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Leave Room for Blooms

Five fresh ways to serve edible flowers

Karen Z. —  May 5, 2015 — Leave a comment

Have you eaten a flower today?

Americans are getting comfortable with the idea of edible flowers. But how—aside from sugar-candied flowers for bakers—do you use them?

We asked horticulturist Nancy Clifton, who brought five really fresh ideas to the table.

PHOTO: Today’s blue plate special: flavorful greens finished with blue flower petals.

Today’s blue plate special: flavorful greens finished with blue flower petals.

1. A modern salad: greens + color

Gone are the days of a plain side salad on a white plate: today, even a tiny saladette is vibrant with color and flavors. Start with a blue (or green) plate. Add a piquant mix of salad greens (and reds), including baby chards and chois, and leafy herbs like parsley and cilantro. Then finish with flower petals: snip blue bachelor button petals to highlight that plate, dot white sweet alyssum among the greens, and trade the traditional sprig of parsley for blooming sage and rosemary.


PHOTO: Nasturtium or chive flowers make a lovely pink vinegar. For a fruitier flavor, pour white vinegar over one cup of gently washed fresh raspberries.

Nasturtium or chive flowers make a lovely pink vinegar. For a fruitier flavor, pour white vinegar over one cup of gently washed fresh raspberries.

2. Flowers are the new dressing

You’ll need a dressing for that salad above: Nancy’s flower-based vinegar recipe couldn’t be easier:

  1. Wash one cup of nasturtium or chive flowers and let dry.
  2. Gently add flowers to a sterile quart jar. Pour in plain white or white wine vinegar to cover.
  3. Let steep for two weeks in a cool, dark spot.
  4. Strain vinegar into a fresh jar to use. Note how flowers have lost their color to the vinegar.

Such beautiful pink color! Sprinkle as is onto leafy greens, or mix with oil and season to taste.


PHOTO: Blue bachelor buttons, red cranberries, and white apples: a red/white/blue salad for the Fourth of July!

Blue bachelor buttons, red cranberries, and white apples: a red/white/blue salad for the Fourth of July!

3. Hello, Farro!

Also called wheatberry, farro makes a delicious base for a “superfood” salad chock full of fruits and nuts and topped with flowers. Nancy notes that all amounts can be adjusted to your preference.

To begin, cook one cup of farro according to directions (Nancy suggests substituting apple cider vinegar for part of the cooking liquid). While the farro is cooling (about 3 cups cooked), make the dressing:

  1. Toast ½ cup pecans in an oven or fry pan until fragrant. Set aside to cool, then chop.
  2. Sauté one small (or ½ large), chopped red or yellow onion in olive oil until translucent.
  3. Add one medium, unpeeled, chopped Granny Smith or gala apple to pan. Continue to sauté for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat. Stir in fresh thyme (leaves of 2 sprigs) and ½ cup dried cranberries.
  5. Dress with a mix of 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, seasoned to taste.
  6. Combine farro with the sautéed mix.
  7. Snip bachelor button or calendula petals and sprinkle over the top.

PHOTO: Summer weddings, showers, and graduations call for a flower-spiked punch.

Summer weddings, showers, and graduations call for a flower-spiked punch.

PHOTO: Nancy likes the look of fresh ginger ale studded with a flower that floats.

Nancy likes the look of fresh ginger ale studded with a flower that floats.

4. Flower floats

In the 1950s and ’60s, no punch bowl was presented without an ice ring. Nancy charmingly updates the idea for a homemade lemonade or champagne brunch punch, using fresh flowers. Try pansies or violets, or a mix of flowers and fruits, such as calendula petals with strawberries or bachelor buttons with blueberries.

A crazy good ice tip: to make clear ice cubes (rather than cloudy) or ice rings, use distilled water or filtered bottled water—or boil and cool the water twice before adding to ice mold or trays.

  1. Line a bundt pan or jello mold ring with gently washed and dried pansies.
  2. Gently fill with water. The pansies will float to the top.
  3. Freeze.
  4. When ready to use, dip the mold into a larger bowl holding an inch or two of hot water, which will loosen the ice ring.
  5. Invert and set ice ring into punch bowl. (Right side up or upside down? Either works.) Pour in punch or beverage of choice.

Floral ice cubes are great for summer parties, too: adjust the above directions for your ice cube trays.


PHOTO: How do they taste? “Like mushrooms,” Nancy says. Dandelions are great as a conversation-sparking finger food!

How do they taste? “Like mushrooms,” Nancy says. Dandelions are great as a conversation-sparking finger food!

5. Deep-fried dandelions

We didn’t believe it, either, but Nancy’s how-to-fry-a-dandelion demo changed our minds forever about everyone’s formerly least-favorite flower.

  1. Pick freshly-bloomed dandelions (just the blossom, no stem) from a trusted, chemical-free site.
  2. Gently wash the blossoms. While moist, lightly flour each flower (shake with ½ cup seasoned flour in a zip-lock bag).
  3. Heat ¼-inch of olive oil in a small fry pan.
  4. Gently fry flowers, turning delicately, until golden brown.
  5. Drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Fry fresh sage leaves alongside dandelions, then crumble both on salads.

Next time you’re out at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, check out the spring edible flower bed in the Small Space area, where sweet alyssum, calendula, and dianthus are set off by towers of climbing peas for pea shoots—the new foodie rage!

Use common sense before eating flowers.

Know your flowers! Grow your own chemical-free flowers; don’t use unfamiliar flowers or those from non-organic sources. Our Plant Information staff has a good write-up about the difference between edible/inedible, plus a list of flower suggestions. More questions about what’s edible and what’s not? Call our Plant Information Service at (847) 835-0972.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Flower-Powered Picnic

Summer of Love

Karen Z. —  July 19, 2014 — Leave a comment

What does your mental checklist look like when you think “romantic evening”? Does it include picnicking? Flowers? Music? Dancing? Sunsets? Selfies? Walking hand in hand?

Spur-of-the-moment picnic? We have you covered.

PHOTO: Grilled salmon over a bed of julienned greens.

The Garden Grille is open ’til 9 every evening (last order, 8:30 p.m.) and, yes, you can get it to go!

On Monday nights at the Chicago Botanic Garden, start with the first item on this list, and all the rest should fall right into place. That’s because Monday night is picnic night. It’s also Carillon Concert night—but more on that in a moment.

A romantic picnic need not be formal or fancy. The secret to making it romantic is a personal touch—something that both reflects your personality and makes the evening more fun. It could be a picnic blanket with a story. It could be real plates/glasses/flatware instead of plastic. It could be a home-cooked meal or an out-of-the-ordinary beverage.

One of our favorite ways to make picnic fare more special—whether it’s homemade or store-bought—is with edible flowers.

Dress your picnic with love.

Gathered from your garden or from a trusted source (no florists or foraged flowers, please—read why here), edible flowers can make even the simplest dish taste more interesting and look decidedly more romantic:

Edible flowers.

PHOTO: Pansy blossom

Violas or pansies come in beautiful and dramatic colors (including near-black), and are shaped like little hearts. Their flavor is sweet and perfumed. Conversation starter: the word “pansy” comes from the French “pensée,” or “thought.”

PHOTO: Nasturtium blossom

Nasturtium flowers’ summery colors—yellow, orange, red—beg to be tossed into salad greens, where they’ll deliver a bit of bite (peppery, radish-like). Decorate cheeses, dips, and even a humble potato salad with nasturtiums’ edible blossoms (the pretty leaves are edible, too).

PHOTO: Rose petals

Rose petals are quintessentially romantic. Use the petals from heirloom roses rather than hybrids—the former have the fragrance and thin delicacy that the latter do not. Add rose petals to salads, ice creams, homemade vinegars; candied, they’ll store for months.

PHOTO: Lavender blossom

Lavender buds are delicious sprinkled on a fruit salad (terrific with berries, cherries, figs). Lavender has more than fragrance and flavor to offer: it’s a natural source of calcium, iron, and vitamin A.

PHOTO: Chive blossom.

Chive blossoms are so beautifully purple that you’ll be tempted to use them on everything, but a little of their onion flavor goes a long way. Float a few florets on a chilled potato-leek or spring pea soup for all the extra zip you’ll need.

Carillon concerts every Monday night in summer—be there with bells on!

PHOTO: View of the carillon from the Nautilus.

Tables at the Nautilus on Evening Island are a great place for a Carillon Concert picnic.

Now back to the third item on the checklist: music. Monday night is Carillon Concert night, when carillonneurs (such a great word) local, national, and international take the stage to new heights at our 48-bell carillon. With such a global lineup, the musical repertoire is always rich and surprising. Dancing is, of course, both spontaneous and encouraged.

Picnickers can gather any time before the 7 p.m. concerts. (Every 15 minutes between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. there’s a carillon tour and demo—a great way to break the ice and/or keep the kids intrigued.) The lawn at McGinley Pavilion is a favorite spot to set up your picnic—and to prepare for those selfies, as the sunsets are simply spectacular.

As for the last item on the checklist—walking hand in hand—we’ll leave that to you.

Daisy Chain

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org