April showers bring May flowers, and we certainly had enough April rain this year to make that prophecy come true. Besides brightening our spirits with wonderful bursts of color everywhere we look, these spring flowers can also delight our palate. Cakes, cocktails, and salads are often decorated with edible flowers and petals, yet another way of enjoying the fruit of our gardens.
Little Wild Things Farm
Amazingly there is an indoor farm on Capitol Hill that actually produces edible flowers, year-round. Little Wild Things Farm is located at 906 Bladensburg Road, NE, next to the WS Jenks Hardware building. The little farm specializes in salad greens, microgreens, shoots, and edible flowers. It is a woman-owned and woman-managed enterprise. The farm’s mission is to “inspire the next generation of farmers to build a brighter and more sustainable future.” The edible flowers are all grown hydroponically.
Hydroponic farming means the flowers or vegetables are grown indoors without soil, basically in water and good light. Hailey Rohn, Senior VP of Operations at Little Wild Things Farm, says the biggest advantage of growing the flowers this way “is that you don’t have to depend on the weather and can grow them year-round.” It is also
Important to have good circulation of air, and something to hold the roots like perlite or peat moss. At Little Wild Things Farm, the rows of greens are well spaced to give easy access to the flats of micro-greens and give them the space to flourish.
The farm moved to this method a year ago so they are still experimenting with the varieties of flowers that grow best in the hydroponic conditions. But violas, marigolds, and borage are already three successful flowers. Hailey says she really likes the taste of the violas best. “It is a soft floral taste.” Edible flowers are most often used in decorating cakes and cookies, floating in cocktail drinks, and, of course, are eaten in salads. Peach and cherry blossoms are the current flower of choice for locals.
Many common flowers are edible, and herbs often produce flowers that have strong taste and aromas. Many Asian and African recipes make use of these flowers. Wikipedia has a very good list of edible flowers, as well as others to avoid. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edible_flower
CSA – Salad Share
For salad enthusiasts, Little Wild Things Farm operates a CSA for greens and microgreens. Microgreens are smaller than baby greens or sprouts. They come in sweet and spicy flavors and feature many vibrant colors. Researchers at the USDA Agricultural Research Service have been studying microgreens since 2012 and have found them to have four to six times more nutrients than mature leaves of the same plant. Often, they are a great source for vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene. Little Wild Things microgreens and shoots are certified as naturally grown (CNG) and they use “biologically intensive agriculture” principles.
Over 200 DC households are currently enrolled in the Little Wild Things CSA. The CSA provides five sessions each running ten weeks long. Participants can choose the number of sessions they take part in. Each week, the farm offers large salad ingredients, microgreens, and a third “surprise” item, which can be edible flowers, dried flowers, body scrubs, and other specialty items produced by the farm. Each session costs $300. The weekly order can be picked up onsite, delivered to you, and there is even a hub site where members can pick up on a Capitol Hill front porch. The farm also brings greens to the Dupont Circle Farmers Market on Sundays. Recipes are also included to help expand knowledge and improve use of the greens. In addition to
the CSA, Little Wild Things Farm services a number of partner restaurants and bars in the area including Pursuit Wine Bar on H Street, The Pub & the People on North Capitol Street, and Pantry Thai.
Dandelions are yet another flower that comes to mind when thinking about edible plants. Considered a weed by many, they can grow just about anywhere. The plant (taraxacum officinale) thrives in sunlight, which is why you often see them in fields, lawns, even dump sites. As any gardener knows, the dandelion is not easy to contain once it is established in the garden. The seeds spread quickly through the air just by wind blowing on the puffball. One dandelion head can spread a couple of hundred seeds and up to hundreds of miles from the original source depending on the strength of the wind.
All that said, the dandelion has many health benefits and uses. The leaves are best used in early spring when they are the most tender. Dandelion leaves can stabilize blood sugar making them an excellent supplement for diabetics. They are commonly used to treat liver and digestive issues and some studies have shown they can produce antibodies to cancer. The flower produces a nectar that honeybees love. The taste is like chicory or endive with a bitter aftertaste.
While all parts of the plant can be eaten, those taking medication of lithium, blood thinners, or valium should avoid eating them. If in doubt, it is best to check with a doctor before trying them in your salad.
Dandelion wine is also a byproduct of the plant. It was made famous by a 1953 story by Ray Bradbury, published in Gourmet Magazine. A few years later he turned it into a full novel called Dandelion Wine. The lead character’s grandfather made dandelion wine and it was used as a metaphor for packing all the joys of summer into a single moment.
The wine is made from the flowers and is said to taste like a mead with a hint of honey. It is a dry wine and takes two years for fermentation with a limited window of when it is best to drink. The alcohol content is about the same as white wine but will vary.
Dandelion Wine recipes are abundant on the web, and there is even a recipe in George Washington’s Mount Vernon cookbook. It calls for gathering “1 gallon of dandelion blossoms while the sun is shining so they will be open, over which pour 1 gallon of water. Let stand in a cool place for 3 days.” Finding dandelion wine to buy in the DC area proved unsuccessful, but there are some online organic wines available, although availability is limited and postage expensive.
With Mother’s Day, graduations, and spring garden parties soon to come adding some edible flowers to eat or drink may make your celebrations even more memorable. Check out Little Wild Things Farm in person, at Dupont Farmers Market, or online, and find your favorite flower, https://littlewildthingsfarm.com/.
Dandelion Wine with Fruit and Spices
This recipe will make a semisweet, flavorful wine, perfect for sipping on a hot afternoon. The recipe is adapted from Jack Keller’s Home Wine Making (Adventure Publications 2021)
5 gallons dandelion flowers
1 cup ginger
Other spices to taste (Cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla bean)
1 pound raisins
15 lbs sugar
D-47 1122 Yeast
Pick dandelion flowers in the morning when fully open. Be sure to collect dandelions that have not been treated with chemical sprays and that have not been “watered” by dogs. If picking alone, it will take four or five days for about an hour each time. Dandelions can be frozen until used. *When bottling or racking, strain liquid through cheesecloth.
- Pick five gallons of dandelions—these will reduce quickly as they wilt (about three gallons)
- Remove stems from dandelions and pour boiling water over them; cover w/ towel, let stand 24 hours, stirring twice
- After 24 hours, boil dandelions and sugar until sugar has dissolved
- Put must into a 5 gallon bucket (your “primary fermenter”); cool to 75 degrees (takes around 4 hours)
- Zest and slice oranges (slice off white pith); finely slice lemons
- Add fruit, spices, and raisins to bucket; add yeast (Lavlin D47-1122 preferred)
- Measure your specific gravity, which should be between 1.090 and 1.100
- Cover with a towel, let stand three days, stir two times each day
- After three days, strain/siphon into a carboy
- Attach an airlock and allow to ferment 30 days
- Rack and put back into new carboy
- After 90 days, rack again
- Bottle when clear
- Age one year
Rindy O’Brien is looking forward to a spring of greens and edible flowers. To contact her, email@example.com.