April showers bring May flowers. Except when the April showers are snow. But this protracted winter doesn’t have to keep us from enjoying what should be available in our gardens, namely edible flower blossoms and spring greens. The greens are much less difficult to come by. Grocers carry a spring mix all year long. The leaves can stay fresh for several days with little effort. The blossoms are much more finicky. They wilt almost immediately once they are picked, and very few grocers carry fresh blossoms in the produce section.
Edible blossoms are also grown separately from display flowers, even edible display arrangements. No pesticides can be applied to blossoms that are bound for human consumption or meant to adorn or garnish foods, so the local flower shop is completely out of the question when it comes to procuring edible blossoms. Our best bet: grow the plants ourselves.
A quick search of the internet for “edible flowers” turns up a surprising number of hits, but few give you information about cultivating or an accurate representation of the flavor. What does “leafy” taste like, I wonder. If we’re planning to grow our own flowers with the goal of eating them, what plants should we consider? Plants that grow quickly and easily would be a start. And plants that have a flavor that compliment a light salad would be better. Is there such a magical plant out there? There is. Tropaeolum nanum, known by its common name as nasturtium.
These weedy plants grow and bloom under even the most inept gardener’s care. They tolerate low light, bright light, near drought and occasional deluge. They bloom prolifically on bushy stems. The leaves resemble lily pads and the blossoms range in color from white, to yellow, to orange and red. Both the leaves and the blossoms are edible, and remarkably, both taste exactly like radish. Not a passing resemblance. Not a bitter flavor that eventually calms to pepper. But exactly like a radish—a flavor you’d actually expect and desire in a salad.
The leaves can also be used on sandwiches in lieu of both lettuce and onions. A blossom nestled atop a small bowl of chicken salad is both appealing to behold and consume. Edible blossom’s use in cuisine is as limitless as our imaginations can conceive.
Nasturtium seeds are large and easy to handle. Plant a few seeds in a medium sized pot every couple of weeks for a continuous supply of fresh blooms and leaves all summer long.
Spring Green Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette
- A mix of spring greens
- 4-5 nasturtium blossoms per salad, rinsed
- nasturtium leaves
- fresh raspberries
- slivered almonds or pecan halves
For the vinaigrette
- 4 ozs raspberry puree, seeds removed
- 4 ozs balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons super fine sugar or honey, or to taste
- 1½ – 2 cups light vegetable oil, such as canola oil
Emulsify all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl with a whisk or other emulsion tool.
Toss the greens and nasturtium leaves together with the nuts and a few ounces of the vinaigrette. Arrange each salad on a plate. Top each salad with 4 or 5 nasturtium blossoms and a few raspberries.