Summer and springtime in San Jose used to be called “blossom time” in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the Santa Clara Valley was known as “The Valley of Heart’s Delight.” One of the most beautiful sights in San Jose during that time period was the thousands of acres of fruit orchards that surrounded and were part of the city, which filled the air with the scent of the apricot, plum, cherry and other fruit blossoms every spring. These days, almost all of the fruit orchards are gone, so a flowering apricot tree is a rare sight, but roses and other fragrant flowers are just as popular in home gardens.
Many fragrant and beautiful flowers are edible, and can be used to flavor desserts and other foods, as well as make wonderful – and in some cases, health-giving – tisanes! Roses, violets, chamomile, and lavender are only a few of the many decorative and aromatic flowers that are suitable for making tisanes. As with herbs, make sure that any flowers that you use are food-safe; not all blossoms are edible! Check an edible flower chart to make sure that the flowers you’re considering are not poisonous! Also, your edible flowers should not have been treated or contaminated with chemicals like pesticides, weed-killers, or traffic fumes. Flowers from a traditional florist shop or the flower department in a grocery store – unless specifically identified to be organic and food-safe – are not suitable.
The best way to get edible flowers is to grow them organically, yourself, or get them from a friend who grows them. If you don’t have an organic flower garden, and you don’t know an organic gardener, you can ask the vegetable and flower vendors at the farmer’s market if they can get edible flowers for you. The vegetable vendors at my favorite farmer’s market – at San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose – have told me that they can get edible marigolds, pansies, rose petals and nasturtiums, if they are ordered in advance. Otherwise, you can special order edible flowers through the mail, but that can be tricky.
To make your floral tisane:
- bring 2 cups of fresh water to the boil.
- gather and wash a nice handful of edible flowers, making sure that any dust or insects are gone. Pat the blossoms dry, gently, between paper towels.
- remove the petals from the stamen, pistel and stem of each flower. Discard all but the petals.
- warm your teapot by swishing hot tap water around inside until you can feel the heat through the teapot, then pouring the hot water out.
- place the flower petals inside the teapot and pour the boiling water over them.
- allow to steep for 5 minutes, then strain.
- add a bit of sugar or a slice of lemon, if desired, and enjoy!
Your tisane will be softly scented and flavored with the perfume of the flower petals, and should be light and fresh-tasting. Just because Chez Panisse and the fanciest restaurants include floral dishes on their menu, that doesn’t mean that edible flowers are out of reach of the ordinary person! Dried honeysuckle and chamomile flowers can be found in the tea and herb section of most Asian markets in San Jose, and if you grow your own herbs, you can use the herb flowers in your own garden. Mint tisane with orange flower water is one of my favorite beverages, and there is always Earl Grey tea flavored with lavender and rose petals, which you can get at Lisa’s Tea Treasures at Santana Row.
Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.
For more info: “Tisanes, or ‘herbal teas’: exactly how do you make them?”
“Gardening 101: What edible flowers can be used for culinary purposes?”
“Give your next get-together a splash of color with edible flowers”
“Eat the flowers! Free food can be found in the flower garden”
“Homemade Herbal Teas”
“How to choose edible flowers”
“How to make violet tea”
“Homemade chamomile tea”