Have you eaten chrysanthemums lately?

by Sarah on March 18, 2012

chrysanthemums, yellow flowers

Chrysanthemums. Sometimes a cook needs to think out of the box, or in this case out of the flower pot. These sun shiny beauties are not only decorative, but a delicious way to add greens (and yellows) to liven up meals. However, in Israel they are largely ignored as a culinary herb despite growing abundantly in the wild and in untended yards. Many consider them at best pretty weeds, useful only for a child’s bouquet.

edible chrysanthemum

The best time to harvest is before they blossom, when the stems and leaves are still tender

Asians and Cypriots have been making better use of this nutritious plant and enjoy it both cooked and raw. Visit a Korean or Chinese green grocer and they may very well have this vegetable in stock. Indeed, chrysanthemums are indigenous to Asia where they have become an indispensible part of their food culture.

chrysanthemum field in Israel

While many wild edibles are sold by Arab vendors around the country, including difficult to harvest thorny species, I have never seen chrysanthemums. They are also no mention of them in the Middle Eastern cookbooks I own.  For years the empty lots around my house have been neglected until the discovery of Uri Mayer-Chissick’s practical foraging book. It was then I realize that between March and April I would never have to buy another salad green again.

chrysanthemum

In Israel, the most conspicuous species is Chrysanthemum coronarium (known as Crown Marigold or Garland Chrysanthemum). According Nisim Krispil’s Medicinal Herbs of Israel it is often picked by the Arabs to prepare salad while the Negev Bedouins prepare a tincture from the petals to treat fever. It seems reasonable to assume that some families simply do their own gathering and don’t rely on outdoor markets.

Those in Tokyo sautée the stems and leaves in oil and garnish with sesame seeds while others prepare a more complicated sauce with tofu and miso. In Japan they are also a common addition to shabu- shabu, a soup similar to the Chinese hot pot. Chrysanthemums take center stage in the Vietnamese canh tan o soup and in Korea they are commonly added to wraps called ssam.

Knowing very little about Asian cooking I did what came most naturally to me- chopped them up and dunked them in yogurt, the Middle Eastern way. This takes the bite off the more pungent wild edibles, mellowing the flavor without destroying their super food qualities (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and beneficial phytochemicals, in short, not something you’d want to miss out on).

Chrysanthemum yogurt salad

Yogurt with chrysanthemum and other greens

On the way back from picking up my son from kindergarten I collected a few of the yellows and mallows to make this impromptu salad. All together I had about 1 cup of greens. For those who don’t have unusual weeds, dill, parsley, celery leaves and even diced cucumbers can be used instead. In the United States, Ox-Eye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) would work well in this recipe. Chrysanthemums alone do not have a very aggressive flavor which pairs nicely with the more aromatic za’atar. Use thyme if fresh za’atar is not available.

yogurt with chrysanthemums and zaatar

A few chrysanthemum leaves and stems

1-2 mallow leaves

Small bunch parsley leaves

A few leaves of fresh za’atar

2 tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled

1 crushed garlic

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup of plain yogurt

Wash the herbs in water, making sure to remove sand, grit and stray bugs. Pat dry with a towel. Chop the herbs into bit sized pieces and place them in a small bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until combined. Serve with toasted pita halves with za’atar.

chrysanthemums, mallow and parsley

 

 

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa March 18, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Very interesting! I’d love to try this spread/sauce. I bet it tastes wonderful.

What beautiful spring landscapes!

Cheers,

Rosa

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Eha March 18, 2012 at 7:10 pm

No, I definitely have not eaten chrysanthemum now or ever, ’cause I honestly thought it was poisonous! I am doubly surprised, because I have cooked and eaten Asian food for decades: so it can also be used in Japanese and Vietnamese? This is one delightful lesson to learn on a busy Monday morning in Australia, and, very definitely, one I shall follow up! I can see some from my library wondow: here we go :) !

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Sarah March 19, 2012 at 6:35 am

Eha, It was a nice discovery for me as well, especially since I have so many growing near me. The top photograph was from my yard in fact.

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Helene Dsouza I Masala Herb March 19, 2012 at 2:04 am

Now thats very interessting! I thought many times of using flowers in my cooking, in fact I have one flower in mind from europe for the future, but I havent ever tried it. I like new things and old knowledge of natures endless goods. I enjoyed reading the insides on where in the world it is used and how. Love the fact that u dont cook it but created a fresh salad to preserve the nutrional benefits. Great Post Sarah!

The flower fields looks awesome!!

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Sarah March 19, 2012 at 6:39 am

THelene, Thanks, there are so many edible wild flowers- begunias, violets, roses to name a few. It’s a great way to decorate salads. I had a friend who even pressed flowers between homemade pasta sheets for a stunning presentation.

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Yael the Finn March 19, 2012 at 11:45 am

I tasted the flower once and thought it was horrible….but this winter I have fallen in love with maror hagina,sow thistle,which also has nice yellow flowers;although I have only used their lovely leaves..

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Sarah March 19, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Yael the Finn, You should try the chrysanthemum greens, a very nice addition to salad and not as bitter as sow thistle. The petals have a strong taste where they attach to the plant but the tips are not bad at all.

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Flavors of the Sun March 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm

What an interesting post. I generally love edible flowers, but don’t know chrysanthemums except as a tea.

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usha March 19, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Rare is the Indian dining table that has not served some kind of yoghurt sauce with the veggies varying from cucumber, onions, green chillies, spinach, radish…you name it and someone has thought to add it to the yoghurt. Originally meant to soothe the palate while eating a spicy meal, it can also make for a great dip for chips,nachos etc.
Chrysanthemum tea is good.
How beautiful is Israel in the spring !!

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Sarah March 19, 2012 at 10:14 pm

Usha, The spiciness of chilis is caused by capsaicin which activates pain receptors. Milk and yogurt are considered cooling because they contain casein, a protein that binds capsaicin, washing it away.

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Yosefa @nonrecipe March 21, 2012 at 4:16 am

Wow. I didn’t even know those were chrysanthemums. And I didn’t realize raw mallows are good to eat. I’ll have to try that. I like nettles, but whenever I see great ones, I don’t have gloves and I’m not on my way home.

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Sarah March 21, 2012 at 10:30 am

Thanks Yosefa, I love the green season, the best time for foraging.

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Miriam Kresh March 21, 2012 at 9:21 am

Excellent! I knew these chryses are used in Chinese medicine, but since I’ve never come across mention of eating them, I always just gathered them for wildflower bouquets. I’m going to get some tomorrow and cook something with ‘em. Thanks, Sarah!

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Sarah March 21, 2012 at 10:29 am

Thanks Miriam, Isn’t great that we have so many flowers at our disposal? Wish I knew about the Chrysanthemums sooner.

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Jamie March 24, 2012 at 5:16 am

Fascinating! I knew you were going foraging but this is great! The French are so good at foraging and eating so many things that as an American I find odd and kind of scary, so this post is particularly interesting to me. Love the recipe – feta, garlic, love! And the chopped greens make this pretty as well.

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Jill Colonna March 24, 2012 at 5:41 am

What a wonderful post – agree with Jamie. Perhaps should make a chrysanthemum macaron for Mother’s Day… I’ve used pansies/violas but this one is new to me! Fabulous.

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Gayle March 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I love the flower pictures – how fortunate are you to have had such a rainy winter and lush spring. I always love your nature-inspired recipes.

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Sarah March 24, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Thanks Gayle, It has been years since we’ve had a serious winter. I hope it continues to rain, it brings a fantastic flowering spring.

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Faye March 24, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Sarah, this is great! Good idea combining feta with the yogurt.
I’ve had chrysanthemum tea at a Chinese restaurant and have seen the leaves at Korean markets and didn’t know what to do with them. Thanks for the ideas.
We have lots of wild daisies now (white and purple flowers) but they’re not chrysanthemums and I don’t know if they are edible.
I do have edible calendula. The flower petals are OK as a salad garnish but I haven’t found a way to use the leaves yet. Maybe I’ll try a few in a spread like yours.

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OysterCulture March 31, 2012 at 7:28 pm

I love chrysanthemums in my salad but you’ve reminded me to branch out.

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