Enthusiasm for eating flowers is bound to blossom on two local farm tours this summer.
Pacific Botanicals in Grants Pass and Herb Pharm in Williams plan to open their fields and gardens to guests at the behest of Ashland Food Co-op this month and next. Both operations are among the largest in the country's herbal-supplement industry, growing hundreds of medicinal and otherwise edible plants.
"We talk so much about local farms ... people assume produce," says Mary Shaw, culinary educator for the Co-op.
"We wanted to make people more aware of what a rich region — bioregion — this is for herbs," she says. "Any kind of herb that you eat the leaf of, you can also eat the bloom."
Calendula, a golden blossom in the daisy family, will be front and center at both farms.
The plant is widely cultivated for its oil and used as a balm for the skin, but the petals add a vibrant hue to summertime salads, says Shaw. Dried, they can be used to color foods yellow.
On the other end of the spectrum, shades of blue and lavender can come from pansies, violets and blossoms from borage, a medicinal herb also prized for its seed oil and function as a companion plant to vegetables, legumes and fruits. In addition to lustrous colors, rose petals impart luxurious texture to dishes from salads to desserts.
"It's just such an easy way to add color and delight," says Shaw.
These and other flowers will be featured in culinary demonstrations at the Co-op's culinary kiosk throughout August. Some of the blooms may come from a new garden that Shaw plans to install at the Co-op for growing edible flowers, winter vegetables and culinary herbs.
Common herbs such as lavender and sage produce aromatic and flavorful flowers. Members of the onion family, including garlic and chives, send up showy, globelike clusters of edible buds. Producing seeds that can be pickled to stand in for capers, nasturtiums have a peppery flavor, says Shaw.
Blossoms of the squash family, such as zucchini, are hearty and suited to cooking. The blooms of any leafy vegetable that goes to seed, such as kale, can be consumed. And, of course, florets of broccoli and cauliflower are the plant's flowering heads.
"It's just too simple, I guess," says Shaw of why people don't use flowers more in the kitchen.
It's simple to start, however, given that most people already have some edible flowers in their yards, says Shaw. Home gardens tended without synthetic fertilizers and sprays are the best sources of flowers for the plate, she says. In general, blooms from florists have been sprayed for pests and treated with chemicals to extend their lives, she adds.
"You want to be sure you knew where they came from," she says, "just like your food."
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.