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Nigella

Edible Flowers - Recipes

I've always had a terrible time with food. I had massive food allergies as a child which only got worse as I got older. I was a picky eater, liking to eat one thing at a time, liking bland food and prefering fruits to all else. It was not hard for me to go over to a raw diet. Going raw saved my health, but did not cure my food allergies. Going raw was a way for me to do an elimination diet and to recover my joy in food. I still eat very simply, but I've gathered some recipes here for you using edible flowers.

Cherry Blossoms and Maple with Sole

Cherry Blossoms

Spring has really come once the cherries start to bloom. Along with the tulips, the red maples are also starting to leaf out and bloom. As you probably know by now, I am inspired by color. However, I do not like the way that most gardening books deal with flower and leaf color. Most of the books I've seen have clashing colors that jar the eye's sensibility. I am a fan of a limited palette of color, both on the plate and in the garden, relying on texture and the subtle play of color to create a "wow" effect.

Trees have edible leaves, many of them. I recommend my favorite data base "Plants of the Future" to guide you on eating edibles. My favorite trees are linden leaves. I've made pestos with birch leaves and linden leaves. The problem with tree leaves is that they are very tough, unless just leafed out. April-May is a great time for new leaves. But taste one of them first. Sometimes they just don't taste very good. Aspen and poplar leaves are edible, but a bit acid tasting. Maple leaves are pretty boring and quickly get tough.

Before I give you this recipe, a word about edible plants and flowers. It is a sure thing that you will be allergic to some food that you may try. People tend to have bad problems with pollen. Although some plants are deathly poisonous and should not be grown at all, no matter how beautiful (rhododendron, oleander) people have trouble with allergens in plants from anything from hay fever to peanut allergies. Some plants may cause a mild reaction, some violent, some may merely give you indigestion or make your joints hurt. PAY ATTENTION!!! Your body is smarter than you are and often that migraine or stomach ache is its way of trying to tell you that you should not eat the food. You should also be aware that sometimes you can eat a little of something but develop an intolerance with larger amounts, or if also challenged by pollen. For instance, many people cut back on grains (wheat, corn, sugar, beer) when the grass is blooming because the overload of the grains on top of the grass pollen (also in the grain family) makes everything worse.

Having said that, I'm all for trying new foods once you verify that they are not poisonous. Maple is not poisonous in any form and people commonly eat maple syrup; however some people are allergic to maple pollen when the trees are blooming. I did have an allergic reaction (mild asthma) to my salad here, and I suspect maple. I did not grow up around maple trees and they are in full bloom and we've been having respiratory allergies. GO SLOWLY. Eat only a little of a new food, no matter what it is. Before I eat a "weird" plant, I read up on it and taste a little and spit it out and wait for a reaction. I am allergic to hundreds of foods, so I just have to go slowly with everything.

The Japanese have eaten cherry blossoms every spring for hundreds of years. They also eat the leaves. Many members of the rose family such as cherry, almond, apple and plum, may have edible fruit, but have toxic seeds or leaves. Cyanide is from bitter almonds. I have eaten almonds that have made my mouth numb and made me think I was going to die from cyanide poisoning. It takes a bit to suffer death, but like many other plant families common to us like celery, spinach, and tomatoes, parts of the plants can be poisonous or other members of that family can be poisonous. So, to be on the safe side, I used these blossoms as decoration, and only ate a little of them although I read enough to know that they are okay to eat. They may be okay to eat, but not okay for ME to eat. I have no allergies to other plants in this family, so I went ahead and tried the blossoms. No problem. There are also maple leaves in this salad, which are no where near toxic, but again, may cause allergies, and tulip petals which are also benign.

Cherry Blossom Maple Salad

Cherry blossoms (make sure you pull off the green parts and that they are clean and not sprayed with chemicals.)
One tulip to match the blooms
1 tbs chopped maple leaves
1 tbs mixed fresh dulse and white seaweed

I ate this salad with a fish entree. Unlike most raw foodists, I am not vegan. I am allergic to most nuts including almonds and coconut, and am very allergic to all grains and most legumes. I'm also allergic to citrus and soy and many other raw staples. I also cannot eat eggs, dairy, or chicken, so my options are very limited.

Fun with Tulips

Tulip Salad

One of the things I look forward to every spring are tulips. If you do not like greens, tulips have the crunch of lettuce or spinach without the green taste. They are mild, with almost no taste at all, but are very pleasant to eat. Best yet, they come in all kinds of colors and can be used as "cups" for deserts as well as thrown into salads for color. I've been picking tulips around town after they've been blooming for a couple of days and are about to drop their petals. They're still good, although a little beat up, and people just don't think of eating them. What a waste! However, do NOT eat tulips bought in the store or flower shop, they might have been heavily sprayed and beware of picking them "in the wild" where there is high auto traffic or you know people have sprayed.

Although in the onion family, tulips do not give gas. Their bulbs are edible, but only just so, slimy when cooked and not very palatable. But the flowers are a cook's dream! And kids love them, too!

Chia Fruit Salad

1/4 cup chia seeds mixed with as much water and soaked for about 15 minutes
1 chopped up kiwi
6 strawberries
(honey if you want--I don't like my food too sweet)
plopped on a "flower" of tulips petals. Cut off the part that might have pollen on it.

Crown Chakra Pudding and Blue Edible Flowers

Crown Chakra Pudding

I'm not as keen on flax seeds as most raw foodists. I guess it's because I'm an artist and grew up with linseed oil as a paint thinner, not something to eat! The small amounts of Prussic acid in flax will not harm you; you'd have to eat pounds of it to get the toxic amounts. People eat flax to thin the blood because it is high in Omega 3 fatty acids. This is a new buzz word, but the point of Omega fatty acids is to balance them, not to just run out and eat a ton of flax oil.

Walnuts, also lauded as high in Omega 3 are also high in Omega 6. Omega 6 is necessary to the functioning of the body, but on the standard American diet people eat muscle meat from animals raised on grains (not grass) and eat too many grain products, so they get a ratio of 100-1 Omega 6 to Omega 3 instead of the recommended ratio of 3 or 2-1. A good rule is to stay under 6-1, which is very difficult if you eat a lot of grains and oils like canola and corn. Most nuts are very high in Omega 6s. Unlike many land animals, humans need the same ratio of Omegas that sea animals need.

You can get Omega 3s from sea products EXCEPT farm bred salmon, and from grass fed animals IF you eat the organ meat. The other way you can get Omega 3s is from many greens such as spinach, kale and the entire mint family. Which brings us to Chia seed, made famous by the hokey commercial where kids used the seeds to grow in ceramic figures for instant "hair." Chia is the seed of a member of the mint family: one of the sages, closely related to common garden sage. Go ahead and eat all the seeds of this family, unless the plant is not familiar to you. There is nothing wrong with peppermint seeds, except that they are TINY. Chia seeds are large for seeds in the mint family. But the cool thing about chia is that when you add water to them, they swell and get very sticky, not so much slimy as like a pudding. I use this quality of chia to make desserts.

For this pudding, I took a half-cup of chia and added about the same amount of water. Stir the seeds and let them soak. Then you have a pudding base to which you can add just about anything. Sweet, dessert type stuff is more familiar to us; if you were to add salt, the chia would be more like caviar.

Here is a recipe for a pudding to nourish the crown chakra at the top of the head. Blue-indigo is the color of this chakra. Good for the sinuses and the eyes!

1/8 cup dried elderberry fruits (soaked)
1/4 cup dried blueberries (or 1/2 cup fresh)
the chia mix
honey to taste
cinnamon or cardamon or other spices to taste
top with edible blue flowers (here I've used rosemary.)

Anchusa

I love edible flowers. They are often very tasty and they put pleasure into food preparation. I'm taking you on a tour of blue flowers in this post by family.

My favorite blue flower is Anchusa azarea, a plant in the borage family common to the Mediterranean. This is a tough plant and wonderful to grow. Unlike comfrey, it does not spread everywhere. Unlike borage, it is a perennial. It produces hundreds of beautiful blue flowers in late May and again in late summer if you cut it back. But the secret is: if you get to the flowers before the bees do, they are absolutely delicious. If the bees get there first, they are pretty, but not sweet, very mild. But I love blue in the garden and anchusa is spectacular. The flowers go well on salads and on deserts or are fun to eat out of hand. The plants are carefree, but might want to be tied back because the stems are so heavy with flowers that they tend to fall over! A flower for the back of the garden, the same height as glads.

Borage

The famous flower in the borage family is...borage! These little gems are also very sweet, but the bees love them. This is a re-seeding annual, another carefree plant that will keep coming back even in very cold climates. The seeds are used to make borage oil and the leaves have a pleasant taste of mild cucumbers. The flowers are beautiful and have been used for ages in sweets and candied for drinks.

There is also a beautiful blue comfrey in this family if you like comfrey. The flowers of lungwort are also a gorgeous blue color.

Campanula

I keep going on about the campanulas, which used to be called "rapunsel" in Europe and are also called "rampions" and "harebells." All of the campanula flowers are edible and very benign. There are campanulas that spread like wildflower and there are some that are better behaved. Some are arctic flowers and will do well at zone 2, if you are blessed with that climate. They are tough plants and the bees love them. They have been selected and bred widely and there are rock plants and tall plants and drought friendly varieties. Although some campanulas are good for roots and others for leaves, all have wonderful flowers. Grow some just for the fun of throwing the flowers on a salad all summer.

Gladiolas

The onion family is blessed with a number of beautiful blue flowers. However, some taste like onions! The flowers of grape hyacinth are HOT, like strong garlic or onions. So most of these are not desert flowers. You have to taste them to see.

Most of the onion family has white flowers, some light pink. But some of our favorite flowers of all time are in this family: tulips, lilies, and gladiolas. Gladiolas are wonderful flowers in mid-summer for sandwiches, salads and anything else you can think up. They are strong enough to hold up well, but not to cooking where they will turn into a little slimy mess. They are mild and taste like not much at all, but they have a texture like a baby lettuce.

There are many other flowers in the onion family that are worth trying because they are so easy to grow. One of the most beautiful plants in this family that is still wild is the camass, not to be confused with the "death camass" which has white flowers. Some are native to the Rocky Mountain West, which gives you a clue as to their hardiness. I include them here as an example of a beautiful plant to grow in a "wild" garden that will give you a little bit of "blue" to throw on your salad.

Nigella

I love nigellas. There are three basic nigellas. The Spanish nigella has rather hot seeds, and the Nigella sativa has seeds that are almost the same as onion seeds, and called that by Indians. The seeds are widely used in Indian and Mid-Eastern and Slavic cooking. But the garden variety nigella, called "damascena" or commonly, "love-in-a-mist" has sweet seeds that are used in confections. The flowers are stunning, some of them pure blue. The ripe seed heads are used in dried arrangements. This is another self-seeding annual that will come back year after year. If you like Indian cooking, do not go without planting "black seed" or Nigella sativa in your garden for a spicy treat.

Viola

And violas, pansies and violets! Where would edible flower cooking be without them? I've had pansies and violas last all winter in my Colorado gardens. They are hardy, pop back after hard freezes and snowstorms and will be a staple of your winter garden in milder areas. And the color! Flowers in the viola family have been bred into every color imaginable. When I did catering, I used these flowers as the backbone of my cooking when I did weddings to match the bride's colors. Easy to grow, pest-free, the foliage is edible, the flowers are edible and they are wonderful for gout, arthritis and a host of over blood and joint problems, having salicylic acid.

Dragons Head

The other family where you find a number of edible blue flowers is in the mind family. This is a picture (courtesy of the web--thanks!) of dragon's head, which is a citrus tasting tea plant that comes in a re-seeding annual or a perennial and is native to Eastern Europe. The leaves and flowers are delicious in teas or in salads and deserts.

Salvia

Many of the members of the sage family have blue flowers and are very good. But some tend to be a bit strong, so taste first. Where I live, rosemary blooms in March, so I have used those flowers in my pudding. The flowers taste like mild rosemary and made a suprisingly good combination with the elder and blueberries. Use the flowers of lavender and mints, thyme and hyssop on all of your creations.

Cooking with flowers adds elegance and pizazz to your meals. Children love edible flowers. They also love bright colors. The next time you go out in the garden, pick some flowers. Most garden plants have edible flowers, with the exception of the tomato family, which are controversial.

© 2010, A.R. Stone

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