Floral Foraging: An edible flowers primer

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Adding edible flowers to your culinary repertoire is the quickest way to class up any situation; throw them in ice cubes for a glam garden party-worthy cocktail, sprinkle them over salads for an extra dose of color and texture, or use them as flavor-packed garnishes and immediately put your plates on par with some of the best in town. If you’ve got space, planting any of these guys is a worthy investment, but if you don’t, stealthily pick ‘em from your neighbors yard — or avoid petal pilfering and scour your local farmer’s market, and ask how often they have edible flowers for sale.

Violets

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Velvety and slightly sweet, a bit of fennel on the finish. These are fantastic raw, but are showstoppers when coated in sugar and used as a dessert garnish.

Dandelions

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Sweet, honey-like flavor. Yup, those yellow flowers you wasted your time making into garlands (that always wilted in an hour) are awesome in salads. Pick them when they’re young—mature blossoms are bitter.

Carnations

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Softly sugary, with hint of clove or nutmeg. The secret ingredient in Chartreuse, carnations have edible petals that work well in desserts and savory dishes. To use, cut the petals away from the bitter white base of the flower.

Herb flowers

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These taste like brightly concentrated versions of the herbs they came from. Basil puts forth dramatic spiky flowers, and cilantro resembles little white mini-bouquets.

Nasturtiums

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Peppery, with a bite reminiscent of watercress. These fiery orange blossoms are most common on dishes around town, beloved for their subtle spice, striking visual, and easy-access. They grow easily, and many farms offer them as well.

Alliums

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Flowers from this family of plants—including chives, onions, garlic, and leeks—are usually light purple in color and have a bit of an onion flavor. Usually found on charcuterie boards, salads, and more, they rank high on the aesthetics scale.

Gem Marigolds

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Spicy and herbal, sometimes with a citrusy taste, depending on species.

ON THE MENU

Flowers are popping up on menus all over town. Here are a few of our favorite spots.

Beacon Hill Bistro:

Chef Josh Lewin is a big-time proponent of summertime foraging, and peppers his menu with everything from squash blossoms to beach rose petals. Look out for a potato and turnip salad tossed with chive flowers and lemon aioli.
25 Charles St., Boston.

West Bridge

When chef Matt Gaudet worked for Jean-Georges Vongerichten, he says the megachef constantly stressed the importance of using edible flowers because “the ladies like a sexy plate, and that’s all that matters.” Gaudet admits his crew makes fun of him as he sprinkles multicolored petals over anything that holds still long enough, but it pays off.
1 Kendall Square, Cambridge.

Puritan & Co.

Chef Will Gilson favors mustard flowers, tangerine gem marigolds, and nasturtiums for gracing his plates. He’s also known to make ice cream out of black locust flowers.
1377 Cambridge St., Cambridge.


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