Flower Salad with Lemon-Cardamom Cream
This beautiful and unusual dish can be a fairylike treat for tea-parties, birthdays, or other festive occasions. The creamy dressing compliments the flavors and textures of the flowers, and balances the micro-nutrient intensity.
- Edible flowers (see below for options)
- Fresh local salad greens (micro-salad or backyard greens are ideal)
Edible flowers include:
Anise hyssop, basil, blackberry and apple petals (and other edible berries), bigleaf maple florets, borage, camelia petals, dandelion petals, evening primrose, garlic flowers, hibiscus, lavender, mint, mustard or broccoli blossoms, nasturtiums, oregano, pansies, rose (both wild & domestic), rosemary, sage, squash flowers, thyme, and violets. (See below for Flower Safety*.)
If nothing is blooming right now, or your garden is the supermarket, try adding fragrant herbs, baby greens, and a little fresh sliced fruit, for a similar balance of flavors.
To your mesclun greens or green salad, add any fresh garden herbs like fennel, chicory, dill, thyme, parsley, mint, celery, etc.
Prepare the flowers by removing stems, pollen stalks, and other non-tasty parts. Sprinkle loose petals atop the salad greens, and then arrange whole flowers on top. (The entire top layer is an edible garnish; you can also add green herb accents.)
Sample flowers as you arrange them. If the flavors and scents are intense (peppery nasturtium, fragrant lilac, rose, oregano, hot mustards, arugula), serve with Lemon Cardamom Salad Cream.
If the flavor is mild or vegetable-like (squash blooms, borage, and evening primrose atop baby lettuce), consider a stronger dressing like Honey Mustard, Ranch, or Bleu Cheese.
Lemon-Cardamom Salad Cream
- Sour cream (6-oz carton or up to 1 cup)
- Honey (2 tbsp or to taste)
- Lemon (rind and juice of 1 lemon, Meyer lemon is fabulous)
- Cardamom (green or powdered)
- Coriander if desired.
Grate and juice the lemon. Grind the cardamom if needed. Combine all ingredients into a thick, tangy cream sauce.
This salad dressing is sweet, to compliment the intense flavors of most flowers and herbs.
Serve in a pretty bowl with a spoon or pour-spout to encourage heavy drizzling. Garnish with nasturtium or fennel. Can also be served with apricots or fresh cherries as a dessert.
Edible flowers (and wild greens) are best picked fresh, in the morning if possible so they're still juicy. You must be certain they have not been exposed to dangerous pesticides or roadside dust.
I grow mine in the backyard. I've also had good luck picking at friends houses where I know they don't spray, or simply wandering through the neighborhood knocking on doors when I see a likely rose-bush. Sometimes you can find grocers or farmers' markets with organically grown flowers and floral herbs. Even with 'safe' sources, wash herbs and flowers well, drain, and lay them on a towel in a cool place to dry.
To improve both the flavor and the digestive experience, serve only the petals. Pollen can be hard on people who aren't used to it, or are allergic, and it's easy to overdo it. An allergic attack is no fun at a tea party. You may wish to have a plain green salad available as an alternative for sensitive guests.
Most flowers will break off easily at the stem end, freeing the petals from the complicated pollen-bearing parts. Some, like roses, lilac, and borage, do this voluntarily after pollination. Small flowers and blossoming herbs can be served intact.
There are many poisonous flowers, look-alikes, and plants with toxic parts to avoid. This list is not complete.
Some Toxic Flowers and Look-Alikes: buttercups, daffodils (bulbs especially), lily-of-the-valley (all of it), foxglove (digitalis), philodendron, Queen Anne's Lace (Poison or Water Hemlock, or an innocent carrot?), daphne (berries), baneberry (Doll's Eyes), oleander (all of it), larkspur, monkshood, bleeding heart, jack-in-the-pulpit, jasmine (berries), poinsettia, Peace Lily, Rosary pea, golden chain, nightshade (all parts, esp. berries), wisteria, hydrangea, holly, vinca, azalea, and rhododendron.
There are many others.
My personal rule of thumb is: check at least two edible flower lists, and if in doubt, don't use it.
My search on "Edible Flowers" turned up many nice lists, including some with detailed descriptions like at Epicurean.com and "Please Eat the Daisies" at phancypages.com. Note that they disagree on whether some plants are edible - specific varieties may be edible, while others, or other parts of the plant, are toxic.
My search on "Toxic plants" and "Poisonous flowers" turned up agriculture departments' pages like this one from Texas, hyped-up "Top Ten" lists of dubious authority, and our local teaching hospital's plant safety page. You might repeat this search, and look closely at lists from your own region, for tips on tempting toxic look-alike plants to avoid.
If you need the Poison Control Center, call 800-222-1222, and your call will be directed to your state or region.
Now that I've thoroughly frightened you, please be assured that it's safe to go outside! Start with plants that you recognize easily, like herbs and roses. Eat only a little at a time until you are confident of recognizing them. Use these flowers as garnishes on cakes, sundaes, drinks, and desserts. Add in a few garden flowers like nasturtium. You can make a very charming salad with greens, nasturtium, and "bolted" basil or broccoli flowers!
Explore the more exotic options as your herb garden blooms, and you'll be surprised how quickly you learn.