July and August is a perfect time to gather flowers for food. There is an abundance of wild and garden edibles. Wake up your green salad with a splash of nutrients-rich color! Make a “Flower Petal Salad.” Walk around the lawn, garden and fields, collecting such flowers as bee balm, day lily, red clover, yellow wood sorrel, and viola. The names of these flowers may sound familiar. You may even be purposefully growing some in your garden but didn’t know you could eat them. Or, you thought they were weeds and hadn’t considered their merits of edibility. Bee balm has a sassy zing whereas day lily tends to be delicate on the palate. You may pick up the faintest taste of honey when munching on red clover whereas sorrel has a lemony tang. And then there is viola, which has its own distinct flavor that I find hard to categorize other than, I like it.
Here are few characteristics of each edible flower that you can add to your salad:
Bee Balm, (red) Monarda didyma and (pink/purple) fistulosa, of the Lamiaceae family, is also known as wild bergamot and wild oswego Tea. This perennial herb is native to the Northeast. Flowers have large “shaggy” heads comprised of about 20-50 flowers at the top of the branching stem. Being a member of the mint family, the stem is square, grooved and hard.
Orange day lily, Hemerocallis fulva is a member of Hemerocallidaceae (formally of the Liliaceae family). Flowers appear in terminal clusters and each flower is somewhat funnel-shaped with 3 recurved petals and 3 matching sepals. When harvesting day lily flowers be sure you have day lily and not tiger lily as tiger lily is NOT edible. You can tell the difference because tiger lily has the little black balls or “bulbets” located in the upper leaf axial. Additionally, the long day lily leaves form at the base and the flowers protrude from a long erect naked stem whereas tiger lily’s leaves grow all along the stem. Day lilies are rich in Vitamin A. And, day lilies come in a wide variety of colors so you can really color up your salads!
Red clover, Trifolium pratense, in the Fabaceae family, has round, dense flower heads that really look more purple than red. Notice a pale chevron on the upper surface of ovate leaflets. It is best to pick the flower head apart and scatter the petals into the salad instead of munching down on the whole head.
Yellow wood sorrel, Oxalis straicta, in the Oxalidaceae family, has dainty heart-shaped leaves. The flowers have 5 yellow rounded petals. All aerial parts are edible raw. The sour taste is from their high oxalic acid content which is naturally occurring in several vegetables including spinach and rhubarb. Though oxalic acid can interfere with calcium absorption if you eat large quantities of raw plants containing it, sprinkling some leaves, buds and flowers should not be an issue.
Viola, Viola tricolor, also known as johnny-jump-up and heart’s ease, is a daintier relative of the pansy in the Violaceae family. The 3-petaled flowers can be purple, blue, yellow and/or white. Viola contain antioxidants so eat them up. Yum!
Goodness, I could just go on and on. There are so many flowers out there in the woods and fields to eat. But for now, this will give you a start to incorporating those decorative borders, “weeds”, and wild ones into your diet. Bring along some guide books, or at least an experienced Naturalist, to help you positively identify your new food options. Happy foraging!
Into the Outside is a bi-monthly feature in the Ashfield News. A version of this article appears in the July 2015 edition of The Ashfield News.
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