On a social media network in early May, I, a Tahoe resident was looking for recommendations on how to keep dandelions from overtaking my lawn. Almost everyone suggested that instead of getting the weed-eater out, I should handpick the dandelions and use them to make tea, wine, jelly or even pesto. Around this same time, roses were coming into bloom and with thoughts of rosewater and rose oil swirling around in my head, I wondered what else I could do with the roses at the tail end of their lifespan.
Whether you are growing flowers for decoration or fun or are simply looking for ways to dispose of undesirable ones, here are some of the most common varieties of edible flowers that can be grown and harvested in the Sierra Nevada — to be enjoyed lawn-to-table style.
Mention edible flowers to a botanist in Tahoe and the first thing that comes to her or his mind is nasturtiums. Bright and colorful, nasturtiums are a distant cousin of broccoli and mustard, which may make you feel better about eating them. The petals offer a peppery, mildly fragrant taste; the flower tops — usually red, orange and yellow — are most commonly used to boost the look and uniqueness of a mixed-green salad.
If you want to grow your own, nasturtiums are commonly started indoors and flower all summer long. You can buy ready-to-eat nasturtium petals from Dayton Valley Aquaponics. They are usually present at the Thursday afternoon Incline Village Farmers Market. You can also find the flowers sprinkled in some dishes at Great Full Gardens Cafe and Eatery or at Homegrown Gastropub, both in Reno, Nev.
Often used to express feelings of love and affection, roses smell good, have velvety soft petals and thorny stems with which they fend off pests. You may have never thought to eat roses, but you’ve have eaten some its distant relatives: almonds, cherries and apples.
Rose petals are obviously the most edible part of the plant and when choosing the best rose petals to use for cooking, let your nose lead you to the most fragrant ones. The petals are commonly boiled and used to make tea, rosewater, jams and sauces or folded into ice cream or cookies. Be sure to to snip off the bitter white heel part of the petal before using them. To be sure that your roses are safe to eat, get your rose petals only from natural gardens, free of pesticides. Never eat roses from a store-bought, flower arrangement.
Dandelions are probably the most versatile of the Sierra Nevada edible flowers and easiest to find. Look out into you perfectly manicured lawn, for instance. Rather than looking at them as an intrusion, try looking at them as lunch. Pick dandelions when they’re young and enjoy the stems and/or leaves raw, steamed or sautéed; the unopened flower buds are also likened to the taste of honey.
If you have a garden that’s out of control with dandelions, consider making dandelion wine, tea or even pesto. The dandelion leaves can be used to replace basil and are rumored to be great for digestion. Be sure to pick your dandelions away from the road where there is a higher chance of chemicals getting into the flowers.
Other edible flowers
Other edible flowers that aren’t as common in the Tahoe Sierra but can be grown indoors or at lower elevations include chamomile, marigold and lavender. Chamomile and lavender both have relaxing, sleepy effects; the dried or fresh petals in chamomile are often used in tea. Lavender is commonly used in desserts, cocktails and coffee — I like Coffeebar’s Lavender Latte. I’ve also used the dried purple sachets for cooking which I found at Thursday morning Tahoe City Farmers Market at Commons Beach.
Safely source flowers
Stopping to smell — and then eat — the flowers is a great way to use the whole plant to add flavor and fragrance to a meal. However, there are plenty of beautiful flowers that are poisonous or can cause allergic reactions. So, before you start foraging for fresh petals, be sure to research that what you are eating is edible and safe for consumption.
Kayla’s Nasturtium Salad
1 half-container of Dayton Valley Aquaponics Edible Flowers
A handful of spinach
1 bunch of deer tongue lettuce (from Incline Village Farmers Market)
2 small turkey sausage patties, cooked
1 T creamy miso dressing
Mix everything together in a medium-sized bowl and top with a tablespoon of a creamy miso dressing, if desired, to balance the flavors of the lettuce and flowers.
Recipe adapted from “Gone With a Handsomer Man” by Michael Lee West
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 C granulated white sugar
½ C cornstarch or rice flour
1 C flour
1/8 t salt
3 T fresh lavender flowers, finely chopped or 2 t dried lavender
Cream butter and sugars. Add flours a few tablespoons at a time and salt. Mix by hand or in a food processor until crumbly. If the dough is too thick, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of cream. Add lavender. Chill the mixture for 1 hour.
Pat into a shortbread mold or gently roll and cut dough with a cookie cutter. You can also shape the dough into a circle. If you aren’t using a mold, place dough on an ungreased baking sheet. Prick the surface with a fork. Bake 25 minutes from 325 degrees F or until lightly browned. Cool; cut into bars.