As a child, I’d spend endless hours in the garden. Amidst playing and puttering, I made discoveries and learned so much about plants and bugs. One of my most pleasant pastimes was to find the tasty treats that the garden served. Beyond the usual berries, fruits and vegetables.
I was familiar with the common herbs like mint, holy basil and cilantro. Nibbling on them I’d imagine I was in the forest hiding from wicked witches or, I was Mowgli from the Jungle Book savvy in the ways of jungle living. It felt more special to eat the flowers of the herbs than their leaves.
I’d pick roses and savor the petals one at a time. I learned to eat only the young flowers as the older ones tasted a tad bitter. On the other hand, hibiscus petals provided a tangy flavor. Nasturtiums were peppery but the leaves were not so tasty to my young palate.
I knew to suck the long tubular ends of certain flowers and savor the sweet nectar.
In my curiosity, I recall taste testing other flowers and leaves – some were terribly bitter. It never occurred to me that I could get sick from such experimentation. It was fortunate I didn’t come to any harm. Since I never really discussed my doings in the garden, nobody knew to stop this line of risky inquiry.
Fast forward to present day. It is now quite common to include plants with edible flowers in the garden. Adding to the roster of the aforementioned rose, hibiscus and nasturtiums, are pansies, calendula, borage, zucchini blossoms, purple tops of chives, white flowers of garlic, yellow dill heads, lavender, elderflower and more. It does one good to have these plants in your garden. Beautiful and edible – a winning combination. Of course, make sure the flowers come from organically grown plants. Pesticide and chemical free.
Note – A bonus to picking flowers is that it encourages most plants to produce more. I always leave some flowers so the plants continue to look good and allowed to set seed.
Now that we’re in the season of eating light and fresh, using flowers in our recipes adds an extra pizazz to the presentation. Flowers make everything a celebration.
So, I’m sharing with you a few simple recipes to get you started on a season of celebrations.
1. Summer = cold drinks. Add flowers to your ice-trays and right away you have elevated your drinks to a higher level. Violas and borage suspended in ice are my favorites.
2. Top salads with freshly picked nasturtiums, calendula and sunflower petals, pansies, borage or chive flowers. They make the salad look pretty and add subtle flavor to it. Nasturtiums have a peppery punch that I love. Borage has a mild cucumber flavor and pansies taste like lettuce.
3. Add pea or bean flowers to rice or couscous for a delicate flavor. Caution – Leave plenty of flowers on the plant or you won’t get any beans or peas!
4. Decorate a simple olive oil cake with whole fresh roses and you’ve now got an Instagram worthy dessert.
5. Stick a sprig of lavender in a sugar bowl. Next time you sweeten your tea or lemonade, there will be a hint of lavender to bring a smile to your lips.
6. Crystallized petals of roses and whole pansies look sensational on cakes. Here’s a link on how to crystallize.
7. Cool off with a watermelon and rose granita – scoop the de-seeded flesh of half a large watermelon ( about 2 and ½ Lbs of flesh) and put in blender with 4 oz sugar, juice of 1 large lemon and ½ teaspoon rose water. Blend till smooth and strain. Pour liquid into shallow, wide container and freeze for 30 minutes. Break up crystals with a fork and return to freezer. Repeat this process two more times till granita has formed ice crystals and there is no slush. Takes about 3 hours in total. Serve in chilled glasses. Top with a rose bud or a thin spiral of lemon peel. Fancy.
For Homemade Rosewater:
- Remove petals from about 7 large roses and run them under luke-warm water to remove any residue.
- Add petals to a large pot and top with enough distilled water ( about a quart and a half) to just cover (no more or you’ll dilute your rosewater).
- Over medium-low heat bring the water to a simmer and cover.
- Let simmer for 20-30 minutes or until petals have lost their color and are pale.
- Strain the mixture to separate the petals from the water.
- Discard petals and place water in a glass jar to store.The rosewater can be kept in a well-sealed bottle in the refrigerator all season. It can also flavor lemonade, ice-cream and other desserts.
Get started and have yourself a healthy, celebratory summer!
Enjoy the photos of edible flowers in the garden:
(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar