When you’ve had a long day out in the fields, you deserve a break. And a bud. No, I don’t mean a beer. I mean a good meal, featuring, of all things, flower buds. Now before you toss this down, think about it.
You are probably very familiar with several flower buds, commonly eaten in most homes: broccoli, cauliflower, and artichokes. I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten busy with other things, only to go out in the garden to pick one of these, only to find that I was too late.
The buds were in full flower, past their prime as a vegetable. In the wild, there are many, many flowers and flower buds that are not only edible, but actually choice fare for the table.
Native Americans regularly dined on these tender, seasonal delights. Let’s take a look at several other common buds and tasty flowers available to us. While they are most often thought of as “survival” foods, they form an extended garden for our family, and many other backwoods dwellers.
Here are some flower buds you should try:
Milkweed (Asclepias spp.)
Nearly everyone is familiar with the common milkweed, with its large oval leaves and seed pods that pop open in the fall, sending fluffy parachutes sailing through the air.
As these dry seed pods remain on the dead plant through the winter, it’s usually easy to identify the next spring’s milkweed patch. As with all wild plants, the wild forager should make sure the plant is the common milkweed before consuming any part.
As the milkweed gains mature height, clusters of buds form and begin to open. These flat clusters of buds open to lavender flowers. The best time to harvest milkweed buds is when they are tightly closed. Snip these buds from the plant and gather a nice bowlful.
To eat, simply bring a pan of water to a boil, adding a pinch of salt. Then boil for four minutes. Drain and discard the water. Boil briefly in two more changes of water, then drain and enjoy with butter and a squeeze of lemon, if you desire. Milkweed buds are very good.
The reason for the three boilings is to remove any trace of bitterness from the milky sap. Also very good are the very young milkweed pods. These are best eaten when only an inch or an inch and a half long. Simply pluck these immature pods, then boil for four minutes, draining and discarding the water.
As with the buds, boil again for a minute, twice, discarding each water. Then boil for about 10 minutes in fresh, salted water until tender. You will think you’re eating okra. And like okra, you can also slice and bread the pre-boiled pods and deep fry them. They taste like okra, but are not as “slimy.” Immature milkweed pods are a valuable addition to meat stews and soups.
Yucca (Yucca L.)
The common yucca is found just about nationwide. It’s tough, pointed, strap-like leaves make it look pretty dry and useless. But you should taste the small, tender flower buds that form along the tall flower stalk in the late spring.
Pick the buds when they are quite small and tight and you will think you are eating fresh garden peas. They are very succulent and tender. Simply pick these buds as you would peas, then boil just enough to make them tender, not mushy.
I like them either with a pat of butter and sprinkle of salt, or in a light cream sauce. Another favorite of mine is to harvest the just-opened yucca flowers on a cool morning. Dip them in your favorite vegetable dip and eat raw or take them home for lunch.
While they are still very fresh, you can also dip them in deep frying batter (such as tempura), then deep fry briefly until just crisp and golden brown. They are also excellent served with a sweet and sour dip.
Wild daylily (Hemerocallis L.)
How about the common wild daylily. This large, showy orange flower forms on a tall stem, accompanied by many other buds, as each flower only stays open for a day, hence its name. The plant is a shaggy bunch of drooping, strap-like leaves.
In many areas, the wild daylily fills ditches and roadsides for miles. Not only is the daylily gorgeous, but tasty, as well. Yes, you can eat the domestic daylily, but with so many new colors and variations it seems almost a shame to eat the flower buds. But if you get tempted, just remember that the flower would only last a single day anyway, and there will be many more very soon.
Daylily buds are best harvested when fairly long, but before they show any sign of opening. I like them dipped in batter and fried, but my very favorite is to make egg foo yung with them.
Simply whip up the whites of two eggs per person, add a pinch of salt, and a sprinkle of hot chile, if you like. Then chop several daylily buds, along with one small onion. Gently fold in beaten egg yolks and vegetables.
Fry four-inch wide patties in vegetable oil until done. Serve warm, topped with sweet and sour sauce or traditional egg foo yung sauce, which is 1½ cups chicken broth blended into 1½ Tbsp. cornstarch in a small pan. Stir in 1 tsp. soy sauce, ½ tsp. salt, a dash of black pepper, and a ½ tsp. sugar.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. When thickened, serve hot over egg patties. These are very good, and nearly everyone loves them. Just don’t tell folks they’re dining on flower foo yung. And if these aren’t good enough, you must try batter-fried whole, open daylily flowers.
I especially like the new hybrid domestic daylilies that have a thicker, ruffled petal. They have more substance than their wild cousins, but the wild daylilies are pretty darned good, as well.
Violet (Viola L.)
There are many violet species which grow throughout North America, ranging from white, yellow, and, of course, violet including bi-colored flowers. All are edible. While the leaves can be eaten as one would spinach, as a child my very favorite was violet flowers.
The new flowers are crunchy and slightly sweet. You can toss a handful on top of a salad to beautify it. Or throw some in a light-colored Jello dessert after it has cooled a bit. Pioneer children thrilled to violet candy, which was simply moist violets dipped in precious white sugar, then allowed to dry. This creates a delicate shell around the sparkling flower. A very pretty “candy.”
Pumpkin and squash blossoms
While not “wild” in the true sense, you will think the pumpkin and squash vines have run wild by the time they bloom. If you pick the male flowers (the ones that do not have a slight bulb at the base), you will not damage your future crop at all.
These flowers are excellent when slightly stir fried with mild chiles and onions. Or you can dip them in tempura batter and deep fry them until golden brown. Serve with your favorite dip. I like them with a bowl of chili and sour cream. Dip them first in the chili, then just a bit of sour cream. They are so good.
You can also stuff pumpkin and squash blossoms that are open, nearly all the way. Simply mix up your favorite meatloaf recipe, including bread crumbs, then gently stuff each blossom. Tuck the ends of the petals in and repeat until the baking dish is full. Bake at 350° until almost done, then sprinkle with grated cheese and drizzle catsup over the top. Bake until done. Be ready for raves.
Eating flower buds is something our ancestors were used to and it was a great and smart way to supplement their diet. Why don’t you try some of these delectable buds and flowers this year? They are so easy and fun to pick, and even easier to prepare and serve. Have a bud….on me.
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