The Taste of the Garden: Edible Flowers

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Tips from Yardshare.com Founder, Bryan Powell, Add Color and Flavor

According to Bryan Powell, the scent, color and texture of flowers can be appreciated by nose, eyes and mouth, and he encourages us to eat garden blooms. As founder of YardShare.com, a free website that allows homeowners and landscape professionals to create “virtual” yards, share tips, and create friendships, Powell is convinced that more gardeners should enjoy the fruits of their labors by sampling the very flowers that produce the fruits we love. Besides, our pre-historic ancestors probably took a tip from insects, birds and other garden visitors and savored the flowers growing abundantly around them.

Q: Which popular flowers are best for the novice?

A: Some of the most common flowers work well in green salads. Impatiens, pansies, violas (or johnny-jump-ups) all look wonderful, and they taste even better. They have a delicate, sweetish taste, and a light texture. Nasturtiums are very different; they have a slightly peppery taste. In addition, impatiens also look (and taste) terrific floating on summer drinks.
The flowers of many herbs are edible, including those of thyme, dill, cilantro, chives, and basil. In general, an herb's flowers will taste like its leaves, which are what one would generally use when they cook. The flowers' taste might be more intense.

Q: Marigolds are often planted near vegetables. Can they be eaten?
A: Indeed, so many kinds of marigolds (also called calendula) are edible. The taste varies considerably, so here are a few suggestions.
Sprinkle the petals on cooked rice, pasta, or soup; or mix them into soft foods like dip or scrambled eggs to make them yellower. Farmers often feed marigold petals to chickens, because they lend an appealing yellow tinge to the meat. Marigold has also been used as a herb of healing.

Q: Some people love dandelion salad.
A: This pesky weed can be very tasty. The dandelion flower is sweetest when it is young and still close to the ground. They can be steamed or eaten raw. Dandelion petals look very festive when sprinkled like confetti over plain cooked rice. Some people make wine from dandelions, too.

Q: My neighbor raves about sunflowers. What do you think?
A: Sunflowers can be eaten when they are very young, as buds. Some say they taste like artichokes, which makes sense, because artichokes are really flowers. One can steam the sunflower buds like artichokes, too.

Q: What about zucchini flowers?
A: Yes, dip pumpkin or squash flowers in a mixture of milk and egg, dredging them in seasoned flour or cornmeal, and fry them. It's incredibly delicious! Be sure to choose male flowers. Here's how to tell them apart: the female flowers have a big bulb between the flower and the stem, and that turns into the fruit of the plant when the flower is fertilized.

Finally, please note the following guidelines:
Don't ever eat anything that might have been treated with herbicide or pesticide. This includes plants bought at a nursery, as well as plants growing by the side of the road. The latter might have pollutants and heavy metals in them.
Don't become over-enthusiastic. Eat only flowers that you know are edible. Similar to mushrooms, there are some lookalikes that are dangerous.

Editor’s Note: Images are available upon request.

About YardShare: Bryan Powell, 31, founded YardShare.com in 2008 when he couldn’t find online inspiration for building his own back-yard kitchen and patio. Powell, who lives in Castro Valley, Ca. and works for a financial management company in San Francisco, began working in his free time to merge technology and neighborhood to create a virtual community of advisors and launched YardShare (“Knocking down fences”). Today it is an online community of more than 3,000 members and over 28,000 unique monthly visitors, many of whom post pictures of and step-by-step DIY instructions for their landscaping, design and yard projects; YardShare’s archives contain more than 11,000 images. For more information, visit http://www.YardShare.com.

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Jenny Randall
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