Peonies For Lunch

salad and edible flowers

We have a long-standing debate at our house about what is worth spending time on in the garden. While I admittedly adore a sun-ripened tomato picked right off the vine, if I have to choose, I tend to invest in what pleases my eye first. When something bright and elegant like rose can double as an edible, it’s no contest which plants I will linger over with the hose or pruning sheers. What could be more wonderful than a salad garnished with spicy nasturtium flowers? Or a jar of rose petal jam? Just the idea makes me want to pull out the linen and sit by the sea.  No matter what I’m doing if it can include flowers, I feel suddenly pampered and regal, lighthearted and pleased. This is not an imagined response. It’s an old and visceral one worth taking note of.

In every culture and country flowers have the same gracious effect. In china the fallen petals of a peony are parboiled and sweetened as a tea-time delicacy. In a vase as lunchtime companions I find their quiet company adds a soothing element that I relish in the middle of a hurried day.

I remember the first time I saw an artichoke growing as part of a strangers decorative landscaping. An enormous purple globe couched in thick leathery fingers, long silvery leaves like a dancers shawl flung out at upward angles. I went straight to the door to find out what was going on! In the case of artichokes once they have flowered it’s too late for harvest, but in my book it’s a win either way. If you are slow to pick, its just that much more food for the soul.

If you have never eaten or cooked with flowers, and would like to, it is probably good to start with something simple and accessible. If you are like me and adore getting something that is enormously expensive for pennies, try making your own sugared rose petals. At  $218.00 per 2 lbs, it seems like a pleasure that might be worth a few minutes of your time. Reassemble the petals into a flower, loosely scatter over a bowl of berries and whipped cream, or add as an extra sweet topping to your favorite muffins or cupcakes.

Nasturtiums are a prolific annual that will provide your garden with a blast of vibrant color as well as bit of spicy, radish like zip in a salad, or as a sandwich garnish.

For a quieter taste, there are very few things easier to grow or find than Violets. In the case of this sweet-faced bloom, you can eat the leaves as well, but be careful of the rhizomes – the underground part that sends new roots down to the soil, which can cause severe gastro upsets.

Pansies, another nostalgic flower from the viola family are also very easy to grow and enjoy, effortlessly reproducing and lasting clear up till the frost in most places. Pansies can be candied and used as cookie décor, in cocktails and just about anywhere you want to add a mildly sweet, fresh flavor.

If you are growing squash or have a friend with over producing plants, see if you can snag a few pumpkin or zucchini blossoms. Try stuffing with herbed cream cheese or ricotta, or dipping one or two in a light batter and deep-frying them.

If you have a chemical free lawn, toss a few Dandy-lion blossoms in your salad or sauté some unopened buds for a mushroomy tasting addition to pasta.

For a simple springtime surprise, add peony petals to your salad or float them in tea or lemonade.

However you look at it flowers have the power to nourish both body and soul.

So gather ye rosebuds, – and eat them too if you like! But do remember only use blossoms that are free of any and all sprays chemicals or pesticides.

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