The Reason for Flowers NPR coverage of The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
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The Reason for Flowers

Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives

by Stephen Buchmann

Hardcover, 342 pages, Simon & Schuster, List Price: $26 |


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The Reason for Flowers
Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives
Stephen Buchmann

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Scientist and author Stephen Buchmann narrates the roles flowers play in the production of our foods, spices, medicines and perfumes and how humans — and the natural world — relate and depend upon them.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: The Reason For Flowers

Edible Flowers: Top Ten Favorites

Although cooks or aspiring chefs have dozens or hundreds of edible flowers

to select from, I've taken the guesswork out of choosing by summarizing

the top choices of notable flower chefs, and my own, below. This

annotated list has just about everyone's top ten favorite edible flowers.

Please join in the fun by making the foods you eat, and their colorful presentations

works of art on the canvas of a broad plate or serving dish. Let

them eat marigolds!

  1. Calendula or pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), daisy family (Asteraceae).

Has a slightly bitter flavor and was historically used as one of

several substitutes for true saffron. Can be used in rice dishes, potatoes,

or cakes. Use with caution as large quantities may affect women's

menstrual cycles, and the flower should not be consumed by pregnant

or nursing women.

  1. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), lily family (Liliaceae). Have an onion-like

flavor, but are not overpowering. Can be used in gazpacho, potatoes,

salads, and many other savory dishes. We are talking about purple

chive flowers, not their familiar green stems. The flowering stalks are

usually not for sale in supermarkets, but they are easy to start from

seed and flower annually even when they are grown in large pots.

  1. Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.), grass-tree family (Xanthorrhoeaceae).

Daylily flowers or buds yield a sweet floral or vegetal "green" flavor

and are much favored in Chinese cuisine (see above under "Cooking

with Flowers"). Dried, these flowers are used in sweet and sour

Chinese hot soups. They can be used in pancakes, flower butter, and

shrimp, chicken, and pork dishes. Be careful if you eat daylily tubers,

since they can cause diuretic or laxative reactions in some people.

  1. Mint (Mentha spp.), mint family (Lamiaceae). Has the minty-fresh

flavor everyone is familiar with. The various mints include apple mint,

orange mint, peppermint, and spearmint. Used in tabbouleh, mint

sauces, garnishing drinks, in cakes and ice creams. Mint flowers are

delicate additions to your cooking. Since you won't find these along

with familiar mint leaves in stores, you may have to grow your own for

the table.

  1. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), nasturtium family (Tropaeolaceae).

Nasturtium petals impart a spicy-peppery flavor to dishes. The curious

round leaves are also edible. They can also be used in flower vinegars

and vinaigrette salad dressings, as well as sauces such as beurre blanc.

Experiment with them in Italian cooking along with tomatoes, cheese,

and pastas. The gorgeous bright orange, scarlet, or yellow petals make

fantastic garnishes to many foods.

  1. Pansy (hybrids of Viola tricolor and the horned violet V. cornuta), violet

family (Violaceae). The name of this favorite garden bloom comes

from the French word pensee, meaning "thought" or "thinking of you."

The countenance-like blooms are thought to represent someone's face

in deep contemplation. Experiment with these facelike flowers in your

kitchen. They are perfect tasty additions in pasta or potato salads, and

dark syrups. An imaginative chef in St. Louis (Barry Marcus) has

used large, dark pansy varieties to look up at diners from inside large,

rounded ravioli! They are a perfect adornment that add zesty colors

and interest to many dishes.

  1. Rose (Rosa spp.), rose family (Rosaceae). Rose petals, with their

engaging, sweet scent, make exquisite sauces. Rose petals can also

be added to julienned vegetables and used in salads and vinaigrettes.

Don't forget them in desserts, as colorful, fragrant, and tasty additions

to sherbet. Roses, and their loose petals, make wonderful sprinkled

trousseau additions to meals as garnishes and on‑table decorations.

Some believe that the tastiest roses to use are species including the

Japanese rose (Rosa rugosa), Damask rose (Rosa x damascena), or

apothecary rose (Rosa gallica). The hybrid known as the cabbage rose

(Rosa x centifolia) is grown extensively in Eastern Europe to make rose

water and rose-petal jam.

  1. Sage (Salvia officinalis), mint family (Lamiaceae). For centuries sages

have been thought to have powerful curative and healing properties.

It is not surprising that they have found their way into the cuisines of

diverse cultures. Try mixing sage flowers into soups, salads, and savory

dishes, including those with mushrooms and fish. Again, these are the

delicate sage flowers, not the familiar and easily obtained leaves of the

same plant. The stems of some varieties are bitter, so it may be best to

pick off the flowers first.

  1. Signet marigold (Tagetes signata), daisy family (Asteraceae). This true

marigold, native to New Mexico through Mexico to Argentina, has

the best flavor of any marigolds, like a spicy version of tarragon. Marigolds

can be harmful if eaten in large amounts; please exercise caution

by eating them only occasionally and in moderation. Marigold petals

are wonderful in marigold butter, deviled eggs, and in potato salad.

Try them also with quiches, pastas, and sweet desserts including fruit

  1. Squash blossoms (Cucurbita pepo var.), squash and gourd family

(Cucurbitaceae). These colorful yellow-orange blossoms add a delicious

floral and vegetal flavor to other ingredients. This is an excellent

culling method for preventing too many large tough zucchini in your

home garden. Simply pick off and cook the female zucchini or squash

blossoms (look for the pickle-shaped ovary at the base of the blossoms)

for the table. Squash blossoms go great with peppers and corn,

Mexican masa-flour tamales, or Italian pasta dishes.