Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension    P. O. Box 68    LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068    Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

Edible Flowers - Have Your Flowers and Eat Them Too

The notion of edible flowers may call to mind an idyllic vision of the lotus eaters referred to in Greek mythology. Actually the consumption of flowers may not be as strange as it may first appear.  Broccoli and cauliflower are both edible flowers.

Flowers have traditionally been used in many types of cooking: European, Asian, East Indian, Victorian English, and Middle Eastern. Early American settlers also used flowers as food. Today, there is a renewed interest in edible flowers for their taste, color, and fragrance. Edible flowers can be used fresh as a garnish or as an integral part of a dish, such as a salad. Squash flowers
can be fried in light batter or cornmeal. Some flowers can be stuffed or used in stir-fry dishes. Edible flowers can be candied; frozen in ice cubes and added to beverages; made into jellies and jams; used to make teas or wines; minced and added to cheese spreads, herbal butters, pancakes, crepes, and waffles. Many flowers can be used to make vinegars for cooking, marinades, or
dressings for salad. Herbal flowers normally have the same flavor as their leaves, with the exceptions of chamomile and lavender blossoms, where the flavor is usually more subtle.

Be sure to exercise caution, not all flowers are edible; some may taste bad and some are poisonous. Eat flowers only if you are certain they are edible. A flower is not necessarily edible because it is served with food. The flowers of most culinary herbs are safe to use.

A partial list of flowers that are considered to be edible includes apple, arugula, basil, calendula, chamomile, chives, chrysanthemum, dill, elderberry, hibiscus, lavender, lemon, marigold, mint,  nasturtium, okra, orange, pansy, passion flower, rose, strawberry, water hyacinth, water lily and yucca.

If you decide you might want to broaden your diet to include flowers, remember that pesticides for use on fruits and vegetables have undergone extensive testing to determine the waiting period between treatment and harvest and potential residuals on food. Pesticides used on flowers and ornamentals have not been evaluated to determine their safety on food crops. Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries, garden centers, or flowers found on the side of the road. Consume only flowers that you or someone else have grown specifically for that purpose. If you have hay fever, asthma or allergies, it best not to eat flowers since many allergies are due to sensitivity to pollen of specific plants. It's best to introduce flowers into your diet one at a time and in small quantities.

Growing edible flowers is essentially the same as growing flowers for ornamental purposes. Most flowers require a well-drained soil with a pH around 5.5 to 6. Soil test. Use a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch to reduce weeds, conserve soil moisture, maintain uniform soil temperatures, and reduce the amount of soil splashed onto the plant during a heavy rain. Irrigate to keep plants actively growing and flowering; most plants will need 1 inch of water per week.  If possible, avoid overhead irrigation because moisture on the leaf surface for extended periods of time can increase the chances of disease development. Irrigating with a soaker hose works well.

Chemicals for pest control should be avoided.  Hand-pick harmful insects. Beneficial insects, such as lady beetles and praying mantids, can be used to decrease insect populations. Growing different flowers together provides diversity to support a good beneficial insect population and keeps pest problems low. Many gardeners locate their edible flower garden away from other plants to avoid chemical spray drift. Many edible flowers can be successfully grown in containers.

Flavor can vary with growing conditions and cultivars. Marigolds are bitter nasturtiums have a peppery flavor.  Conduct a taste test before harvesting large amounts of a particular flower.  Flowers should be picked in the cool of the day, after the dew has evaporated. For maximum flavor choose flowers at their peak. Avoid flowers that are not fully open or that are past their prime. To maintain maximum freshness, keep flowers cool after harvest. Long-stem flowers should be placed in a container of water. Short-stemmed flowers, such as orange blossoms, should be harvested within 3 to 4 hours of use, placed in a plastic bag, and stored in a refrigerator. Damp paper towels placed in the plastic bag will help maintain high humidity.

Because pollen can distract from the flavor, it's best to remove the pistils and stamens. Pollen may cause an allergic reaction for some people. Remove the sepals of all flowers except violas, Johnny-jump-ups, and pansies. For flowers such as calendula, chrysanthemum, lavender, rose, tulip, and yucca, only the flower petals are edible. The white base of the petal of many flowers
may have a bitter taste and should be removed from flowers such as chrysanthemums, dianthus, marigolds, and roses.

Edible flowers may or may not be the thing for you.  However, if you try flowers and find that they are not to your taste, with some advanced planning,  you will still be left with a lovely cutting garden.  Good luck and good gardening.

Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service.  Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975,  e-mail - or phone 863-674-4092 or  863-983-1598.  You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle.   Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an Equal Employment Opportunity - Affirmative Action Employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap or national origin.

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