Eating from Stem to Tip: What to Do with the Flowers and Herb Extras at the Farmers Market

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Onion flowers
Photo: Gillian Ferguson

You’re probably familiar with nose-to-tail dining – it’s when a chef or a home cook makes sure that every part of an animal goes to culinary use.

But what about stem-to-tip?

We usually only eat a small fraction of what an herb plant produces. Smart farmers, gardeners, and shoppers know that flowers and greens can be delicious too. Here’s a guide to cooking with the edible extras available now at Southern California farmers markets.

Onion Flowers

Deep-fried “onion blossoms,” a classic Southern dish, is really made of onions cut to look like flowers. (Here’s a funny video that will show you how to prepare them.)

But if you want to cook with real onion flowers, try this recipe for Thai onion flower stir-fry with pork (Pad dok hom).

Radish Flowers and Greens 

Tartines with Gruyère and Radish Greens

Last June, Willi Galloway, author of Grow Cook Eat, told Evan that radish plants offer a wide variety of culinary options. Try radish flowers as a garnish for salads, and replace cooked spinach with radish greens. They have a velcro-like texture when raw, but don’t be alarmed – it will go away with cooking.

You can also use those leaves in Galloway’s Tartines with Gruyère and Radish Greens.

Shahi Cress Flowers

A relative of watercress, shahi cress are grown on land. The flavor is similar to watercress, but your eating experience will start out mildly, with the sharper mustard notes taking a few moments to arrive on the tongue.

On this week’s market report, Allumette’s Miles Thompson shares that he uses Coleman Farms’ shahi cress flowers to supplement his turnip dishes.

You can also use them in omelets and wraps. Or try replacing the watercress with shahi flowers in this recipe for Quinoa, Watercress and Mango Salad with Lime-Curry Vinaigrette.

But don’t use too much. A little goes a long way.

Cilantro Flowers

Photo: H. Zell, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: H. Zell, via Wikimedia Commons

Thompson pairs short ribs with an herb salad using cilantro flowers at Allumette. He says the flavor is super concentrated, “like reaching for the sun”.

What’s Cooking America, which has great resources about cooking with flowers, recommends using cilantro blossoms in bean dishes.


Photo: Blumensaadt, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Blumensaadt, via Wikimedia Commons

Another great purveyor of flower-eating knowledge is Miche Bacher. She’ll be on the show later this year.

In her Cooking with Flowers, she writes that lavender has a very strong taste, so, like with shahi, hold yourself back a little or you’ll regret it.

But do get creative. Bacher writes that you can make lavender lemonade by boiling the blossoms with sugar into a flower syrup, then adding lemon juice and water. If you’re still thirsty, steep the flowers in vodka or gin for a week in a jar in the fridge.

Try this Lavender Tenderloin for something more savory.


Photo: Dada, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Dada, via Wikimedia Commons

Bacher writes that lilacs are sweet, with lemony undertones. They work well in salads and sorbets.

Mustard Flowers and Leaves

Photo: Nick Ares, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Nick Ares, via Wikimedia Commons

Mustard flowers can be added to vinegar to pep it up, or you can put them in soup or eat them boiled with a slather of butter and sea salt.

Use the leaves as you would other greens.

Some people are allergic to mustard plants, so try a little at first before you make a meal of it.