When looking for ways to turn an ordinary salad into a gourmet treat, many people have turned to edible flowers.  But, you don’t have to make a beeline for your flower garden to find flowers.  Instead, you may want to take a second look at your vegetable garden, herb garden, and even your lawn.  Perhaps the blossoms you see there are more than just pretty – maybe they are delicious, too.

Edible Blooms in the Vegetable Patch

Yes, many edible flowers are not actually found in your flower garden, but are actually staring right at you from the vegetable garden.  Some of these ‘edible blooms’ you actually know quite well, even if you haven’t thought of them as the flowering part of your vegetables. The broccoli and cauliflower we are familiar with are both actually flowers, just as the artichoke is also the flower of the plant.

Not only are you eating a flower when you eat a head of cauliflower or broccoli, but you can also allow the flower to flower, so to speak, and enjoy that treat as well.  The pretty yellow flower of the broccoli can be picked, cleaned, and enjoyed sprinkled on top of a bed of lettuce tossed in a light vinaigrette. Watch for the flowering shoots on cauliflower and artichokes, too, and experiment with the flavors to create a gourmet salad that is both delicious and colorful.

Some of our favorite vegetables sport lovely blossoms that we watch disappear as the vegetable forms.  Zucchini, for instance, has a brilliant yellow blossom that is absolutely beautiful to look at.  Other squash varieties share this gift, as well. But, squash blossoms have a surprise in store for us; they are also delicious!

There are a number of ways to prepare squash blossoms, but one favorite is to pick the blossoms when they are still small and closed, then wash and prepare by dipping in a light batter and frying quickly in a hot skillet.  This makes a delicious somewhat sweet surprise on top of a mixed green or fresh spinach salad. Another favorite is to scatter the blossoms raw around the plate. No matter what, squash blossoms will turn any salad into a gourmet salad.

Herbs Doing Double Duty

We all know that fresh herbs add a gourmet touch to any salad.  But did you know that many herbs have edible blooms as well as the foliage we’re familiar with?  Thyme, for instance, is a very fragrant and versatile herb, but when you harvest the flower, you’ll find a secret ingredient for a gourmet salad, or even a tasty sauce or dressing.

If you plant basil, fennel, and cilantro, you may want to gather the flowers as well as the herb greens.  Go ahead and experiment in your favorite salads and other dishes.  A less known, but certainly valuable herb, is borage. This prolific herb will have you thinking you smell a fresh cucumber, and the flowers borage produces are just as tasty as they are pretty.

With a patch of dill you’ll have plenty to experiment with.  Harvest the yellow tops as they appear, but before you see the seeds form. Sprinkle on your green salad or use in a creamy yogurt dressing.  Dill is the perfect flowering herb to add freshness to any salad.

Unexpected delights can be found when you allow an onion or garlic bulb to blossom. Designate a little patch of these plants to flower, and enjoy a delicious surprise in your salad.  Instead of clipping your chives down to the ground, allow the pretty blue flowers to just open, then cut them immediately and serve on top of a spinach salad for a real gourmet look and taste.

A Weed by Any Other Name

You may want to pay attention the next time you’re mowing your lawn, too. Those dandelions you’ve been cursing could be your next tasty gourmet salad. This weed is actually an herb with edible flowers and greens. Pick the flowers while they are still closed buds for a sweet taste similar to honey. Once the flower opens, it will be bitter. Aside from the buds, the dandelion greens make a wonderful salad, but again, pick them while they are very young and small. Who knew that pesky little weed could be so tasty and elegant!
Clover is another tasty treat that may be hidden away in your lawn. You may have seen either red clover or white clover growing among the grass.  Some regions produce an edible clover that produces both a leaf and stem to enjoy as well as a small flower. When identifying clover to eat, be sure to check your region’s type of clover before you proceed.

Now that you know just how many options there are for finding gourmet ingredients right in your own vegetable garden, herb garden, and even your lawn, maybe it’s time to take a closer look.  Those buds and blossoms that are so pretty, may also provide you with some gourmet salads.  The general rule is if you can eat the plant, you can eat the blossom.  However, not all vegetables, herbs, or weeds produce a blossom that’s edible, or tasty, or that should even be eaten, for that matter.  Before you bite in, do a bit of local research. Then you can enjoy the brilliance that these blossoms can add to your gourmet salads.


Image: flickr user Roebot, licensed by Creative Commons