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With Careful Picking, These Spring Flowers Can End Up on Your Plate



Don’t eat the daffodils. Or the azaleas.

Those are toxic.

But go ahead, eat those purple and yellow pansies from the garden. Crunch into a handful of camellia petals and the red bud, too.

“I’ve been nibbling my way around the garden all morning,” said Joelle Miller, a horticulturist at Norfolk Botanical Garden, where this time of year something new – and delicately delicious – comes into bloom nearly every day.

Early spring is a perfect time to add some bling to your table. Not in a vase, rather on the plate as colorful additions to salads or as a garnish for the main event.

The petals of primrose, orchids, roses, begonias, tulips, lilies, snapdragons, calendula, crabapples and marigolds are all edible. For many, the trick is to pluck the petals from the base of the bloom, and then tear off the white part at the base of the petal.

  • Kristen Zeis
  • Pansies

But before you set out into the garden to harvest, heed this advice.

“Know what you are eating, where it came from and how it’s been treated,” said Linda Saunders, senior horticulturist at the botanical garden. “It’s the most important point.”

Don’t, for example, buy plants at a big box store and immediately harvest the petals. Almost all of them have been treated with chemicals, Saunders said, and they’ll need to go in the ground and be watered a few times before they’re safe to eat.

And absolutely “no roadside picking,” she added.

Ornamental cabbage. - KRISTEN ZEIS
  • Kristen Zeis
  • Ornamental cabbage.

Here’s a sample menu from the garden:

Camellia: They’re members of the tea family. Petals have an assertive crunch and a bit of tannin. Be sure to taste before adding to salads, as the pink ones can be slightly sweet and the red ones shockingly bitter.

Ornamental cabbage: When these winter garden workhorses bolt, the flowers taste faintly of cabbage or broccoli. There’s no need to remove the base of the flower. Eat the whole bloom.

Weeping cherry: The feathery blooms have a slightly sweet, grassy flavor.

Red bud: These delicate blooms can be eaten whole. They have a lightly sweet and pealike flavor and the slightest crunch.

Pansies and violas: The delicate petals have a slightly salty, slightly savory flavor.

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