I wonder how many of us got into trouble with our mothers when we were children because we snapped off the flower buds of her tulips and daffodils? I certainly remember an occasion or two when I felt my mother’s wrath after handing her a bunch of unopened buds. I also remember some short-stemmed bouquets given to me by my young sons, their face beaming because they’d brought me flowers. Trying to get those poor stems into water was futile and all a mother can do in such situations is smile, hug her children and grieve silently for the gorgeous flower bed she will not have that year.
In some cases picking the flowers can be a good thing. Consider the violet, that lowly but lovely early spring blossom that turns shady corners of yards and roadsides a deep purple when in full bloom. Violets are a tasty addition to salads, lending color, crunch and an unusual flavor. Violets were thought to mean modesty and tender love in Victorian “floriography,” which assigned meanings to the names of flowers. White violets were said to mean truthfulness, and if you dream of violets good fortune is coming your way.
Then there is the redbud, the shrub-like tree that graces our hills with its branches full of tiny purple-red blossoms to provide a fine contrast to the white dogwood. Did you know that redbud flowers can be made into jelly? I tried it two years ago and it was delicious, tart and sweet with a very distinct flavor. The flowers can be eaten and are crunchy in texture with a tart lemony taste. The redbud is sometimes called the “Judas Tree” because Judas supposedly hanged himself from its branches.
Later in the season roses come into bloom. Rose petals can be harvested for rose jelly, dried for potpourri, or scattered on a salad. Rose water is easy to make and is a refreshing spritzer. Red roses signify love while yellow roses mean happiness (although I have also heard exactly the opposite), white means purity and pink roses mean admiration, according to the Victorians.
Daylilies, or tiger lilies as they are often called, come into bloom about the same time as roses and are excellent when dipped into an egg batter and fried. I like to take each petal individually, batter-dip and fry them, then serve with a salsa dip. The buds can be mixed into soups and stews, and if you are quick enough in early spring, the young daylily shoots can be added to salads. They’re crunchy and sweet. The ancient Chinese believed that daylilies were a symbol of filial devotion and thoughtfulness. Elderberry flowers can also be eaten—they make a fine jelly, and can be used in cooking or prepared like the daylilies to make fritters. The elderberry plant was considered to have magical and not altogether friendly properties by the ancients; it was considered unlucky to break off a branch. Consider yourself warned!
Later in the summer, nasturtiums add a peppery flavor to salads and squash and pumpkin blossoms can also be harvested and prepared like daylilies, batter-dipped and deep-fried. Nasturtium and squash must be too lowly for notice since no significance was attached to either in the world of flower meanings.
As with all wild foods, do your homework and exercise care to be sure you have identified the plants correctly. There are many books that give accurate photos and descriptions of the edible wild plants, as well as websites with excellent information. But after tasting some of these flowers you may find yourself telling your children, “Yes, please pick the flowers!”
(Repost of my April 2012 article for Two Lane Livin' Magazine)