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Flowers on the menu = Tasty ingredient

Pansies and violas are the perfect floral complement in a salad of fresh spring greens and feta cheese. ©Wiktory/iStockphoto

Pansies and violas are the perfect floral complement in a salad of fresh spring greens and feta cheese. ©Wiktory/iStockphoto

As restaurants embrace farm-to-table fare, gardeners need to celebrate their own backyard bounty.

We already know about tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans and lettuces, but there are more than vegetables to grace your table.

Think flowers.

Last spring, I had lunch at Courses restaurant atop the former Stouffer’s Hotel, now home of Ivy Tech’s Corporate College and Culinary Center. Besides the great bird’s-eye view of the city, one of the nice things about the delicious meal was the salad, which featured lettuces, herbs and flowers grown on the grounds of the campus at Fall Creek Parkway and Meridian Street.

Flowers? You, the unadventurous eater, ate flowers, you ask?

Yes, indeed. This time, it was the slightly sweet, slightly crunchy taste of violas and pansies. This was not my first taste of edible flowers. I’ve eaten peppery nasturtium in salads, enjoyed lavender ice cream and shortbread cookies and, in Grenada, imbibed a glass of very sweet sorrel, made from Roselle hibiscus flowers (H. sabdariffa).

“Roselle can also act as a diuretic, so it should be taken in small doses,” wrote Denise Schreiber in her book, Eat Your Roses: Pansies, Lavender and 49 other Delicious Edible Flowers (St. Lynn’s Press, $17.95).

eat roses coverSchreiber’s book provides other cautions, such as you should avoid eating anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), if you are pregnant. At 7 by 6 inches, spiral bound and full or tips on harvesting, uses and recipes, it fits right on the shelf of cookbooks.

Her book reminds us that we actually consume flowers and leaves in teas, such as chamomile, rose hip and jasmine. And then there’s that bean we grind to make our morning elixir.

Edible flowers should always be pesticide free and grown for culinary use. Many edible plants have delicious flowers, worth the sacrifice of a few zucchini and other produce. These include the blooms of squash, onion, radish and just about any herb. Garden pea (Pisum sativum) flowers and shoots are all the rage right now, but don’t confuse these with sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus), which despite its name, is poisonous.

This brings up an important point about eating flowers, leaves and other parts of plants: Know what you are eating. If you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it. Always go by the scientific, not the common, names when looking for edible flowers.

Lots of grocery stores and farmers markets offer edible flowers, if you don’t want to grow your own. Avoid flowers from florists because you don’t know if they’ve been treated with pesticides.

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