By Brian Barth
Eating flowers seems almost heretical. If plants could talk, wouldn't they say, you can look, even sniff, but please don't chow down on my pretty petals? The dainty apple flower, after all, is what gives way to the fruit, and thus the seed, ensuring the cycle of life continues. Do you dare give into the temptation to pluck it for food?
Many a chef certainly has. But most folks are clueless to the vast array of edible flowers. Apple blossoms, for example, impart a delicate floral flavor to fruit salads, along with a heavenly aroma. With many herbs, the flowers taste just like the leaf—chive flowers are a colorful way to infuse salad dressing with a garlic flavor.
On the other hand, some flowers are technically edible, but unpleasantly acrid. Chrysanthemums, for example, or begonias. One reference describes the flavor of wax begonias as slightly bitter with "a hint of swamp."
A word of warning before we get on to our list of edibles: Exercise caution when using flowers in the kitchen; many are poisonous. Those daffodils in your perennial border could cause nausea, diarrhea, itchiness, stupor, convulsions or even death, depending on how much you eat. (In almost all cases it's not just the flower that's poisonous, it's the entire plant.) Below, you'll fine a list of safe-to-consume flowers that we think you'll enjoy, with a few thoughts on how to grow and use them. And if you're ever unsure, here's a list of common poisonous plants whose flowers you never want to ingest.
In the Kitchen: These cheery flowers have a fairly neutral, nondescript flavor and are used to brighten-up both salads and sweets. Pastry chefs sometimes use Calendulas to make floral designs on cheesecakes and other goodies. Because the golden-orange petals hold their hue when cooked, they're sometimes used as a saffron substitute as well.
In the Garden: Calendula is easy to grow from seed, and often reseeds itself in the garden each year without any effort on the part of the gardener. Needs full sun and regular water.
Zones 3 to 9
In the Kitchen: Most types of lilies are mildly toxic when consumed, but not daylilies. (Though botanically speaking, daylilies are not a true lily.) Daylily blossoms are meatier than most flower petals, with a succulent texture and a mildly sweet taste, similar to romaine lettuce. Chop them up and add them to salads, but be sure to sample the flavor first, as some daylily varieties taste better than others. Try stuffing them with herbed cheese or dipping the unopened flower buds in batter and frying them up as an hors d'oeuvre.
In the Garden: Daylilies are generally sold as a potted plant and are easy to grow in sun or part sun, as long as you provide ample moisture. In rich soil, they spread to form extensive colonies.
Zones 3 to 9
In the Kitchen: Adventurous foodies relish the bitter flavor of dandelion greens in salads and soups, though few realize the flowers are also edible. Use dandelion flowers exactly as you would calendula (a close botanical relative). The flavor is sweeter if picked immediately after the flowers open.
In the Garden: Dandelions can be found growing as a weed almost everywhere (lawns, sidewalk cracks, soccer fields), though you can purchase seeds if you want to establish a bed for culinary use. The plant needs full sun and is drought tolerant, once established.
Zones 3 to 9
In the Kitchen: Elderberry flowers have a light, honey-like aroma and taste, and they're often used to flavor white wine, champagne, lemonade, iced tea, and other summery drinks. You can sprinkle the tiny individual flowers in salads, or fry the dome-shaped clusters whole to make elderberry fritters. Beware that elderberry foliage is mildly toxic, as is the uncooked fruit (the cooked fruit, however, is edible and delicious).
In the Garden: Elderberries are typically purchased as a potted plant, and are easy to grow in full sun or partial shade. Water frequently until established.
In the Kitchen: Borage flowers have a mild, cucumber-esque flavor and are used to jazz-up salads, drinks, and savory dishes. The plant's electric-blue hue is a great compliment to calendula's golden tones, making for a photo-worthy plating.
In the Garden: Borage is easily grown from seed, and typically reseeds itself in the garden year after year. Drought tolerant.
Zones 4 to 9
In the Kitchen: Lavender flowers have a unique, savory flavor with a hint of floral sweetness, and they're usually employed in summer drinks, ice cream, chocolate, and other sweets. Rub the flower buds between your fingers to separate the tiny individual flowers and sprinkle them into your dish.
In the Garden: Lavender is typically purchased as a potted plant. Grow it in a location with full sun and well-drained soil. Lavender is highly drought tolerant—once established, water only when the soil is bone dry.
In the Kitchen: Pansies are one of the few flowers that come in every color of the rainbow. They have a mild, nondescript flavor and are used primarily for decorating salads and desserts. Use violets, a close relative of pansies, in the same way.
In the Garden: Pansies are typically grown from seed. They thrive in locations with rich, moist soil and part sun. Pansies suffer in the heat of summer, so they're primarily grown as spring and fall annuals.
Hardiness Zone Varies by Species
In the Kitchen: Hibiscus flowers have a cranberry-like flavor with tropical notes. Though they're most often made into iced tea or infused into other cold drinks, chopped hibiscus flowers add a tangy spunk to salads and desserts.
In the Garden: There are numerous edible species of hibiscus, but it is the Jamaican species Hibiscus sabdariffa that is most known for its flavor. Hibiscus is typically purchased as a potted plant. Needs full sun and ample irrigation.
In the Kitchen: Nasturtium flowers have a peppery zest similar to watercress, to which the plant is closely related. They are primarily used in salads and as a garnish for hors d'oeuvres. Though the tubular flowers are large and sturdy enough to stuff with cheese or tapenade.
In the Garden: Nasturtium is easily grown from seed in partial shade or full sun, and often reseed themselves in the garden. Thrives in rich soil with regular irrigation.
Zones 3 to 10
In the Kitchen: Most people pick roses as a centerpiece for their table or to give as a symbol of their affection, but their culinary qualities are unsurpassed. Roses taste much like they smell, but with a slightly bitter undertone. Use in drinks, desserts, and salads, or make rose petal jam.
In the Garden: There are literally hundreds of rose varieties to choose from, some of which are much easier to grow and others. Iceberg roses and Knock Out roses are two of the most foolproof varieties. Roses thrive in a location with rich, well-drained soil and full sun. They require regular irrigation.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
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