Bon bouquet

Eating and drinking flowers
Sherrie Flick Bon bouquet
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As last year’s polar vortex blew in its snow dumps and sub-​zero temps, I huddled inside by the wood-​burning stove. When the spring thaw came and I ventured out into the crispy, frosted mornings, I was reminded that nothing is forever.

My lavender plants were toast, along with the tarragon and sage. I expected the same for my chamomile plant, which I’d nursed along for so long I didn’t see how it could have survived. I bought new stock at Brenckle’s Greenhouse, and as I made room for the new plants in my herb garden, I saw a tiny sprig of bright, green lacy leaves — so small that if I hadn’t taken my time, I would have just pulled it up as a weed. But no, the old and finicky chamomile that had grudgingly given up only one or two blossoms each year had somehow survived. I cleared out the dead leaves around it, planted plant No. 2 beside it, and proceeded to have a seemingly revenge-​fueled bonanza, you-can’t-kill-me-off-that-easily crop of chamomile over the summer.

The bee balm came back, as did the borage. I planted nasturtiums and also calendula and flax. All edible flowers. There’s something inherently decadent about eating flowers. It’s like a fairytale. The flowers are part of a magic potion that offers something you had never thought about before: eating beauty instead of just looking at it. I put blossoms in my salads and on my oatmeal. We floated delicate, purplish-​blue borage flowers in our glasses of red wine and made up a martini that incorporated some of my rose geranium. It seemed illicit, even, eating and drinking these flowers. It had to be wrong, I thought at first. And then I thought: I want to eat flowers every day.

Chamomile is wonderful because once it blooms with its tiny optimistic flowers — simple white petals with a bold yellow center bobbing in the breeze — the sun brings out their comforting, soft smell and it spills across the yard. I harvested blooms as the summer advanced, snipping them one at a time into my basket, and then dried them in batches in a pan lined with newspaper on the top shelf of a bookcase.

As fall settled in, and the ritual of drinking tea crept back into my routine, I had the ingredients all ready to go. But I was also inspired to try chamomile in both tea and dried bloom form in a variety of baked goods, too: cakes, tarts and scones. It’s wonderful to have this cozy smell from the summer come rushing back at you in unexpected ways during the long, cold months. Known for its anti-​inflammatory and calming effects, chamomile is the perfect way to usher in the winter chill — and a reminder of sun and warmth and next year’s plantings.

Sherrie Flick

Sherrie Flick is author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness. She lives on Pittsburgh’s South Side Slopes where she gardens, cooks, bakes, and writes. She teaches in Chatham University’s MFA and Food Studies programs, serves as series editor for At Table, the food writing book list at University of Nebraska Press, and is co-​founder of Into the Furnace, a writer-​in-​residence program in Braddock, Pa.

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