6 ed­i­ble flow­ers that make a tasty treat in your gar­den

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY JEANETTE MARANTOS

With their abun­dant col­ors and di­ver­sity of shapes, flow­ers are a buoy­ant feast for the eyes, and of­ten our noses as well, with their var­ied per­fumes.

But many flow­ers aren’t just pretty. They pack a punch for the palate too, with fla­vors that are sur­pris­ingly in­tense and ad­dict­ing. They might make a tasty ad­di­tion to your spring gar­den.

Some ed­i­ble flow­ers are from veg­etable plants, like sum­mer squash blos­soms, which can be stuffed with cheese, rolled up and quickly sauteed in but­ter, and they’re just de­li­cious, says Tom Yost of Carol Gar­dens in River­side, Calif., a grower of or­ganic herbs and vegeta­bles.

But Yost’s fa­vorite ed­i­ble flow­ers are from herbs, with sub­tler or deeper fla­vors than the stems and leaves.

Herbs are rel­a­tively easy to grow. They don’t need su­per nu­tri­ents in their soil or tons of wa­ter, Yost said, and they can thrive in con­tain­ers or the ground.

“They’re not picky about their soil,” he said, “but if you have a clay soil or de­com­posed gran­ite, they can get stressed dur­ing the su­per-hot months, so com­post or mulch can help.”

As any­one who’s grown basil knows, the herbs will start to flower un­less you cut them back regularly. That’s what makes them good com­pan­ion plants in the veg­etable gar­den, be­cause the flow­ers at­tract all kinds of ben­e­fi­cial pol­li­nat­ing in­sects. (And a bonus: When you’re work­ing in the gar­den, their fra­grance is a lit­tle gift when you brush against them.)

Herbs like at least six to seven hours a day of full sun – too much shade and they'll get leggy and spindly – but they’re also very hardy, Yost said.

“Right now, we have a mass of flow­er­ing arugula that’s about 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide. It went through the freeze and frost and fi­nally fell over dur­ing these last heavy rains,” Yost said. “But my wife, Linda, won’t let me cut it back be­cause she loves snack­ing on the flow­ers.”

Linda Yost is the chef in the fam­ily, and fre­quently in­cor­po­rates flow­ers into her meals. Here are six of the Yosts’ fa­vorite ed­i­ble flow­ers:

Anise hys­sop is a hum­ble herb with a lovely vi­o­let flower that of­fers a gen­tler ver­sion of the plant’s strong anise/licorice fla­vor. Yost rec­om­mends pulling off the lit­tle flow­erettes and sprin­kling them in sal­ads. “It’s very sub­tle, so you’re not get­ting a big flash of licorice,” he said. The flow­ers are also a nice ad­di­tion to desserts or to ex

pand the sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence of a drink. “Use it as a gar­nish on top, so what you do is sip and smell.”

Laven­der is a key in­gre­di­ent in herbs de Provence, the dried mix­ture of herbs that im­parts that dis­tinc­tive “je ne sais quoi” qual­ity to the cui­sine of the South of France, but the tiny fra­grance-packed buds also add fla­vor to a va­ri­ety of dishes, from laven­der ice cream to meat rubs to jas­mine rice, said Linda Yost. “I sprin­kle in four or five lit­tle flow­ers at the start of cook­ing, and it just makes the fla­vor pop.”

Be spar­ing, Yost said, be­cause too much makes food taste soapy, and he rec­om­mends us­ing only cer­tain va­ri­eties for eat­ing – ba­si­cally the French va­ri­eties of Grosso, Mun­stead and De Provence.

Arugula flow­ers are a lit­tle homely, but if you’re a fan of this pep­pery green, the flow­ers have a taste that’s ab­so­lutely ad­dic­tive – nutty with a more sub­tle fla­vor of pep­per and spice. “They’re good for peo­ple with nut al­ler­gies, be­cause they give you that nutty tan­nin fla­vor with­out the al­ler­gic re­ac­tion,” Yost said. Add them to sal­ads or as top­pings to ice cream or yo­gurt, or just eat them straight as a snack. “They pair well with sweet dishes, mix­ing sa­vory with sweet, like cho­co­late and pret­zels.”

Borage is an­other pedes­trian-look­ing plant that cre­ates eye-pop­ping, oth­er­worldly flow­ers, all the more re­mark­able be­cause, of all things, they taste like cu­cum­bers. The leaves and stems have that fla­vor too, but they also have lit­tle hairs that make eat­ing un­pleas­ant. The flow­ers, on the other hand, are smooth and lovely to be­hold in sal­ads. “Linda likes to put them in ice cube trays, cover them with wa­ter and freeze them,” Yost said. “They make great fla­vored wa­ters.”

ALe­mon ver­bena is a bor­ing-look­ing plant un­til you brush against its leaves and the smell of le­mon nearly knocks you out. The flow­ers are tiny but pack a wal­lop. “They’re the only plants you can add to wa­ter with­out boil­ing and get an in­tense fla­vor,” Yost said.

The flow­ers make great fla­vored wa­ter and ice cubes, he said, are they’re de­li­cious in ice cream. “I put crushed flow­ers and leaves in heavy cream, bring it to a sim­mer for just 10 min­utes and then let it cool and strain the leaves out,” said Linda Yost. “That’s how strong it is.”

Nepitella, also known as lesser calamint, is an es­sen­tial herb in Ital­ian cook­ing but lit­tle known in the United States. Yost dis­cov­ered it a few years ago, when the owner of River­side’s pop­u­lar Mario’s Place restau­rant asked if he had any to sell. Now it’s one of his most pop­u­lar plants, he said, and usu­ally sells out ev­ery year.

It looks like a large-leafed oregano, “but when you eat it, it rolls across your palate four beau­ti­ful fla­vors – sa­vory, thyme, oregano and mint,” he said. “Oregano has a strong pep­pery fin­ish, but nepitella ends in mint.” The deep-throated vi­o­let flow­ers are an ex­cel­lent gar­nish on meats, pasta and sauces, and add a sa­vory minty punch to drinks.

DEAN FOSDICK AP

Laven­der’s tiny fra­grance-packed buds add fla­vor to a va­ri­ety of dishes.

BOB FILA Fresno Cus­tom Pub­li­ca­tions Photo

Le­mon Ver­bena, be­cause of its bold le­mon fla­vor, can be used in fresh fruit drinks and as a sub­sti­tute for le­mon grass in Asian recipes.

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