Go Ahead, Eat the Centerpiece

One of my favorite flowers is lavender. It reminds of the lavender fields of France and Spain. I love its unmistakable musky, floral scent and the tall spikes of purple and indigo. I use lavender everywhere… in sachets tucked into dresser drawers, with essential oils in my bath, in dried flower arrangements around the house and… in my lemonade. Yes, you heard me right. Lavender is one of the many edible flowers used in recipes as a flavoring – from icy lemonade, to cookies, to a savory flavoring for grilled lamb or beef.

As much as I love Lavender, it’s only one of the many types of edible flowers. You can add nasturtiums to a salad for a peppery flavor or pansies as a garnish on creamy soups. Use miniature rose buds to decorate a white frosted cake or marigolds as a substitute for saffron. You can even use lavender in cookies (my second favorite way to use those wonderful purple flowers). There’s a whole world of epicurean possibilities with flowers straight from the garden that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. They add unique flavors to your recipes or decorate a plate in unexpected ways.

Where to Find Food Quality Flowers

Using flowers in cooking isn’t a new foodie trend. European, Asian, East Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines have used flowers as an integral part of their cooking for centuries. You can purchase edible flowers at many high-end grocery stores or Farmer’s markets, but the price can be a big ouch! But why buy when you can grow your own? As long you don’t use pesticides on your flowers, you can eat edible flowers right from your own home garden. Like any produce, pick edible flowers at their peak of flavor, usually when they are in full bloom. Also, pick early in the morning and refrigerate to maintain their freshness.

One word of caution, though – make sure that the flower is really one you should be eating. Not all are and some may even be harmful. Two of my favorite places to check are What’s Cooking in America: http://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm
and North Carolina State University http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8513.html

In the meantime, how about a puckery-sweet, frosty glass of Lavender Lemonade?

Cindy’s Lavender Lemonade

I make lemonade the old-fashioned way, creating syrup from sugar, water and fresh squeezed lemon juice. With the addition of a few edible flowers like lavender, it goes from great to unbelievably delicious.

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Rind of 1 lemon, grated (optional, only if you want a more intense lemony flavor)
3-5 fresh sprigs of lavender (or 1 tablespoon of dried lavender flowers)
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
5 to 6 cups water
Additional lavender sprigs for garnish

1. Combine sugar, water and lemon rind in a saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove pan from stove and add lavender springs to steep. Cover the pan and cool until it reaches room temperature.

2. Strain the syrup through a fine sieve to remove the lavender. Combine the lemon juice, water and syrup to a pitcher and mix well. Chill until ready to use.

3. Serve over ice and add lavender sprigs to garnish.

Online Resources:

Baking in Bloom: 50 Best Edible Flower Recipes Ever from Blisstree:
http://www.blisstree.com/2008/06/17/food/baking-in-bloom50-best-edible-flower-recipes-ever/

From Sunset, don’t miss 10 Dishes Featuring Edible Flowers:
http://www.sunset.com/food-wine/kitchen-assistant/10-dishes-featuring-edible-flowers-00418000071335/