What do the blue chicory flowers blooming in meadows and vineyards, the pansies in your window box and the honey-scented blossoms on your lemon tree have in common? You can eat them.
A stroll around your winter garden, nearby vineyard or neighborhood might reveal surprising edible flowers to cheer, nourish, flavor and decorate winter plates.
But just because blossoms are pretty does not mean you can eat them. Some flowers are poisonous. Identify any flowers you plan to eat or serve and make sure no sprays or chemicals have been used on them.
By the time you read this, nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) may be gone, but in early December the blossoms in navel-orange, taxi-yellow and vermillion blossoms are still flourishing at the edges of my garden. The honey-tinged heat and color of nasturtium blossoms provide contrast in citrus salads and in salads with deep-green arugula or miners' lettuce. Both the petals and the leaves have a peppery flavor, making a milder garnish for guests who don't like spice.
Calendulas (Calendula officinalis) look like bright, full daisies in a palette of pale yellow, apricot and bright orange. They grow through most of our Napa Valley winters. Calendula is an annual and generously self-sows every year, so leave a flower or two to go to seed. After the first rains, expanding circles of little calendula seedlings are already greening up the areas in my garden where calendulas grew last year. In a few months, their neon-orange flowers will be the first to bloom in profusion as winter turns to spring.
Calendula petals may be sprinkled in salads, ice cream, soups or risotto. If you have several plants to choose from, taste to see which you prefer.
All members of the viola family are edible and bloom bravely through all but the iciest weather. Fresh-faced pansies, fragrant violets (Violata odorata) and blue and yellow Johnny-jump-ups don't just provide vivid color for garden beds and pots. They also contribute blossoms for confetti-colored butter logs to melt on biscuits. Or arrange them in two-dimensional bouquets to decorate special desserts.
With blue or white star-shaped blossoms, borage (Borago officinalis) can grow in shady spots. Its cucumber-flavored blossoms can be frozen in ice cubes or used to garnish salads or sorbet.
Herb blossoms are all edible, so consider using the delicate white flowers on lemon verbena and perky chives as well as peach, pear, plum and almond blossoms.
Always check to make sure flowers are edible. While you might think fragrant sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) blossoms should be edible, they are not. This kind of sweet pea is poisonous and should be eaten with your eyes only.
On the other hand, sugar snap peas, shelling peasand other edible peas have blossoms and shoots that can be safely consumed. Eating pea blossoms is for those who spurn delayed gratification and live for the moment, or for those who do not like to eat their peas. On the other hand, gardeners who hope to ultimately harvest peas will have to forgo all but the first blossoms.
Citrus blossoms are edible, but taste them to make sure you like the flavor. Some are bitter. As a general rule, the sweeter the fragrance, the sweeter the flavor. Use blossoms to infuse cream for ice cream or whipped cream or use to scent lemonade.
All types of dianthus are edible, including ‘Sweet William' blossoms, carnations and pinks. Ranging in color from pure white to almost black, dianthus blossoms give artistic cooks many beautiful colors to choose from. Taste the flowers and remove the bottom white part of the petal if it seems bitter. Steep in syrups or mix into butters. Frost cakes, then lay a stencil over the cake and sprinkle shredded flower petals to fill the outline.
Edible flowers can expand your kitchen choices. Check this site https://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm for a list of edible flowers. Tulips, begonias,chrysanthemums and gladiolas can make surprising contributions your meals. Learn which flowers are safe to eat and teach your children well.
Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop on “Rose Pruning” on Saturday, January 7, from 10 a.m. to noon, at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Certified rosarian Lynne Andresen and other Master Gardener rose enthusiasts will demonstrate and explain proper pruning techniques and review rose types, common rose disorders and routine maintenance. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.