Nutrition Column – Violets are Blue and Taste Good, Too

Typically when we see flowers on our plate, usually in an upscale restaurant, most of us assume that they’re only a garnish. Sometimes they are only intended for decoration, but did you know that many flowers are also edible? Edible flowers have been around for centuries – even as early as Roman times. However, using edible flowers may be a new idea for you and just the extra spark your special dinner needs.

Consider the following tips:

– First and foremost, be certain the flowers you want to use are indeed edible, because some are poisonous. You can consult this CSU Web site for a comprehensive list of edible flowers: www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07237.html.

– Be certain that the flowers were not exposed to any pesticides. That means you should avoid flowers growing by the roadside and flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centers since you can’t be sure if they were treated with pesticides. While we consume fruits and vegetables that have been safely treated with pesticides, the pesticides used on flowers have not been evaluated for food safety. Eat only flowers that you or someone else has grown.

– Another safety precaution is to avoid eating flowers if you have hay fever, asthma or allergies, since many allergies are due to sensitivity to pollen of specific plants. Even if you’re not prone to allergies, it’s still advisable to take it slow and not overindulge at one time. Some people may find that flowers can cause problems for the digestive system.

– Collect flowers in the cool of the day after the dew has evaporated. Avoid flowers that are not fully open, and keep them cool until ready for use. Keep them as fresh as possible by placing the stems in a container of water or placing the petals between damp paper towels in a plastic bag that is stored in the refrigerator.

– Once you’ve determined that your flowers are safe to eat, remove the pistils and stamens and use only the petals. The pollen can distract from the flavor. The white base of the petal of many flowers may have a bitter taste and should be removed from flowers.

There are so many ideas for using edible flowers in food. Browse your local bookstore or favorite book Web site for recipe books. Edible flowers can be used as a main ingredient in entrees and can add a splash of color to salads. Some larger flowers can be stuffed or used in stir-fry dishes. Edible flowers can be frozen in ice cubes or ice rings and added to beverages; made into jellies and jams; used to make teas or wines; and minced and added to pancakes, crepes and waffles. Many flowers can be used to make vinegars for cooking, marinades or dressings for salad. One idea that takes a little patience is creating crystallized flowers by painting petals with egg white and sprinkling them with sugar. Once these are dried, they can last up to a year. Wouldn’t that be a lovely touch to that special cake!

Here’s a super-simple idea. Mince some edible flowers and mix them into softened margarine or a soft cheese spread. Form the margarine or cheese into a log or pack it into a clear glass container and refrigerate. At serving time, decorate the top with whole edible flowers. Voila! What an impressive addition to your dinner. Start checking out your own or your neighbor’s flower garden for some possible edibles to add a bit of flair to your next meal.

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Shirley Perryman, MS, RD, Extension Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension