The Edible Ornamental Garden

Oxalis with Geranium ‘Rozanne’

Getting ready to prepare a meal? Wander out into the garden and you might just find some edible ornamental plants. Add interesting flavors and visual interest to your dinner salad with a few tart Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregano) leaves and flowers, for example.

Photo: James Wrathall

While most people wouldn’t classify dandelions as ornamental, I secretly suspect that many admire the bright yellow flowers, myself included, when they aren’t growing in our own yards or cracks in the sidewalk. All parts of the dandelion are edible and have medicinal and culinary uses. Dandelion roots can be harvested during any frost-free period of the year and eaten raw or steamed. The flowers can be added to a salad, made into jellies or dipped in batter to make dandelion fritters (you can even make dandelion wine). The leaves are rich in potassium, antioxidants, and vitamins A and C. Dandelion greens can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, sautéed or braised. For use in salads, greens should be harvested from new plants while still small and tender, before the first flower emerges. Larger greens tend to be tougher and more bitter, and better suited for cooking. (Source: Mother Earth News)

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Wilted Dandelion Greens Salad
4 slices of bacon, chopped
1 small red onion, diced
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 bunch dandelion greens, washed and dried, stems removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Fry bacon bits in a skillet until they are crisp and have rendered all their fat. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings and return the skillet to the burner. Add onion and stir in the sugar and cider vinegar. Pour the hot dressing over the greens, tossing the greens so as to coat them with dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste. [Note: To make this recipe vegetarian, omit the bacon and prepare the dressing with oil.]

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Simple Sautéed Dandelion Greens
1 to 2 tbsp olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bunch dandelion greens, washed and dried, stems removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet or wok on medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute or until it becomes translucent. Add the greens and sauté 2 to 3 minutes or until soft, stirring occasionally. If your greens are tough, you may want to cover the pan and steam them for a minute or 2 more. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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The fiddleheads of some ferns are edible, particularly the ostrich ferm. But Ruth Lively, senior editor of the former Kitchen Gardener magazine, cautions that any fiddlehead be eaten in small quantities. “The term ‘fiddlehead’ refers to a young, tightly coiled fern frond because it looks like the scroll of a violin. Throughout the world, several types of fiddleheads are eaten, though most contain toxic compounds. The most commonly eaten and most esteemed fiddlehead is that of the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris, USDA Hardiness Zones 2–8), often simply called fiddlehead fern. The ostrich fern is the safest fern to eat, even though it, too, can contain toxins. The fiddleheads of cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina), and bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) can also be eaten, but all are at least mildly toxic and can cause nausea, dizziness, and headache, so it’s probably best to avoid them. The safest way to eat fiddleheads is to stick to ostrich ferns and to eat them in small quantities. If foraging seems daunting, you can likely find fiddleheads at early spring farmers markets.

“Fiddleheads offer a fresh flavor reminiscent of asparagus and a pleasantly crunchy, tender-firm texture. As the fiddleheads enlarge and unfurl, they become tough and stringy, so harvest fiddleheads and their shoots (stems) when they are 8 to 16 inches tall, by bending the stalk until it snaps. Before eating, rinse the fiddleheads well, rubbing off any brown, papery particles that cling. Raw fiddleheads are good in salads. To cook fiddleheads, simply boil them until tender and dress with a little butter. Fiddleheads can also be blanched first until about half tender in a little salted water and then finished by being braised in stock or sautéed in butter or oil with garlic. With their bright color, interesting flavor, and toothy texture, fiddleheads are a stunning addition to pasta sauces and stir-fry dishes.” [Source: Fine]