Gardening: Flowers can make a lovely addition to foods

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

If you’re a foodie and you like to garden, you might want to try using edible flowers to color up your dishes.

Violets, pansies and Johnny jump ups are great for decorating herb butter. In the May issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine, one of her “Good Things” taught me buttermilk pancakes make a perfect frame for edible flowers, thanks to a quick cooking time that preserves their vivid color. Pour the batter on a hot grill and when the undersides of the flapjacks are golden brown, press the petals of the flowers  on top, flip, and after a minute they’re ready to serve. Pansy, dianthus, verbena and borage flowers all work well. 

Pansies can take the cold weather and make delightful porch pots.

The centers of larger flowers are not too tasty, but Holly Capelle cuts the petals off and makes daisy-like arrangement on cakes and cupcakes and uses chocolate chips to form the center. Nasturtiums are peppery, but the bright cheery flowers can be sliced into small strips and sprinkled on salads to add bright color and just a bit of zing. 

My brother, Larry Schultz of Metamora, loves cooked stuffed zucchini flowers. He got hooked on them when vacationing  in Italy where they’re a national dish. In Italy, they stuff the male flowers with cheese, roll them in a cornstarch batter and deep-fry them. Larry’s wife, Susie, made the dish a bit healthier by stuffing the flowers with pesto using her friend, Julie Rosso’s recipe that calls for 1 cup of fresh grated parmesan and ¼ cup of fresh grated Romano along with plain white goat cheese to 2 cups of pesto. Susie then ties the petals closed with a chive leave. She says it’s a bit tricky so you could use fine cotton string or even dental floss. The little bundles are then sautéed in a bit of butter on low heat.  

Larry harvests the straight stem male flowers daily but takes only one or two, leaving others behind to pollinate the female flowers because they also love zucchini. Do a web search on how to tell male from female zucchini flowers.  

You can store fresh picked flowers in the refrigerator on a plate or tray draped with a damp paper towel for a couple of days.   

A few words of caution: Don’t harvest wildflowers along roadsides or agriculture fields –   they have probably been sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Don’t purchase flowers from florist or grocery stores for cooking unless they are labeled as edible –  they, too, have been treated with dangerous chemicals.

For more tips and info, search for edible flowers. 

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at