Food & Entertaining - Garden to Table

Plant edible flowers in your garden

By
Judith Adam
Photography by
Roger Yip

Tantalize the senses by adding romantic edible flowers to your next dish

Not all flowers are edible. Most people are aware of the toxic warnings about foxgloves and monkshood, but to prevent adverse or allergic reactions, make sure you know what you’re eating. (For a listing of toxic plants by botanical and common names, visit the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility website and search “poisonous plants.”)

Introduce flowers for consumption one at a time so you can pinpoint an allergic reaction or discern when a particular variety isn’t to your liking. Though many edible flowers are high in vitamins A and C and other essential nutrients, don’t make a meal of them. Use them sparingly for garnish, and for the brilliant colour, flavour and texture they can add to ordinary foods.

Choose flowers that are at their peak, avoiding blooms not fully open or past their prime. Select blossoms with no visible soil or sand clinging to the petals; examine them carefully to be sure they’re perfect, without injury or signs of disease or insects. Harvest stems with blossoms the day they’re to be used, in the morning when temperatures are cool and the dew has dried. Use sharp scissors to cut the stems cleanly and leave the rest of the plant undamaged. Put the stems in a small jug of water until you’re ready to work with them. A few hours before serving, cut the blooms off and prepare them by separating out individual petals from flowers like pot marigolds and bachelor’s buttons, and placing them on wet paper towels inside a plastic bag with the top left partially open. Small flowers like those of Johnny-jump-ups and redbud can be used whole, but remove pistils and pollen-carrying anthers (found at the centre of each bloom), which can have an acrid taste or aggravate allergies. Some, such as pot marigolds, pinks and roses, have a bitter-tasting white base at the bottom of the petal (the basal end). Taste the basal tips; any that are bitter should be snipped off. Most flower petals lose their colour and flavour when subjected to heat (lavender is an exception), so they’re best in raw salads or atop cooked foods, added to the plates just before serving.

Crystallizing violets and roses
Whole blossoms of violets and the petals of roses can be preserved in sugar for a few weeks. Collect clean, unblemished flowers in the morning, cutting their stems with scissors after the dew has dried. Carefully remove select petals from roses by bending them backwards and pulling to one side. Lay flowers on a piece of waxed paper as you work. 

In a small bowl, beat an egg white (or use dried pasteurized egg whites available at health food stores) until frothy but not stiff. Next, cover a dinner plate or small tray with a thin layer of superfine sugar. Use tweezers to gently pick up a violet blossom or rose petal, and dip it into the beaten egg white, covering both sides. Sprinkle with superfine sugar while holding it over the sugar-coated plate. Lay it on the plate and sprinkle again; repeat with remaining flowers or petals. Put the plate in the refrigerator, uncovered, and let the violets and rose petals dry and harden for one to two days. Store between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. They’ll keep for three to four weeks, and make a lovely garnish for desserts and cakes.

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