Let your taste buds bloom


Just as summer follows spring, fruit follows flower, and August is the fruiting time of year in my garden.

But at one moment at the end of the month, that was irrelevant.

“You wouldn’t by any chance have any edible flowers, would you?” asked my visiting chef friend Joshua McFadden as he set about fixing a celebratory meal. As it turned out, I did.

Wandering among both edibles and ornamentals, we found a solid dozen. Some had long passed their major show but still offered scattered blooms to nectar-hungry bees.

Because they are so beautiful, flowers make wonderful garnishes for food and often add flavor as well.

Those from culinary herbs, suffused with powerful essential oils, make the strongest statement on the tongue. The last yellow umbels on my bolted dill tasted dill-like, the purple-blue catmint minty. Even better were the oreganos. Both the purple-flowered and white-flowered kind had a fine mint flavor. Sage’s showy purple-blue florets, to Joshua’s delight, were as potent as its leaves.

Late-blooming garlic chives sported little white starbursts perched above nascent garlic bulblets, each one an explosion of pungency. There was even a lone oniony chive blossom.

Many flowers carry a hefty load of nectar, adding another dimension to their flavors. Anise hyssop’s lavender-blue spikes, nearing the end of their bloom, were licorice candy. Tiny, exquisite lavender florets were sweet, too, but followed by a heavy burst of lavender flavor. I’m not sure how something can taste just the way it smells, but the two senses are certainly allied.

In any case, I’m glad those florets make a big visual impact when sprinkled over a green salad, because tastewise, a few of them go a long way.

We found some broccoli plants that had gone to seed, erupting in great bouquets of pale yellow blooms. They had a faint, rather bland brassica taste, as would any blossoms from the cabbage tribe, but gave a big sugar hit. No wonder the bees were mad for them.

Scarlet runner bean flowers, on the other hand, though faintly beany on the tongue, lacked that sweetness. No matter. Most people grow the plant for the look of its stupendous red floral sprays, a favorite of hummingbirds. It’s great as a garnish, too.

The rose is not often thought of as an edible, but our Rosa rugosa hedges are currently laden with fruits — bright orange hips the size of jumbo olives that many cooks prize for vitamin-C-laden jellies. The few lingering blooms taste sweet, with a delicate rosiness, and make especially fine garnishes for desserts.

My Fairy roses still have a few clusters of their tiny shell-pink flowers, and these are a bit sweet, too, but nothing compared with the rugosas.

I’ve saved my favorite for last. My perennial borders rely on a display of daylily varieties chosen for their late bloom. Apart from the huge squash blossoms from which I make tasty, cheese-stuffed fritters, these are the largest edible flowers I use. The colorful petals are sweet and crisp, and could be a salad all by themselves, not to mention the stars of an all-edible-flower bouquet.

Barbara Damrosch

Barbara Damrosch

Barbara Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Gardener’s Cookbook.”