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Last Chance Foods

Last Chance Foods: Flowers You Can Eat

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Violas at the Grand Army Plaza farmers market

Ignore the recent chilly blast of weather, spring is here and so are the blooms. Some of those cheerful flowers aren’t just a treat for the eye—they’re tasty, too. Violas are one edible variety. They’re part of the pansy family, and you can find them at farmers markets now.

“Fresh flowers are one of the few things that you’ll be hard pressed to find packaged in a store,” says Annie Novak, a rooftop farmer and co-founder of Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. “So really the pleasure of eating a flower garnish is you can almost guarantee it’s coming right out of a garden nearby.”

Novak is also the manager of the New York Botanical Garden’s Edible Academy, where she works to teach children about the connection between gardening and healthy eating. She points out that, as a children’s educator, edible flowers like violas are an easy way to get kids interested in food. Even simple tricks like floral ice cubes (directions below) can be an incentive for them to stay hydrated.

For the adults, the appeal of eating violas is also simple. “They’re one of the easiest ways to make a very simple dish appear quite fancy,” says Novak.

Naturally, not all flowers are edible, so do your research before chomping away. (The New York Botanical Garden has this list for reference.) Novak advises the sensible step of planting only nontoxic flowers if you’re introducing your kids to edible blooms. She recommends avoiding things like angel's trumpet, which reportedly causes hallucinations. Sound advice, that.

(Photo: Annie Novak with Julia and Janine Gayenelo at the New York Botanical Garden/Victor Chu)

As for the rest of us worried about ingesting unexpected chemicals or pesticides, Novak recommends starting the flowers from seed or asking your plant purveyor if they were treated in any way with chemicals. “And if it was, you can wash it or pick off the flowers before you start to eat them,” Novak adds. “Picking off the flowers will actually encourage more blooms and more growth so it will work out the best.”

Violas should be a hit with kids and adults alike, since they’re sweet and have a mild floral taste. “The texture is a really important part of the taste of flowers because the petals themselves are very soft,” adds Novak. “It’s a weird combination but [they have] like a crystalline, velvety, melt-in-your-mouth kind of texture.

If you're looking to keep your little ones entertained this weekend, The New York Botanical Garden's Culinary Kids Food Festival has a variety of food and plant focused activities going on through Monday, April 21. 

Floral Ice Cubes

  • Ice cube tray: larger sizes work better because the ice will melt less quickly
  • Boiled, distilled water: This makes for the clearest-looking ice cubes
  • Edible flowers (such as violas), enough for each ice cube

Fill the trays ⅓ of the way with the boiled, distilled water.

Place the flowers face down in the water and freeze.

Fill ⅔ of the way with more of the water, freeze.

Fill to the top and freeze.