Photo courtesy of Katy Wilkens

You Are What You Eat: Forget me not…using edible flowers in your food

By Katy Wilkens, MS, RD

Spring is here, and my garden is overflowing with edibles! Yes, it has lettuce and rhubarb and asparagus, but the best-kept seasonal menu secret is the flowers. After a long winter of dreary greens and veggies shipped from halfway around the world, I am ready for something fresh, local and unique. Luckily, lots of flowers are edible.

I have mounds of violets in my yard. They are such good “volunteers” I have to pull some out; they are almost weeds! My favorite use for the purple blossoms is adding them to salads. Nothing tells the story of spring quite like a salad with violets.

I also pour boiling water over them and make them into the most fragrant violet jelly you can imagine. You can also “candy” violets, coating them with sugar. Take a look at a fancier grocery store; candied violets are about $200 a pound, but you can make them in just a few minutes. Or you can candy forget-me-nots (Myosotis) and the white blossoms of sweet bedstraw (Galium triflorum), which hold nectar.

Other salad ideas: Tear up the puffy purple blossoms from chives, which are opening right now, for a subtle oniony flavor. Pull off light purple rosemary blossoms to add a piney tang. Add a bright magenta kick with red flowering currant blossoms (you can taste the sweet nectar inside every bud). Sprinkle a salad with calendula, the spiky yellow flower that resembles a dandelion. Calendula is sometimes called “poor man’s saffron,” and it adds a peppery taste, as do nasturtium leaves and flowers.

There is a long list of flowers you shouldn’t eat. Here is just a sample: azalea, crocus, daffodil, foxglove, oleander, rhododendron, jack-in-the-pulpit, lily of the valley and wisteria. If you aren’t sure, check it out on the Internet. Eat flowers you know have not been sprayed with pesticides and, of course, eating flowers is not a good idea if you have hay fever or allergies. The pollen of some flowers can cause allergic reactions.

Violet green salad
2-3 cups of mixed spring lettuces, spinach, early beet greens, dandelion leaves
½ diced cucumber
1 cup snap peas or frozen peas
½ cup of goat cheese mixed with chive flowers (optional)
½ cup unsalted almonds or hazelnuts
1 pear, diced

20-50 blooms: violets, rosemary flowers, calendula, flowering currant, etc.
Tear lettuces and greens into bite-size pieces. Cut cucumber into disks, then quarter.
Cut snap peas in pods into thirds. If using frozen peas, thaw at room temp for half an hour. Dice pear and add to lettuce. Mix goat cheese with chive flowers if you have some, then cut or portion into ½ inch pieces and scatter over salad with nuts and flowers. Serves 4.
Nutritional information (per serving):
Calories: 212, Carbohydrates: 11 grams, Protein: 11 grams, Sodium: 127 milligrams

Violet green salad dressing
¼ cup plain yogurt or Greek yogurt
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped fine
1 teaspoon mustard
Pinch of allspice

Mix all together in food processer or blender.
Nutritional information (per 2-tablespoon serving):
Calories: 119, Carbohydrates: 6 grams, Protein: 3 grams, Sodium: 10 milligrams
The information in this column is meant for people who want to keep their kidneys healthy and blood pressure down by following a low-sodium diet. In most cases, except for dialysis patients, a diet high in potassium is thought to help lower high blood pressure. These recipes are not intended for people on dialysis without the supervision of a registered dietitian.

Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The 2013 recipient of National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition’s Susan Knapp Excellence in Education Award, she has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See more of her recipes at www.nwkidney.org.

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