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Add a little something special to food: flowers

by: SUBMITTED PHOTOS: MICHELLE GARRETT  - This Rose Petal and Strawberry Punch is a stunning centerpiece for any party.

Since I was young I’ve appreciated that flowers add beauty to food. As a kid, I adorned my mud pies with tiny grape hyacinth and scatterings of individual lilac and dandelion petals. They were pretty enough to eat, which I did. Not a whole pie, just a dainty slice that left grit in the teeth and caused a ripple of giggles to erupt around the tea table.

Today I give that same arty treatment to real food. I have space in my garden devoted to edible flowers: flowering herbs such as chives, sage, thyme, rosemary and basil as well as calendula, violets, violas, nasturtiums and more. I get a big kick out of the reactions guests have when served a salad made of nasturtiums, chive flowers sprinkled on salmon canapés, zucchini blossoms filled with goat cheese or cakes adorned with crystalized violas.

Flowers have been used for culinary purposes for centuries. They were most often candied or made into teas, called tisanes, wine or brandy. Oils and vinegars were infused with flowers and preserved for use during winter months.

Today they are used in a variety of ways: in colorful butters, scented oils, as aromatic vinegars, crystalized and used for garnishes and cooked into sweet and savory dishes.

A word of warning: those who are allergic to pollen should not eat flowers, even when the pollen and stamen are removed.

Flowers used for culinary purposes should be organically homegrown. If you get plants (rather than starting from seeds) from a nursery or garden center, be sure the plants have not been treated with pesticides.

Flowers have the best flavor when they are picked as buds or freshly opened. Gather them in the morning before the sun becomes too hot and draws out the essential oils. Cut out the stamen and remove as much pollen as possible with a fine paintbrush. Remove any green parts around the flower, including the stem and calyx (the circle of sepals that sits on top of the stem just below the petals). Cut the flower into individual petals or leave whole, depending on your purpose.

To get rid of any insects you can gently swish the flowers in a salt water solution, then give them a gentle shake and allow to dry on paper towels.

One of the coolest culinary uses of flowers is making floral butters. Mix a combination of rose, violets and primroses with butter to make butter icing for a cake or combine sage and chive flowers with butter to flavor steamed carrots or to butter breads.

Those old-fashioned ice cube trays come in handy to make floral ice cubes. Float a single borage flower or viola in each cube space, fill with water or another liquid and freeze.

Go a step further: make an exquisite ice bowl by lining a bowl with flowers, then setting a smaller sized bowl inside it and filling the larger bowl with water.

As a rule of thumb, the more fragrant the flower the better the flavor. Online I’ll share a list of flowers that have been eaten for generations. The list is not complete, so if you have flowers you wish to eat that are not included on the tried and true list consult the Clackamas County Master Gardens for advice (503-655-8631).

Some flowers that are definitely NOT safe to eat are euphorbia, rhododendron, anemone, aquilegia, helleborus, hedera, wisteria and laburnum.

Ready for a colorful and fragrant culinary adventure? I’ve included a few recipes for you to try but encourage you to experiment. Share your floral culinary successes with us online and on Facebook.

Bon Appetit! Make eating an adventure!

Rose Petal and Strawberry Punch

Serves 8 to 10

This makes a striking party feature with the colorful petals and deep pink color. Substitute raspberries for the strawberries if you prefer.

1 bottle rose wine, chilled

4 tablespoons vodka

1 cup strawberries, sliced

A handful of scented rose petals, white heels at the base removed

1 bottle carbonated mineral water

Pour the chilled bottle of rose into a glass punch bowl. Add the vodka and sliced strawberries. Scatter a handful of scented rose petals on top. Chill for 1 hour. Add the bottle of carbonated mineral water before serving.

Lavender Chicken

Serves 4

Lavender flowers are used to perfume and flavor the chicken cooked in a large casserole dish with red wine, oranges and thyme. When the lid is removed after cooking, the heady aroma will entice as much as the delicious flavor.

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 chicken pieces

8 shallots

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup red wine

1 cup chicken stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 sprigs thyme

2 teaspoons thyme flowers removed from stalk

2 teaspoons lavender flowers

Grated zest and juice of one orange

To garnish:

1 orange divided into segments

12 lavender sprigs

4 teaspoons lavender flowers

Heat the butter and olive oil in a heavy pan and add the chicken pieces. Brown all over. Transfer to a large casserole.

Cook the shallots in the frying pan for 2 minutes. Add to the casserole.

Add the flour to the frying pan, stir and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in enough wine and stock to make a thin sauce, bring to a boil, stirring all the time and season to taste.

Stir in thyme sprigs, thyme and lavender flowers, orange zest and juice.

Pour the sauce over the chicken. Cover the casserole and cook for 30 to 40 minutes until tender. Remove the thyme sprigs before serving.

Serve garnished with orange segments and lavender sprigs and flowers.

Recipes adapted from The Edible Flower Garden, 1999

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281 ext. 100 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow her on Twitter at @barbrandallfood.

Creating ice bowls like this is easy to do.


By Barb Randall
Staff Reporter
503-636-1281 Ext 100
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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