The gardens at Solitaire – which I review this week — are stunning, with winding pathways, a fountain and blossoms of every color providing an unparalleled backdrop to chef-owner Mark Ferguson’s artistic, seasonally-inspired cuisine. But the flowers aren’t just pretty to look at; they provide oft-overlooked inspiration in the form of edible garnish.
Curious whether I could find the same inspiration at home, I reached out to Brien Darby, an urban-food specialist at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Turns out, almost all herbs have edible flowers, including chives, basil, mint, oregano, thyme, lemon balm, borage, dill, fennel, savory, sage and lavender. (Phew!) The benefit to novices like me is that “we know those are safe,” Darby says, because the flowers come from herbs. But other common plants are safe, too, including nasturtiums (both flowers and leaves), calendula, violets, bachelor’s buttons, dandelions, daylilies, tulips and clover. Roses, which are in the same family as apples, are also edible, and taste as sweet as they smell. Of course, all of the above are only safe provided you haven't used pesticides or chemical fertilizers in your yard. Darby also stresses that flowers should never be harvested from public spaces like parks or streetscapes, since you don’t know what’s been applied.
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For culinary purposes, herb blossoms have a stronger flavor than the leaves, so don’t add a handful all at once. Most flowers are best raw, but some do hold up well when exposed to heat, including dandelions and squash blossoms, which is why they’re commonly stuffed and deep-fried. And if you really want to impress your guests, Darby recommends freezing edible blossoms in ice-cube trays for an impressive addition to a cocktail.