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Flowers You Can Eat


Sage flowers are just one of the many edible flowers photographer and gardener, Roshani Kothari, uses in her cooking. (Photo by Roshani Kothair)
Flowers You Can Eat
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Flowers are an important part of our natural world. Their beauty and smell can make us happy. Flowers serve as food for insects, birds, and animals. And they can also feed us!

Some flowers add color, unexpected taste, and beauty to food and drinks. And more people are adding them to their meals. To find out more, we talked with a few Americans who like to grow and eat their own flowers.

Kathy Jentz is the publisher of Washington Gardener magazine. She also gives talks to Washington, D.C. area gardeners. She tells them how to grow and use edible flowers.

Preparation

Jentz says the way to prepare most edible flowers for your next dish or meal is to wash them lightly under water. Then remove the white parts of the flower. She also says to cut off the pistil and stamen.

When speaking about edible flowers, Jentz often begins with three talking points:

  1. Know your flowers. Which ones are safe to eat?
  2. Know the source. Where did the flowers come from?
  3. Know your allergies. Which plants are you allergic to?
DC area baker, food stylist and photographer Lauren Cooper Allen uses edible flowers on her cakes and other baked creations. (Photo by Lauren Cooper Allen)
DC area baker, food stylist and photographer Lauren Cooper Allen uses edible flowers on her cakes and other baked creations. (Photo by Lauren Cooper Allen)

Know your flowers.

Some flowers are poisonous and can make you sick. There are a few flowers that people think are edible, Jentz says, even though they are poisonous.

The most common are buttercup and sweet pea. She says the flower of the sweet pea should not be mixed up with the flower of the pea plant, which is a vegetable. Other poisonous flowers are azalea, wisteria, and fox glove.

Now, here is a quick list of common edible flowers.

Dandelion
Nasturtium
Marigold
Borage
Violet
Lavender
Lilac
Chrysanthemum
Chamomile
Rose
Daylily
Hibiscus
Which edible flowers are good to start with? Dandelions!

One of the best edible flowers to start with is the dandelion. Jentz says they are nutritious, and you can eat the entire plant, not just the flower. This is not true for many edible flowers.

Nasturtium

Nasturtium is easy to grow and, Jentz says, has a peppery taste. It is perfect for container gardening and for people living in a hot, big city. This flower often grows well in very difficult conditions.

“A container-grown flower that works really is nasturtium. It actually prefers container growing to being in the ground. The worst conditions you can give nasturtium -- the better it grows.”

Nasturtium is a commonly eaten flower. It grows well in difficult conditions. Washington, DC resident Elizabeth Lyttleton grows them in a pot on her porch step and uses them in dishes for her family. (Photo: Elizabeth Lyttleton)
Nasturtium is a commonly eaten flower. It grows well in difficult conditions. Washington, DC resident Elizabeth Lyttleton grows them in a pot on her porch step and uses them in dishes for her family. (Photo: Elizabeth Lyttleton)

Many people add nasturtium to fruit or green salads. One such person is Elizabeth Lyttleton, a mother and cycling activist in the D.C. area. In warm weather, Lyttleton says she grows nasturtium on her front doorstep. She likes to add its flowers to salads or serve with other foods.

Photographer and gardener Roshani Kothari mixes sage flowers with butter to put on top of bread. (Photo: Roshani Kothari)
Photographer and gardener Roshani Kothari mixes sage flowers with butter to put on top of bread. (Photo: Roshani Kothari)

Herb flowers

Also, in the D.C. area, Roshani Kothari says she has been growing and eating edible flowers for many years. She says that herbs are great ways to get into the world of edible flowers. Flowers from mint, rosemary, dill, oregano, cilantro, and sage add a little flavor of the herb. But they are not as strong as the leaves of the plant.

Kothari says one of her favorite herbs is cilantro.

DC area photographer, Roshani Kothari, grows her own flowers and uses them in her cooking. (Photo by Roshani Kothair)
DC area photographer, Roshani Kothari, grows her own flowers and uses them in her cooking. (Photo by Roshani Kothair)

“And cilantro is easy to grow in a pot. If you let it go to flower, it will come back year after year. And um, it’s used in so many different cultures. For example, I’m from India originally from the state of Gujarat and we use cilantro as a garnish in all the dishes we make. Without cilantro it’s not quite … quite done yet!”

Know the source of the flowers

Experts say the safest way to eat edible flowers is to grow them yourself. If you buy from a farmer’s market or a farmer, ask them directly if they used any chemicals. Be careful buying from a food or flower store. Their flowers may have been treated with dangerous chemicals.

If you go outdoors to pick edible flowers, says Kathy Jentz, do so in a safe area. Do not collect flowers from an area where dog owners walk their dogs or where chemical treatments have been used.

Borage

Jentz says her personal favorite edible flower is borage. She says the plant’s blue star-shaped flowers taste like cucumbers. So, borage can go with many dishes.

“My personal favorite is borage. The flower petals smell and taste like cucumber. The fact that you can add it on fruit salads, throw it in your gazpacho or use it to garnish a drink is a nice bonus.”

Baker, food stylist and photographer Lauren Cooper Allen uses edible flowers, such as violets, on her cakes and other baked treats. In this photo, she used pansies on a birthday cake.(Photo by Lauren Cooper Allen)
Baker, food stylist and photographer Lauren Cooper Allen uses edible flowers, such as violets, on her cakes and other baked treats. In this photo, she used pansies on a birthday cake.(Photo by Lauren Cooper Allen)

Violets

Violets are another popular edible flower. They have a sweet flavor. Use the violets in salads, sweet treats, and drinks.

Also, Jentz says violets can last a long time when left in a sealed container in the refrigerator. But she adds it is important to cut the flowers at the right time -- just as they open.

This is not true of all edible flowers. Some wilt quite fast. To avoid this, Jentz says you can use the method people have been using for centuries – dry them.

Vegetable flowers

Kothari explains that it is important to know how plants grow. Vegetables send out edible flowers if you let them go to seed.

However, if you take all the flowers from your vegetable plants, our experts warn, you will not have any vegetables! If you want to harvest the flowers of vegetables, Jentz suggests growing a vegetable plant just for its flowers.

Chamomile

Chamomile flowers are small and taste like apple. Chamomile is often used in tea. Jentz says chamomile flowers dry nicely and they keep their flavor.

However, the website WebMD warns avoid chamomile “if you are allergic to these plants: ragweed, daisies, marigolds, or chrysanthemums.

Know your own allergies

If you have allergies to ragweed and other types of pollen, Jentz advises to avoid any flower in the daisy family.

Also, if you suffer from allergies or have other food sensitivities, Jentz suggests trying new edible flowers one at a time. If you eat many different ones for the first time and then get sick, you will not know which one made you sick.

Jentz also gives this warning: Do not give edible flowers to any child under the age of four.

And that’s the Health & Lifestyle report. Have fun trying different edible flowers.

I’m Anna Matteo.

In the Comments Section, let us know if you use flowers in your cooking and which ones! And feel free to share a recipe.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Quiz - Flowers You Can Eat

Quiz - Flowers You Can Eat

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Words in This Story

pistil n. the part in the center of a flower that is made up of the stigma, style, and ovary and produces the seed

stamen n. the part of a flower that produces pollen and is made up of an anther and a filament

allergy n. a medical condition that causes someone to become sick after eating, touching, or breathing something that is harmless to most people allergic adj.

peppery adj. having a lively, aggressive, or somewhat shocking quality

herb n. a plant or a part of a plant that is used as medicine or to give flavor to food

garnish n. something (such as lemon wedges or parsley) used

to decorate or flavor food or drink

petal n. one of the soft, colorful parts of a flower​

refrigerator n. a device or room that is used to keep things (such as food and drinks) cold​

wilt v. of a plant : to bend over because of not having enough water

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