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Sonoma County Gazette
Flower Salad

Flowers You Can Eat

Jun 26, 2018


As we enter into Summer there are so many great things to pick up at the farmers’ market.  One very special thing that is cropping up during summer time is edible flowers. You can find borage, calendula, bachelor buttons, lavender, nasturtium, roses and more in a few stands around the market. They add color to your salad or deserts and will dazzle your dinner guests. 

Over the ages flowers have held a sacred place in the Epicurean’s handbook. Mustard Flowers were used in Roman love potions for their aphrodisiac powers. Daisies steeped in wine with sage and southernwood were considered a cure for insanity if a patient drank for 15 days. Calendula, considered the poor man’s saffron, adds a subtle flavor to salads and can be sautéed in olive oil for a more robust flavor. It has been used since ancient Greek and Roman times. Given flowers romantic nature, it’s a no brainer that they were very popular during Victorian times. 

In our modern times we think of plants as edible or decorative but that has not always been the case. We once used plants for medicinal purposes prior to our current world of pharmaceuticals. A classic story that illustrates the power of flowers as medicine is the story of the Foxglove. In 1775, an English physician and botanist named William Withering was asked to treat a patient suffering from dropsy, a broad term that at the time meant “fluid retention.” He had heard of an “old woman in Shropshire” who knew a secret cure which included the foxglove plant. Dr. Withering, after using the secret remedy, which was a concoction of over twenty herbs, found it amazingly successful, but also quickly perceived that only one plant in the mix was working the cure. The whole stew was said to be a diuretic, but Dr. Withering knew that the major cause of dropsy was congestive heart failure. He also knew that foxglove, with its powerful toxic properties in the proper quantity, could strengthen cardiac contraction and enable the heart to pump more efficiently, delivering blood to the rest of the body. Ten years later, Dr. Withering published “10 years of clinical data on patients treated with foxglove.” The rest, as they say, literally, is history--medical history.

Edible flowers were often used to brighten up drinks and other foods including elderflowers, which the English have used for centuries. American colonist relied on flowers to make candied roses and dandelion jelly as well as wine. The history of edible flowers is a rich one giving a bright spot to the culinary landscape. They are available to everyone from rich to poor. Next time you are at the farmers’ market take note that not all flowers are not just to put on display in vases.

Summer Salad with Fresh Flowers


  4 cups baby spinach leaves

  4 cups oakleaf lettuce leaves

  1 cup field greens or microgreens

  1/2 cup sliced radishes 

  1/2 cup garlic chive flowers or 2 Tbs. minced fresh chives

  1/4 cup rice vinegar

  2 Tbs. peeled and minced fresh young ginger or 1 Tbs. mature fresh ginger

  1 garlic clove, minced

  1/2 cup safflower oil

  Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

  Handful of borage & calendula petals or other edible flowers


In a large bowl, combine the spinach, oakleaf lettuce, microgreens, radishes and chive flowers. Toss gently to mix and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, ginger and garlic. Add the oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly until the vinaigrette is well blended. Season with salt and pepper.

Drizzle the vinaigrette over the greens and toss to mix well. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with the borage and calendula and serve immediately. Serves 6.


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