Edible flowers in bloom

Ever see a flower beautiful enough to…eat?

For the curious, UAA horticulture/landscaping supervisor Catherine Shenk skimmed the subject of edible flowers. She named some varieties that can grow in Alaska and shared tips from a gardener’s perspective.

Shenk used common names for the flowers for the purpose of the article. However, she stressed the importance of researching them by their botanical names for precise facts.

She also emphasized on where one could acquire the flowers. By arbitrarily picking flowers in the wild, chances are likely that more than rain has sprinkled them.

“There are places in the farmers market that sell bags of edible flowers like the one on Cordova Street. That’s always a good way to go because you know it’s safe and you’re getting the right thing,” Shenk said.

With flowers crossing over from mere garnishes to main ingredients, they are sold in certain markets in town such as The Natural Pantry. Shenk said another safe bet is to grow them at home.

Janice Schofield Eaton, local author who wrote the book “Alaska’s Wild Plants: A Guide to Alaska’s Edible Harvest,” said not all parts of all flowers and plants are edible, so it is vital to do research. For example, the stalk of the rhubarb is edible, while the leaves are poisonous. She also has shared various facts about flowers Shenk mentioned, provided in her book.

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Here are some varieties Shenk shared:

Nasturtiums:  Their fiery red and vivid orange colors add flair and flavor to salads. Shenk said the flowers and leaves — both edible — have a peppery taste.

Pansies, various colors: Pansy petals are edible and can be used for garnishes or spreads. For example, they can be candied and added to desserts. Shenk said pansies have a lemony taste.

Squash blossoms:  Shenk said that these walloping yellow flowers could be stuffed with anything such as cheeses, closed and cooked. They have a squash-like taste.

Fuchsia: The bold color adds to the presentation as a colorful garnish on desserts or tossed into a green salad. The flavor is slightly acidic. The berries are also edible.

Calendulas: Also known as pot marigolds, have a slightly peppery taste. They can be used in salads, or added to soups and breads. The petals can be used as a substitute for saffron. The leaves can also be eaten, sparingly.

Violas: Shenk said that like the pansy, this flower could be used as a garnish for desserts. Violas have a lettuce-like flavor. It can be crystalized and added as a topping to cookies or creamy deserts like cheesecake.

Pea flowers: Pea flowers are white and have a light pea taste. They can be tossed into a salad to add extra flavor. Shenk said it is important not to mix these up with sweet pea flowers, which are poisonous.

Carnations: These flowers are ideal for decorating desserts or as a garnish for soups. Carnations have a spicy taste and can add that zap to ice creams, salads and fruit dishes. It is ideal to remove the white heel at the base, as it has a bitter taste.

Chive flowers: These bright purple flowers can be added to omelets, salads or soups. It has an oniony flavor to it.

Lavender flowers: Lavender flowers are versatile. They can be used in savory dishes, such as rack of lamb. They can be thrown into a glass of champagne or used to spice up desserts.

Shenk added a fun fact — there are common vegetables people eat that are technically edible flowers such as artichoke, broccoli and cauliflower.

She left off with that age-old advice that can seemingly be applied to anything: “Just because it looks beautiful doesn’t mean it tastes good.”