Spring is nigh in much of the Southwest, and with it our plethora of spring flowers and forage-able plants.
Edible Yards – Live Talk!
If you are in the area, stop by the Sun City West Garden Club on Tuesday February 14, 2023 at 8:30am. I (Jacqueline Soule) am giving a free presentation about Easy & Edible Home Landscape Plants. About half the plants I will talk about offer us edible flowers. Hope to see you there! If you can’t make it – you can download the plant guide for free on Jacqueline’s class site. Just click on the link of the name of the talk. (when it is posted)
Be Cautious With Foraging
Please do be careful to positively identify any wild plants before you eat them. Or landscape plants too. Those white star-shaped flowers all around the cities? Those might be the toxic oleander.
If you are new to eating flowers, please see “Edible Flower Safety” our page under the Savor Safely menu.
My Top Three Edible Desert Flowers
Note that there are many others out there, these are just three of my personal favorites.
Desert Globe Mallow
Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) blossoms make a great tea, tasting much like hibiscus tea, tangy and refreshing.
Plant Nerd Shares
This similarity of flavor makes sense because hibiscus, globe mallow, and indeed hollyhock are all in the same family, the Mallow family. If you have every had the local jamiaca (ha-my-ei-ca) tea, it tastes much the same. In Italy they call it karkade.
Just be careful harvesting the globe mallow blooms because the plant has tiny hairs that can be very irritating if they get in your eyes. This has lead to the Spanish name for the plant “mal ojo” or bad eye. The hairs are beautiful under a microscope though – they look like tiny umbrellas minus the cloth. The technical name for the hairs is “stellate” or star-shaped hairs.
We recently posted about foraging cheeseweed. It is also a mallow relative and has edible flowers.
As it turns out, the petals of all cactus flowers are edible. Saguaro, prickly pear, Peruvian apple cactus, even dragon fruit, and queen of the night. The flowers vary in ease of harvest and need for processing. Furthermore, while cactus flowers are edible – so are the fruits! So rather than lose the fruits, you can harvest carefully and have both!
I wait until the flower is almost done blooming – some of these only bloom for one day or even just one night, so it is not a long wait. Then I go out with a razor blade (or kitchen shears) and carefully cut just the petals off, leaving the rest of the flower to develop into tasty fruit.
Cactus petals are delightful in stir fry, although some of the larger ones need a bit of a chop to get them smaller for cooking. None are blooming yet on my land as I write this – but as soon as they do I’ll post pictures. Maybe even a how to on our YouTube channel!
Cholla buds are a whole topic in their own right, and a great deal of labor. Not going into it here.
Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) is member of the unique Coachwhip Family. As for harvesting their flowers – it can be a real challenge.
Way up in the sky, the ocotillo flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds. I do want to share my space with these zippy little birds so I don’t harvest the flowers directly off the plants. Instead, I spread bed sheets (or any other drop cloth) under the plants – focusing on the down-wind side to catch more flowers.
How come the flowers drop? Because once the flowers are pollinated, the mama plant sheds the upper portion of the spent blooms. Then mama plant goes to work on making seeds in what was once the base of the flower. These spent scarlet flowers drop into my sheets for collection.
Once a day (before the afternoon wind get too fierce) I gather up the corners of the sheet and shake it into a cardboard box. I bring the box into the laundry room (where it is hidden from box-loving cats) and shake the flowers around to spread out in a single layer to dry further. One day is usually enough, and the day-dried flowers shaken out of the box and into a paper grocery sack before I head out for the next day’s harvest. This is similar to drying herbs that we discussed earlier.
Ocotillo flowers are mildly sweet and tangy at the same time. Fantastic as a tea. I bet I could also make jelly from then, the same as violet flower jelly is made.
Seeds are good too. Several of the native tribe used to collect the stalk full of ocotillo seed once it was ready. They would toast it, and grind it, then mix it with ground corn for tortillas.
Your Mind Not Made Up?
If you are unsure of this whole concept of eating flowers – start with the flowers of common garden herbs. Basil flowers can go into any dish where you would use basil, and they look great in salads. Garlic chive and society garlic flowers taste garlicky, and are yummy in stir fry. Add some mint flowers to your next pitcher of iced tea.
Be bold. Experiment with taste and color. Flowers are fun, in the yard and on the table. Just follow the Ten Rules for Edible Flowers under the Savor Safely menu.
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The authors of this blog have researched the edibility of the materials we discuss, however, humans vary in their ability to tolerate different foods, drinks, and herbs. Individuals consuming flowers, plants, animals or derivatives mentioned in this blog do so entirely at their own risk. The authors on this site cannot be held responsible for any adverse reaction. In case of doubt please consult your medical practitioner.