A Visual Feast: Beautiful, Edible Flowers

May 23rd, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Pansies (Viola × wittrockiana) are lovely atop cakes, in salads and especially when floating in cocktails…

Or Cocktails, Like this Sunset Mangotini (click here for recipe)

(Viola × wittrockiana ‘Matrix Purple’)

Candied rose petals, lavender ice cream, hibiscus tea, chocolate cupcakes laced with violets; some flowers are more than a visual feast, they’re actually good enough to eat. It’s fun to decorate food with colorful blossoms, and it always feels a bit naughty too —eating something so pretty— when I pull the tiny flowers off a slice of cake and gobble them down. “Don’t eat the daisies“, they say… But that’s part of the fun, now isn’t it?

I grow flowers in my potager for a wide variety of reasons —to support pollinators, provide fresh bouquets for the table, and add beauty to the vegetable patch— but one of the best reasons to grow flowers in the kitchen garden, is to eat them! I enjoy spicy nasturtium and chive blossoms in salads, scarlet runner bean and rosemary flowers in soup, and many other blooming beauties as both ingredient and garnish to dishes from spring to fall…

Bright Orange Calendula Brightens this Garlic Scape Pesto (click here for recipe)

Nasturtiums Add Bold Color and Spicy Flavor to Salads

Fresh From the Potager: Nasturtium, Lettuce and Radishes Make a Colorful Salad with Zing

Never tried eating a flower? Think again. Broccoli and cauliflower are two of the most popular edible buds! Some other, commonly consumed edible flowers include nasturtium, dandelion, violets and pansies, geranium (Pelargonium spp), daylily, squash blossoms, calendula, chamomile, lavender, chive, mint, sage blossoms and of course rose petals. But many other flowers can be grown and used in a wide variety of dishes. Try citrusy bee balm (Monarda didyma), fruity red bud (Cercis canadensis) and apple blossoms, spicy anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), fresh red clover and scarlet runner beans.

Thinking of adding a row of potager posies to your backyard garden? If you’ve never grown edible flowers before, I’d recommend stopping at an organic nursery or farm stand in your area to shop for plants. Do a bit of research before you collect your six packs and ask a knowledgable staff member at your local garden center for a bit of guidance. Two of my favorite edible flower gardening resources in print —by Cathy Wilkinson Barash and Rosalind Creasy— are listed below. Both books contain great cultural and culinary information; including recipes and tips for storage!

Edible Flowers: Desserts & Drinks by Cathy Wilkinson Barash

The Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasy

And although it should be common sense, I must emphasize that not all blossoms and buds should be consumed. In fact, some flowers —and many berries, leaves, roots and sometimes entire plants— are quite toxic. So, never eat a flower or any plant unless you can positively identify —with 100% certainty— that it’s safe for human consumption. If you have very small children frequenting your garden, or as members of your family or household, never grow anything toxic in your potager. In fact, I recommend  that all gardening adults keep a copy of the Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants in an easy to locate place. If you are growing your own food, it’s always a good idea to become familiar with both edible and inedible plants, and it’s never wise to grow anything poisonous around small children.

The Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants

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Dangerous Beauty: Poisonous Plant Information for Homes with Small Children & Pets…

November 30th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Outside, Looking In: Dreamy —But Poisonous— Kalanchoe mangini Sits High Up in a Bedroom Window

Like many cold-climate gardeners, now that the growing year has ended —and my outdoor garden pursuits are limited to vegetables in raised beds beneath hoop-houses— I find myself catering to a large Indoor Eden of overwintering plants. Throughout the cold months, I keep a wide a wide variety of common and exotic plants in my home. Some of my tender plants —including culinary herbs and other edibles— are located on my kitchen countertop and in stands on or near the floor. Other plants —such as a giant ficus, sago palm, ferns, various succulents, cactus, a cherished collection of orchids and rare exotics— populate my studio workspace, bedroom, bathroom and an indoor, Secret Garden Room.

Kalanchoe mangini – Beautiful, But Toxic to Pets

Poisonous Plants —Like This Sago Palm and Succulent Container— Are Kept Behind Closed-Doors in my Painting Studio

Kalanchoe pumila: Another Pretty, but Poisonous, Plant

Plants are a big part of my life, but animals are part of my family  —I have both a dog and a cat— and yes, they have been known to “sample” the greenery. Although most plants are harmless when consumed, some can make the taste-tester quite sick -and eating certain species can even be fatal. Many common holiday-gift plants —such as amaryllis, poinsettia, mistletoe, Christmas rose, Easter lily, iris, narcissus and hyacinth— as well as common houseplants —like English ivy, elephant’s ear, philodendron and caladium, to name but a few— are toxic to pets. Even tiny bits of leaves, roots or blossoms from certain plants may cause vomiting or diarrhea in both humans and animals. And, when eaten in quantity or over a prolonged period of time, some plants may even be fatal.

Plants are Safely Off-Limits in My Secret Garden Room (Sorry, No Pets Allowed)

If you share your home with small children and pets, it’s critical that you know which plants are potential threats to their safety, and how to handle the danger. Because I garden professionally, it’s my responsibility to know which plants are toxic —both to humans and their animal companions— in order to avoid accidental poisoning and disaster. For human poison-concerns,  The National Capital Poison Center (Affiliated with GWU Medical Center) maintains a website and common poison lists (again, this list is for humans) —including toxic plants by common and latin name— which I have found useful (click here and bookmark). And for quick pet reference, I often check with The United States Humane Society online -their website includes a fairly comprehensive poisonous plant list, (click here for more information). The ASPCA also maintains a regularly updated listing of plants toxic to dogs and cats here on their site (search by common or latin name). In addition, I highly recommend keeping a copy of the Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants (pictured at bottom of this post) in an easy-to-locate spot for quick reference.

This Semi-Enclosed Terrarium Would Be a Great Way to Showcase a Less-Safe Plant on a High Shelf

Of course, the safest decision is to completely eliminate all toxic plants from your home. But for many of us, that isn’t really the most desirable —nor is it the only— option. Plants grown behind glass —especially within completely enclosed terrariums, like the one pictured below— are much less likely to be eaten by children or pets. Plants kept in high, out-of-reach, places —bookshelves and dressers come to mind— also tend to be safe from curious fingers, noses and mouths. Keeping toxic plants in a separate room, behind closed doors, is another way to avoid trouble. I do keep some toxic plants in my home. However, I take special care to make sure my pets are never exposed to the more poisonous species. Even the most mildly toxic specimens in my house are kept safely out of reach; grown within terrariums, upon high shelves or behind closed doors in my studio or Secret Garden Room.

One Safe Option for Toxic Plants, and a Lovely Holiday Gift for a Gardener: A Beautiful, Fully-Enclosed Terrarium

If a child or pet accidentally ingests a potentially poisonous plant, you should immediately call for help. Try to remain calm –remember that more often than not, small quantities of toxic plants are not fatal. However, the side-effects of poisonous plant ingestion can be quite serious. So, don’t take a chance -always seek the help of a doctor or veterinarian if you suspect your child or pet has eaten something unsafe.

Woo in the Garden

A Thoughtful Holiday Gift for A Gardener with Children and/or Pets: Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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