Spring Produce Guide: Flowers and Ferns

by Anastassia Skarlinski

Now that the weather is trying its very best to be spring-like we are starting to see blossoms, blooms, and pollen, everywhere. Which is awesome, including the pollen even if it does make me sneeze. Many of the blossoms and sprouts that we are seeing emerge can make colorful additions to your meals. Before we start, I want to note that I do not recommend you munch on the flowers at the local florists or from the side of the road. Many of these flowers and plants are sprayed with pesticides that are toxic to humans and pests. Many flowers and ferns are toxic in their own right as well, you cannot assume that they all are good to eat. Only purchase edible flowers and ferns from reputable sellers!

We have been consuming edible flowers for so long that tracking the origin is difficult. Many were used for medicinal purposes, others were just for the beauty and flavor that they brought to the plate, and some were useful for both. Bee balm, for example, was often used to soothe bee stings, roses brought color and fragrance to a meal, and lavender was used both to flavor the meal and to help soothe people to sleep. Before vanilla was brought over from the new world, orange blossom water and rose water were used to flavor baked goods. Today you have most likely encountered edible flowers in tea and some spice blends. Jasmine, chamomile, and hibiscus are all beautiful as tea. Lavender is used in Herbe de Provence, and roses in Advieh—both delicate spice blends used around the world. Lately floral syrups including elderberry, lavender, rose, and more have been showing up in coffee shops for lattes and other drinks, like the lavender lemonade recipe at the end of this article. The list does not stop there, nasturtiums, violets, pansies, and more are edible and can make bright colorful additions to your meals. Even the humble dandelion, the scourge of the suburban lawn, is edible. Dandelions, both the green and the flower are extremely nutritious. The greens can be cooked as you would spinach, and the flowers can be turned into jelly. Again though, be careful, you do not want to consume flowers that have been sprayed with pesticides.

Ferns are older than flowers and even older than dinosaurs. Ferns have been around for an estimated 360 million years. They are rich in symbolism, in Victorian England, they were used to represent humility, in New Zealand, the Māori ferns (koru) represent new life (and happen to be the inspiration for the CEED logo), and in Japan they represent family. In medieval times, ferns were used for medicinal purposes, but it was also rumored that eating them could make you invisible. While it seems unlikely that you will experience this exact benefit from eating fiddlehead ferns, you should still give them a try. Fiddlehead ferns, which are the unfurled sprouts of the Ostrich Fern, are one of the only vegetables native to Canada. They taste a little like a cross between green beans and asparagus and are a rich source of antioxidants, manganese, and vitamins C and A. Vitamin A is found in two varieties, and preformed vitamin A is found in meats and dairy products, whereas provitamin A is found in vegetable products. Both are essential for vision, growth and development, and the proper functioning of nearly all of your organs. Because these little sprouts are so tightly coiled, bacteria can easily get stuck inside, for that reason, it is important to cook them. You can steam them for 10 minutes or boil them for 5 minutes before eating them in stir-fries, soups, and more. Try this recipe for roasted fiddleheads to serve as a side with your dinner tonight.

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