by Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
After a long, cold winter, spring has finally arrived in my neck of the woods. At long last, the dormant herbs in the garden have erupted in a wave of fresh green leaves that brighten the garden path. And dotted here throughout, are winter hardy alliums, which will soon bear the very first herbal flowers of the season. And while I will relish their beauty, herb flowers are more than just pretty – they are downright tasty, too.
Harvesting herb flowers isn’t rocket science, but before you set out into the garden, there are a few things to consider. The first is to always handle flowers gently so as not to bruise them. And to retain their flavor and beauty, collect herb flowers in the morning as soon as any dew on the plants has dried, but before the day gets hot. If the flowers are to be held for a meal later in the day they should be cut with a bit of stem attached (whenever possible) and kept in a jar of water until you are ready to prepare them. Ideally, they should be used within a day or two.
And before you start gathering, pay attention to the way each herb presents it flowers. Some have many single flowers, while others present their flowers in clusters, whorls or spikes. Singles are the easiest; just pick the best ones for your needs and go.
Flowers that occur in clusters or groups often open in waves. Plants that present their flowers in long spikes, like rosemary and sage, usually open only a few at a time starting at the bottom and moving towards the top. Flower spikes are best harvested when at least half of the blossoms have opened.
Let the flower tell you how best to prepare it. Obviously, if the flowers are to be eaten – as in a salad – you will want to be sure that there are not hard, inedible bits beforehand. If the flowers are large with a center core, as is common in the daisy family, pick just the petals off and discard the rest. Tiny flowers growing in spikes or clusters should be gently removed from the stem before use, while those with fleshy stems, like violets, can be served intact. Try a few and go with your intuition.
And if you’re worried about picking all the flowers and what that might do to your plants, just keep in mind that harvesting the flowers of herbs with edible bulbs or rhizomes will actually help improve the size and quality of the future rhizome by reducing the amount of energy the plant needs to produce seed. Once the flowers are gone, the plant pours all of its resources into the leaves and roots. Of course, if seeds are what you’re after in herbs such as dill, fennel, coriander, or anise, it is better to take only as many flowers as you need and leave the rest for seed production.
Last but not least, if you’re growing herbs for their leaves you can usually get away with taking several cuttings of foliage before the plant tries to bolt to flower. This way you get a harvest of leaves, flowers and seed all in one package. Dill and parsley work in this scenario, but basil is the best example of a cut-and-come-again flower-producing herb.
With spring in full motion, the herbs in the garden will soon bring their flavors, aromas, and beauty to our tables and into our lives. Try herb flowers on green or pasta salads, dancing atop a cold glass of fresh lemonade, or suspended in a cube of ice in you mint julep.
Flowers from herbs such as anise, sweet Cicely, violets and elderberry are excellent when candied. These beautiful herbal treasures can be stored for long periods of time and make beautiful garnishes for cakes and ice cream. Herb flowers are often infused in oil or vinegar to impart delicate flavor and beauty to the finished product. And, of course, flowers are medicinal and can be used to make all kinds of herbal treasures, including teas, infusions and flower essences.
There are hundreds of ways to incorporate the flowers of herbs into our daily lives and I hope you’ll give it a try and let us know about your favorites.
© 2015 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
Learn how to grow and use the world’s oldest, safest, and most medicinal herbs with this easy step-by-step guide! From starting seeds to preparing home remedies, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs is a treasured resource that you will turn to time and time again.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.