You can have it all and eat it too in the backyard garden. Are you tired of the same old potatoes, tomatoes, and beans routine? Do you want to replace the old waltz with a new minuet that satisfies the esthetic soul as well as the cravings of the flesh?
You can have both with edible flowers. A garden that looks beautiful, supplies flowers for cutting and drying, as well as unusual tastes and textures to eat.
Start in Spring with the Lovely Violets. Sugar crystalized violets are the creme de la creme of fancy food trimmings. For truly precious cooks, and wildflower fanatics, there are white, pink, bicolor, and even yellow violets. One of my most prized, though fragile and fleeting, is a freckled violet, white with purple dots, given to me by a very old man many years ago.
Violets, as with most edible flowers, can be made into syrup, used to flavor sugar or butter or vinegar, used whole in jelly, or even made into violet water to moisten poultry stuffing. Very Victorian. The fresh flowers displayed in a narrow vase or as a nosegay surrounded with white lace and green heart shaped leaves are the personification of eternal spring and beauty and youth.
Then Consider Lilacs. Although the good book says, “As ye shall sow, so shall ye reap,” you can reap plenty without lifting a finger. Lilacs, for instance, can be made into a old fashioned confection called Crystals of Lilac, in which bunches are dipped in hot water and gum arabic, then dipped in a thick sugar syrup, and finally dusted with granulated sugar.
Dandelions, Too. Dig the roots, then scrape and boil. They taste like a cross between parsnips and potatoes. Delicious. The leaves make tart salad greens when young or boiled greens when a bit older. The buds can be cooked with leeks, then served in a butter sauce, or used for dandelion bud omelets. Try that on your jaded friends! When the buds mature and the flowers open, the leaves turn bitter so just sit back and enjoy the flowers. (And if you don’t want an even bigger crop next year, pick the flowers as they appear. They seed all over the place.)
Carnations. Plant these flowers to fancy up the paths in the old vegetable patch between the more mundane tomatoes and beans. Attractive to look at and smell, clove pinks and gilly-flowers are also wonderfully fragrant. They are good candied in marmalade, or pickled with mace and cinnamon in vinegar, or minced in stuffings.
Marigold petals are ubiquitious. They can be used in everything from salads to chowder, chicken soup, rice, meats, to make wine, (or even feed the chickens to tint the meat golden if that’s your thing. ) The flavor is slightly piquant, but interesting.
Nasturiums. The are good, but the leaves are even better. They have a good flavor, and are used in salads and sandwiches like lettuce or cress. They grow in the sun and they like it dry. Aphids are into nastursiums too, so, if needed, use a safe liquid soap spray for control.
Roses. While you’re at it don’t forget the romantic flowers. Rose petals are good for flavoring jelly or jam, shredded in omlets and deviled eggs, for rose syrup (on pork chops), to flavor honey, and for rose-sugar (try it on carrots). But most gourmet of all is to make crystallized roses to put on fruit compote.
Pansy is the flower of love. Feed them to the object of your affection. They liven up salads, flavor sugar syrup. and look wonderful crystallized on pudding and fruit pies. Little wild Johny-jump-ups, the bi-color wild pansies will come up each year along lightly trod paths and in the flower borders for a regular annual supply.
Blue Chicory. When summer comes, the roadsides will be speckled with the fleeting ethereal blue flowers of this common weed… chicory. The flowers may be made into a conserve while the roots, dried and ground make any coffee taste French (and strong.) The whole roots, dug in fall, and brought inside can be forced in a root cellar. In January and February, they will produce endive shoots for a fraction of the gourmet food store’s fancy price.
Chamomile has daisy-like flowers make an interesting flavored beverage, or a rinse for blonde hair if you don’t like the taste. Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) is an old medicinal plant of the Romans, and when used as a ground cover, it can be mowed like grass.
Golden Margurite (Anthemis tinctoria) has profuse daisy like flowers and the same pungent aromatic leaves.
Nepeta Mussini is a nice blue catnip like perennial, the leaves and flowers of which spice up fresh salads, conserves and tea. Don’t overdo these though. Medicinal plants can make you sick if you use more than a tiny taste.
Chrysanthemums are a wonderful flower, in all colors and shapes and sizes. The petals are a must in oriental cooking for color, garnish, in salads and even for creamed soup. The taste is different, somewhat spicy. The Chinese believe eating chrysanthemums will make the body light and vigorous, and increase longevity. No guarantee, though.
Shasta Daisy petals (of “He-loves-me, he-loves-me-not” fame ) are of the same family. They may not put meat on your bones like potatoes, but one can eat the daisies or look at them, depending on the mood of the moment.
Clover. If it’s coming up as a weed in the old vegetable patch, don’t fret, eat it. The blossoms, picked early in the morning , fresh with dew, taste of nectar. Chop them with butter and serve on the morning toast. Or use for in a luncheon salad. The leaves are edible too, better boiled with salt and butter, or sometimes a few eaten raw. After all, cows love them.
Scented Geraniums have long been grown as garden plants, and used to scent jellies, linens, sugar, butter and what have you. You can really experiment with these leaves. The flowers aren’t splashy and profuse like the commercial flowering ones, but the leaves are wonderful to crush or brush against in the garden. My favorites are lemon scented and rose scented.
Lemon Verbena is another special scented plant. The lemon flavor is more subtle than the real thing. The plants self seed in the garden and can be potted up and brought indoors to a sunny window in fall. Rubbing the leaves produces a delightful lemony fragrance.
Ever thought of garnishing with Gladiolas or Daylilies? The blossoms make anything look exotic. Use combined with lettuce and a vinaigrette dressing. Or use the whole blossom as a cup to serve shrimp in. Unopened daylily buds, much prized by oriental cooks, are bland but nice. They are usually dipped in batter and fried, or added to soups, noodles or meat dishes. Personally I’d rather just look at the flowers myself.