plastic container in the refrigerator but use as soon as possible.

There are many other edible flowers, but some flowers are poisonous. Before grazing, be sure to identify the plant and verify that it's not harmful. Also, nibble a tiny bit and make sure there are no adverse reactions before making a hearty meal from your flower garden!


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