One of the delights of Alaska’s late spring and early summer is a newly green landscape decorated with wild flowers. Sitting in my kitchen, I can see iris, Jacob’s ladder, bluebells, Labrador tea and potentilla in the rather wild lawn. Nestled among the spruce and willow are delicately scented wild roses, and fireweed is creating a tall, bright pink border for my lane.
Taking advantage of Alaska’s wild bounty can include more than berries, salmon and moose. Harvesting wild flowers offers another way to enjoy and “preserve” summer. Wild roses may be the most versatile flower and top my list in spring’s edible landscape. Rose blossoms gathered before they fade and lose their aroma can be used in a variety of ways. They can be dried for a potpourri or used to flavor scones and biscuits. Other wild edible favorites such as fireweed and violets can be used in similar ways.
To harvest any flowers, select young blossoms early in the day but after any dew has evaporated. Rose petals can be carefully removed from the center, leaving behind the pale yellow, pollen-bearing anthers. As soon as possible after picking, take flowers or petals inside and gently rinse (if dirty) and pat dry with paper towels. Begin preparation or refrigerate in loose plastic containers or bags on paper towels until ready to use. Check for spiders or insects before using in any food preparation — they may not be harmful but you don’t want that “ick” factor to interfere with your guests’ eating pleasure.
Cleaned rose petals, fireweed blossoms or violets can be can be used without any additional preparation in salads or as garnishes. You will want to add these at the last minute so that they retain their color and mild flavors. They can be placed with water in ice cube molds for later use in a fancy punch or beverage (think wedding or birthday party). And, they can be added to scones or cookies, providing a delicate flavor and color to light-colored pastries. Take a basic scone, biscuit recipe or cookie and add some rose water along with the rose petals.
Flowers with a thicker petal such as roses and violets may be crystallized and preserved for several months for use as decoration on a cake or cookies. Using prepared, powdered egg white, brush or dip petals in the egg white and then sprinkle both sides of the petal or whole flower with superfine sugar. Allow them to dry completely and then store in airtight containers on parchment paper.
If you can’t wait for berries to ripen to make jelly or jam, rose petal juice can be used to make a beautifully colored and flavorful jelly. Juice can be made by placing 1½ cups of tightly packed, cleaned petals — any white portion removed — and mashing slightly with a potato masher. Add 2¼ cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer on the lowest heat until the pink color is quite faded. Strain your juice through a jelly bag or cheesecloth.
This juice can be frozen for long-term storage or used immediately for a beverage or jelly. Extension’s jelly recipe calls for 1¾ cups rose petal juice, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 3½ cups of sugar and 3 ounces of liquid pectin. This recipe will make 3-4 cups of jelly.
If you’d like to try capturing a taste of spring with edible flowers and for more information about using roses and fireweed, you can refer to several of Extension’s publications: “Wild Roses,” FNH-00114; “Fireweed,” FNH-00106; “Using Alaska’s Wild Berries and Other Wild Edibles,” FNH-00120; and “A ‘Starter Kit’ of Edible Flowers for the Garden and Table,” HGA-00137. Extension also has a “Roses and Fireweed” DVD, FNH-01291. Many of these publications are free and available online. Search by the title or publication number at www.uaf.edu/ces/pubs/catalog. You can also order by calling Extension’s toll-free number at 877-520-5211.
Leslie Shallcross is the Tanana District health, home and family development agent for Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She can be reached at (907)474-2426 or email@example.com.