When I was a little girl, my mother made a spice cake with lots of raisins and nuts in it and a white frosting. I loved it, but more for how it looked than how it tasted, though it was delicious. I was excited to eat the fresh-picked violets dotting the top of the frosting. Other times she would use pansies or colorful rose petals.
It’s not as out there are you think; many people eat flowers without realizing it. A lot of foods we eat are “almost” flowers, or about to be flowers. For example, artichokes are the immature flower of the artichoke plant, they even look like a big green flower. Broccoli turns into a yellow flower, which is actually a flower bud, same is true of some cacti. Many people get their first taste of flowers from day lily buds, which are picked fresh and dipped in batter before being fried or sautéed. I had always liked them chopped into scrambled eggs with scallions, and they are a major ingredient in hot and hour soup, my favorite.
Since the early 90s, the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, Connecticut has hosted an annual feast for its founding members. I was honored to attend and even prepare some of the food a few times. Once, attendees were thrilled by the sight of a huge salad presented in a wooden trencher. It was about four or five feet long, 20 inches wide, eight to ten inches deep and totally covered by nasturtium blossoms of every color. Iceberg, spinach, and other greens dwelled beneath the colorful topping. I am pretty sure these blossoms were locally grown. A friend once had a greenhouse and grew watercress, mints, and nasturtiums hydroponically. They were costly for restaurants to purchase, but they did buy them because it was new and popular. They taste very good too.
Dillweed is another edible flower as is blue cornflower, calendula (pot marigold), borage, and sunflowers. And let’s not forget lavender, which is good in cookies and breads. Dandelion is another flowering edible, while most people prefer the greens, the crowns (unopened flowers) are good in a salad—the yellow flowers are not so good. And, be careful to not pick dandelions from lawns or roadsides that have been sprayed with herbicides or fertilizers.
Lavender is one of many edible flowers, and is good in cookies and bread.
Basic Flower Salad
8 ounces or more fresh, washed spinach, and a handful watercress
1 cup or more fresh picked nasturtium flowers (12-15 blossoms)
½ cup feta cheese
3 thin slices of red onion, chopped
½ cup walnuts
¼ cup blond raisins OR dried cranberries
Divide evenly onto salad plates, sprinkle with feta and your favorite balsamic dressing.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: “New Native American Cooking,” “Native New England Cooking” and “A Dreamcatcher Book.” She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.