Edible plants add color, texture, fragrance and flavor to your food

Accompanying my daughter, Ann, to her conference in Palm Desert, California last week was part of my vacation. The really, really hot part. “The surface of the sun” was what Ann called it.

Yet the grass was green, the golf course well watered. Flamingos, pink of course, were not barnyard birds, but alive and swimming, fascinating to watch as they rested while standing on one foot. They do this to save energy.

From the desert, we returned to Denver, a mile up, where dry, cooler air greeted us and we were able to visit his garden.

This spring, Ann and her husband Dave built a raised garden and filled it with good black soil, installed a sprinkler system under the ground and planted it with all their favorite things.

A hundred sweet tomatoes were coming out as well as peppers, heirloom tomatoes, rosemary, lavender and sweet basil. Corn grows and forms ears of multicolored grains.

A small garden for a small yard, but it produces tomatoes and herbs.  Notice the strings to hold some plants upright.

A first experiment consisted in planting tomatillos. They are very green, small, round and covered with an almost vaporous envelope of a lighter green, called calyx. They are ready when the fruit inside is large enough to burst the calyx. Cut and mix into salsa and other dishes if you like it spicy.

I don’t usually give recipes, but try well-washed basil leaves, add small tomatoes and cut pieces of morozello. Sprinkle balsamic vinaigrette over it, season with salt and pepper and it’s a great substitute for a lettuce salad.

Speaking of eating, it’s time to think about edible flowers. They are a great way to add color, texture, even fragrance and a different flavor to your food.

Daylilies are great for experimenting with if you’ve never tried eating flowers before. The flowers are soft, orange and the softest yellow. Use them like lettuce and slip them into a sandwich or garnish brightly colored salads. Float them in punch or as an appetizer, stuff them with soft cheeses and simply smile when your guests ask what this treat is.

Nasturtiums are another popular edible flower. It’s easy to slip them into a salad and enjoy the peppery zest they add to it. Replace flowers with mustard on a sandwich.

Nasturtiums and their leaves can be eaten.  Add a colorful garnish to a plate and give the butter the color it needs by adding a few petals.

And the nasturtium pesto? My seatmate on the flight to Denver was Pastor Andrew Bee of Lisbon, the unusual church in Iowa. Our conversation eventually came to gardening. He and his wife had a bountiful first garden in Iowa and she emailed me this Nasturtium Pesto recipe.

  • Choose the healthiest leaves and flowers and wash them very carefully and let them dry.
  • It takes 4 cups packaged nasturtium leaves and 2 cups packaged nasturtium flowers, 1 1/2 cups olive oil, 5 cloves garlic, 1 to 1 1/2 cups walnuts, 1 to 1 1 /2 cup grated parmesan.
  • Blend well in a blender or food processor and pour into jars and refrigerate.
  • That’s about 2 cups. Something fun to surprise your friends and family with and full of good vitamins.

There are many edible flowers. Do as the Romans do and try roses, violets and borage.

Pinks and violets add color to salads and are good for making jelly. Violets have a sweet flavor reminiscent of wintergreen. Next spring, when the little wild violets dot your lawn, I have a jelly recipe in a lovely lavender color.

Borage is a very old plant that grows tall with star-shaped blue flowers. It tastes like cucumber. Use as a garnish or float in punch with flowers frozen in ice cubes.

Chamomile is popular for tea, as is bee balm. Chives bloom in the spring with beautiful purple flowers that have a mild onion flavor, ideal for casseroles, eggs and cooked vegetables. Even lilacs can be added to vanilla yogurt for a sweet, floral flavor. And hospital patients, believe it or not, can be tossed with salads or floated in drinks.

So much to harvest in the garden. Helps make weeding a lot more fun, doesn’t it?

About Maria Hunter

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