Sunday, May 13, 2018

Always Take Time to Stop and Smell the Roses…then eat them

Gathering dinner: dandelion greens, wax beans, and day lily buds will soon hit the pan with a bit of butter, salt, and pepper and be all the better for it! Photograph by Signe Langford

Wax beans, and day lily buds. Photograph by Signe Langford

by Signe Langford

Eating flowers is not as out there as it once was. Back in the 1990s only a handful of avant guard chefs were dotting their massive white plates with pretty posies. Now, it seems, almost everyone is doing it. In fact, you’ve been doing it for some time – eating flowers that is – possibly without even knowing it.

Capers are pickled Mediterranean nasturtium buds; vanilla is the stamen of a climbing yellow orchid native to Mexico; and the costly threads of saffron – another stamen – are plucked by hand from the centre of the deep purple saffron crocus; while the exotic perfume of roses and orange blossoms flavour many dishes in South East Asian, Mediterranean, and North African cuisine.

Some flowers make it to our tables incognito. Hops is a green flower that give beer bitterness and complexity of flavour; artichokes are really big thistles; and okra is a tasty member of the family Malvaceae – or mallow – which includes hollyhock, marshmallow, cotton and about 25 other siblings.

And we’re just getting started. We’ve not even touched on all the wonderful wild blossoms right there, under our noses – literally! – for the taking and potentially, baking.

Daylily. Photograph by Signe Langford

But first, here are a few edible flower dos and don’ts:

• If you haven’t tried eating a raw flower yet, try one then wait a while to see if you’re fine with it or allergic. If you have a pollen allergy, then eating flowers may not be for you.

• Only buy organic flowers from the grocer. Honestly, you’re better off growing your own, or buying from a certified organic grower or someone else you trust.

• This is a biggie: just because the flower is edible, it doesn’t necessarily mean the whole plant is. And vice versa; just because the plant is edible, it doesn’t necessarily mean the flower is. Plants store their chemicals—sometimes toxins—in different parts, so check first.

• Always wash delicately in cold water, and inspect for bugs.

• Never pick flowers from roadsides, along train tracks, or from lands and gardens you are not very familiar with. These plants may have been absorbing toxins and petro-chemicals.

• Don’t buy flowers to eat from the florist, they will most likely have been exposed to chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, perhaps even dyes.

• Again, this comes down to research, but depending on the flower, it may be best to remove pistils and stamens from the bloom, and eat only the petals.

• And never, ever, eat flowers that you do not know for 100 percent certain are edible. Once again, when in doubt, consult an expert.

Linden flowers.  Photograph by Signe Langford

From my own garden, I’ve enjoyed day lily, monarda, lilac, crabapple, eastern redbud, dandelion, linden, pansy, violets, clover, milkweed, rose, nasturtium, squash blossom, borage, marigold…and I’m sure I’m forgetting some pretty little thing.

Clover. Photograph by Signe Langford

Clover. Photograph by Signe Langford

Edible flowers can be added to just about anything. Don’t just think sweets, candies, and desserts, many edible blooms are actually quite peppery–monarda is a blissful blend of sweet and heat!—and make brilliant additions to savoury dishes.

Fresh red clover flowers are meaty, chewy, and taste like raw green beans. Add flowers to salads or as a stunning garnish to any dish, hot or cold, raw or cooked. Work pretty blossoms into foods where they’ll still get to shine; nestled into pancakes in the pan, dropped last minute into crepe batter, pressed into raw cookies before baking or into frosting; or even rolled into fresh pasta sheets.

While researching my second book – all about gardening and cooking with indigenous edible plants, no publisher yet! – I discovered so very much and yes, I ate a lot of weeds and wild flowers.

Here’s my recipe for Milkweed Simple Syrup 

Milkweed is a plant that continues to astound and enchant me. I’ve learned that First Nations people used to boil milkweed flowers in water; they’d let the water boil down until there was nothing but a thick, sweet, syrup left. This they would use as sugar.

And while I don’t didn’t feel compelled to re-enact history, I do think a milkweed-infused sweet syrup would be nice in cocktails so…

Milkweed flower. Photograph by Signe Langford

The makings of Milkweed Simple Syrup. Photograph by Signe Langford

I simply boiled up about 2 cups (500 mL) of water and added an equal amount of sugar. Once the sugar was all dissolved, I allowed it to cool for about 10 minutes while I prepared my jar.

Into a large mason jar I added about 5 of the loveliest milkweed flowers I could find; making sure there were no bugs or spiders lurking, and then poured the warm syrup in.

I put the lid on and allowed it all to steep for about 1 week; then discarding the flowers.

What resulted was a pretty pink, curiously herbaceous, sweet and mucilaginous syrup that works beautifully with gin!

Summer Celebration Salad. Photograph by Donna Griffith.

Summer Celebration Salad with Feta, Watermelon, Berries and Petals with a Blueberry Honey Vinaigrette

For the greens and herbs in this salad pick any combination of exotic or conventional, wild or domesticated: arugula, spinach, dandelion, lamb’s quarters, nasturtium leaves, baby kale, or even experiment with a few tender springtime maple leaves.

Likewise, pick whatever edible petals and berries you have on hand at the moment; in this recipe, I’m listing the flowers that I used to make the one in the photo, but you can get even more exotic, think sweetly scented maple, hawthorn, linden or eastern redbud blossoms or pluck petals from arrowhead, bee balm, chicory, eastern spring beauty, red clover, roses, evening primrose and spiderwort.

And, seriously, use this salad to celebrate summer as well as spring; just change up the combination of ingredients to reflect the season!

1 cup (250 mL) tender new peas, blanched

1 small purple onion, halved, then thinly sliced

1 cup (250 mL) feta, cubed

2 cups (500 mL) watermelon, cubed

½ cup (125 mL) fresh blueberries; or raspberries, serviceberries, mulberries…

5 small radishes, trimmed and very thinly sliced (about 1 cup/250 mL)

½ an English cucumber, very thinly sliced

About 1 cup (250 mL) of mixed leaves, domestic and wild

1 Tbsp (15 mL) finely chopped mint

4 daylily flowers, stamens removed, petals separated

4 nasturtium flowers, whole or petals separated

1 frilly type marigold, green part removed, petals separated (if using single bloom marigolds, use 4)

Blueberry Honey Vinaigrette 

I use Canadian blueberry honey—those busy bees keep North American blueberry bushes in fruit! – Featherstone Winery’s verjus, and Canadian-grown canola oil from Pristine Gourmet; it’s beautiful, deep-yellow, nutty stuff.

3 Tbsp (45 mL) olive or local cold pressed canola oil

1 Tbsp (15 mL) verjus or very good apple cider vinegar

1 Tbsp (15 mL) blueberry honey

1 tsp (5 mL) Dijon-style mustard

¼ tsp (1 mL) sea salt

Black pepper to taste

To make the vinaigrette, add the oil, verjus or vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper to a medium bowl and whisk until well blended. Set aside.

To make the salad, blanch the peas. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to the boil over high heat. Add the peas and boil for 1 minute. Drain and transfer peas to a bowl of icy water. Allow to sit in the cold water until the peas are completely cooled, then drain and set aside to dry a bit.
Into a very large bowl add all the salad ingredients, including the cooled and drained peas, add the vinaigrette, and very gently toss; petals bruise easily. Tumble onto a serving platter and garnish with a final drizzle of honey.

Serves 4 as a starter

This post was written by Signe Langford

Signe Langford is a restaurant-chef-turned-writer who tells award-winning stories and creates delicious recipes. She is a frequent contributor to the Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Life, Canadian Living and Garden Making magazines. In 2105, Signe published her first book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs; Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden- with 100 Recipes
Raised in the town of Hudson, Quebec Signe grew up surrounded by an ever changing menagerie of critters, both wild and domestic, and her special affection for all feathered creatures has never flagged. At present, she shares a downtown Toronto Victorian with a tiny flock of laying hens. For more stories and recipes please visit


  1. Oh Jennifer,
    this is a fantastic blog. Thank you for all the inspirations. Happy days and all my best from Austria

  2. What a fantastic post this is!!!
    Thank you so much, Jennifer and Signe. :-)

  3. thanks Signe, what a delightful post. I especially enjoyed your opening paragraphs and the Celebration Salad recipe. I'm so fortunate that we have two local gardeners who sell their edible flowers and bits at our Saturday farmer's market. Thanks also to Jennifer for inviting Signe.

  4. Glad you liked it, and hope you make the salad...or your own version of a pretty flower and veggie salad!


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