With locavore eating as hot as the August sun, urban foraging is definitely on trend. So why not try flowers?
Calendulas, nasturtiums, daylilies, or even dandelions: This country is blessed with a bounty of edible blossoms. Flowers can make an unexpected addition to the dinner plate, injecting a summer flush of colour, flavour and visual interest. And if you know how to find and use them, they’re also downright delicious.
“There’s that expression when butchering an animal: ‘from tip to tail’ – it’s trendy to use all parts of it. Perhaps the same is now true for plants,” says Paul Sokoloff, a botany researcher with the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, who recalls eating a bowl of purple mountain saxifrage with maple syrup while on an expedition in Nunavut. “There’s an interest in what people can get from the environment around them, and the resurgence [in restaurants] of experimenting with surprising ingredients. It’s really not a stretch to eat them.”
Rich Francis is a Top Chef Canada finalist and pioneer in contemporary indigenous cuisine, which incorporates precontact aboriginal ingredients with modern cooking techniques. Working from his culinary studio in Six Nations, Ont., Francis participates in pop-up restaurant events across the United States and Canada, often travelling to remote, northern communities and typically using ingredients only available there and then.
“There’s a lot of seasonal integrity involved and thinking outside of the box, outside of the colonization of all these flavours and ingredients,” Francis says. “I’m interested in making a real connection with the products that I’m using.”
While the burgeoning interest in edible plants and flowers can be traced to a “return to the land” ethos sparked from a collective fatigue with boxed mystery food, it also might be feeding us in a spiritual sense.
“It’s a great way to connect,” says Laura Reeves, the founder of Prairie Shore Botanicals, who gives wild edible gathering and cooking courses in Gardenton, Man. “It’s partly a social and health-conscious thing, and partly people just want to reconnect with nature.”
Here are some provincial florals to get you started:
1) Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium): Dry the fireweed flowers to use for tea. Fresh stems can be prepared like you would an asparagus.
2) Violets (Viola species): This garnish has edible leaves that can be used in salads or soups, fried like a fritter, or added into baking. Crystallized violets are back en vogue on wedding cakes and pair well with lemon or chocolate.
1) Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare): Easy to add raw to salads or desserts, Oxeye Daisy flower heads may also be pickled or tempura battered. Tastes a bit like pineapple.
2) Peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum): The seeds of this flower can be eaten raw and its seeds used as a pepper-like seasoning.
1) Wild Rose (Rosa virginiana): Suitable for teas, cold-water infusions, jams, syrup, salads or garnish, wild rose petals taste sweet with an aromatic flavour – but be sure to remove the bitter white portion of the petals. The flavour is generally more pronounced in darker petals.
2) Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora): Savour this plant raw in small amounts. It has a bland taste, almost like asparagus. Can also be boiled or roasted.
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
1) Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis): Both the flowers and seeds are edible raw or cooked.
2) Pineapple Weed (Matricaria discoidea): Though bitter, the flower heads of Pineapple Weed can be eaten raw, or crushed and powdered to season and it can also keep meat from spoiling.
1) Bee Balm (Monarda): In full bloom come August, Bee Balm can be added to salads, tea, or made into lemonade. These colourful, edible leaves have a sweet taste.
2) Garden Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus): Blooming all the way until September, Nasturtiums taste similar to a peppery watercress. Rich in vitamin C, the leaves, buds, seeds and petals can be served crystallized, stuffed and baked, or eaten raw in salad.
1) Chives (Allium schoeonoprasum): Has a mild onion flavour. Can be prepared like garlic.
2) Redbud (Cercis canadensis): Found in southwest Ontario, the tree this flower grows on is in the pea family. Flowers can be eaten raw, cooked or pickled and are high in vitamin C.
1) Bachelor’s Buttons (Centaurea cyanus): A colourful addition to your salad, this edible flower has a clove-like, peppery flavour that ranges in spice.
2) Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria): With a taste similar to almond, this sweet flower has been compared to the taste of lychee or elderflower. It is a great addition to fruit salads or can be made in to jelly.
1) Narrow-leaved purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia): Also known as echinacea, this perennial can be harvested once the flower blooms. Great for tea infusions, as a garnish or even to treat snake bites.
2) Creeping Woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata): Tart, tender and tangy with a slight citrus taste, this spring green pairs well with seafood or chicken and can be used in place of lemon. Its delicate yellow flowers also make a great garnish.
1) Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): All parts of this common weed are edible raw, though they taste a little bitter, and it’s a great source of potassium and Vitamin C. Younger dandelions will taste sweeter. The leafy greens are great to make pesto or in salads, or you can stir fry the unopened blossoms (stems removed).
2) Chicory (Cichorium intybus): All parts of this periwinkle-coloured flower are edible, and it looks great in a salad but tastes slightly bitter and earthy, comparable to an endive. Can be sautéed or roasted on a main dish, and its roots can be ground into a coffee. Its buds can be pickled.
1) Borage (Borago officinalis): Tastes like a cucumber. The flowers and leaves are wonderful in salads, dips, cold soups, punches, sorbets or desserts. This flower is also a tasty addition to a gin and tonic.
2) Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum): Blooming in July and August, these clusters of white flowers are part of the celery family and can be easily used as a substitute.
1) Purple Mountain Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia): These flowers are excellent raw with maple syrup.
2) Swamp Hedge-Nettle (Stachys palustris): Both flowers and seeds are edible, and young shoots can be cooked.
1) Northern Sweet Coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus): Stems and flowers may be roasted, boiled or stir-fried, or can be sprinkled as a salt substitute.
2) Marsh Marigold/Cowslip (Caltha palustris): “Where the bee sucks, there suck I; In a cowslip’s bell I lie.” – William Shakespeare, The Tempest, act 5, scene 1. This edible flower may be eaten raw, cooked, creamed, candied or made into tea.
1) Fernweed (Pedicularis): The nectar of this banana-shaped petal is sweet. Best used as a garnish.
2) Broad-leaved Willow-herb (Epilobium montanum): One of the largest flowers that grow in the Arctic, willow-herb can be eaten raw in a salad. When cooked, it tastes like and resembles spinach.
The five ‘Ps’ to gathering flowers in the wild
1) PLANT: First, you need to identify it. Double check it isn’t poison. Then check again. Not everything we see growing (or see animals eating) is edible. And if you’re going to experiment, keep a little extra on the side – it will help poison control identify what you ate.
2) PART: This is important since a plant may be edible on one end and poisonous on the other. Take the potato, for example. You will become sick if you eat its fruit, which grows above ground and looks like an ugly tomato. The potato itself, of course, is delicious.
3) PREPARATION: Some things are not meant to be eaten raw. Fiddleheads are a good case: they need to be cooked at a rolling boil for at least 12 minutes to remove the chemicals that can make us sick. And be sure to give whatever you pick a good wash before you serve it.
4) PLACE: It’s common sense, but roadsides are not a good place to gather wild edibles. If any leads or oils are accumulating in the environment, they will be by the side of the highway. Find a place that’s removed from chemicals (and canines). Go off the beaten track.
5) PROPER: As in, the proper amount of edibles to pick. You should never take more than one-tenth of what’s available in the wild, as not to disturb other wildlife or the plant itself. Don’t sacrifice it all for your food. Share the bounty.
– With credit to University of New Brunswick biology professor Katherine Frego and Marian Munro, Curator of Botany at the Nova Scotia Museum
With files from northernbushcraft.com