WASHINGTON, April 22, 2013 – It’s Earth Week and I find myself thinking of ways I can make my footprint greener.
One of the most popular ways of greening in my food-centric world is eating more “local” or “farm-to-table” foods. Like many urban dwellers, I’m not equipped to convert my living space into a personal farm but there are ways we city slickers, and the rest of America, can better utilize our space and while we’re at it, spice up our love lives!
Glancing around the front yards in my neighborhood, I can identify at least a dozen varieties of season-al flowers that are perfect for season-ing a meal. That’s right, many of the flowers we grow to brighten up the landscape are not only edible; they’re delicious.
Best of all, edible flowers have a rich history as aphrodisiacs. Ancient Romans believed it was Venus who turned violets blue. Even the pesky dandelion weed has been held in regard as an aphrodisiac since times of ancient Greece. (In reality, it is likely dandelion root’s ability to relieve urinary tract difficulties that gives the flower its link to aiding games of love.)
Rose petals and rose hips have long been associated with sex and romance. We now know that both provide the body with a shot of vitamin C, a nutrient needed for maintaining sexual health.
Even if your only growing space is a windowsill, you can have your own edible floral garden. You will be rewarded not only with new ingredients for your culinary repertoire, but a living bouquet to brighten each and every day. Best of all, edible flowers not only bring color and vibrancy to a dish (as well as a note of the exotic), their unique and specific tastes bring fat free flavor impact to dishes: from soups and salads to dips and cocktails, teas and even marinades and garnishes for grilled meats.
From Seed to Salad and Beyond
The most important factor in growing an edible garden is the knowledge of how your seedlings were started. If you aren’t growing from seed you are not sure you know how your flowers were grown. Because you’ll be eating the fruits of your labors, you want to find plants that have been organically grown.
Flowers sprouted through a blanket of pesticides are not what you’ll want to be savoring.
Once you’ve started your garden, it should be fairly easy to keep it pesticide free. Living in a land somewhat free from flying insects and bugs, my one major issue is slugs. I use organic slug pellets spread about once/month to keep the pest population down.
Do not try the saucer of beer method to fight slugs. This only attracts flying insects and suddenly you’ve doubled your problems.
Battle of the Bugs
If your trouble is flying insects, just add a few drops of dish soap to a spray bottle filled with water. Be sure to spray both the tops and bottoms of leaves. Spray once/week or more frequently if it rains. If the soapy spray isn’t doing the job, try planting marigolds among the problem plants. If the problem persists, you may consider identifying the troublemaker and nixing it from next year’s planting.
The best choices for edible flowers vary depending on your location, but wherever you live, consider a rose bush. The flowers are classically beautiful and long lasting. The edible petals have both a delicious flavor and dozens of uses as well as the aforementioned nutritional benefits.
You can infuse a syrup or oil with the delicate taste of rose, candy the petals to decorate desserts, chop and add to the base for a fruit sorbet, steep in tea, flavor vinegar for a salad dressing and more.
East Coast Blooms
Other edible flowers to try on the East Coast include:
Lilac – Offers slightly bitter, lemony flavor. Blooms in late spring, early summer.
Dandelion – This common weed has dozens of uses. The root can be steeped as a drink, the flowers used for wine and the bitter greens can be sautéed or sprinkled in salads.
Tulip – These beautiful flowers have an intriguing, onion-like flavor.
Wild violet – These delicate flowers with a slightly sour flavor are generally found in late spring and summer.
Borage – One of the more interesting flowers to choose, it is used as natural sweetener like honey and is known to relive stress and promote hormone balance.
Marigold – A member of the tarragon family with a peppery flavor, it is a welcome addition to any organic garden as it acts as a natural bug repellant.
Nasturtium – A hearty, easy-to-grow choice, both the leaves and flowers have a watercress-like, sweet, peppery flavor.
West Coast Wonder Gardens
Some flowers to grow if you live in the West:
(Many of the East Coast choices also thrive in the West, but here are some additional choices to try in a long, hot growing season. I personally love growing tulips and nasturtiums in my California yard.)
Tuberous Begonias- Both the fleshy edible stems and the flowers offer a tangy flavor.
Daylily – These bell-shaped flowers can be stuffed like squash blossoms and are insect-resistant.
Pansy – These pretty, easy-to-grow flowers have a faintly minty flavor.
Calendula – Also called poor man’s saffron, it can be used to color food with a brilliant, golden glow.