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.
The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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