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How to Eat a Flower

A sensualist makes the most of spring

I have foraged the unmowed yard and sprinkled violets and dandelion petals on salads in May. I have fingered the tiny purple-pink florets of wild oregano and chives and let them fall like stars onto my tongue. I have stuffed squash blossoms with goat cheese and fried the unopened buds of day lilies.

Unopened buds! Yes, long and slender, pale green with a blush of orange foretelling their future cut short. Such possibility—beauty on the brink of realization—taken in, consumed. 

Eating flowers feels like luxury laced with the perfume scent of the forbidden. Imagine if Eve had plucked some ancient hibiscus from the Garden of Eden, nibbled a tart magenta edge, then stuffed it in, giggling, her fingers tucking the ruffled petals behind her pretty, white, prelapsarian teeth. Ovary at the base, then stamen, stigma, and style—all of it at once, the whole reproductive package and the flare that goes with it, the flaunting and flirting and tickling at desire. Botanically speaking, a perfect flower has both male and female parts.

Listen: Calyx. Pistil. Nectary. The pollen-covered anther beckoning from atop its filament. Need I say more? The bees know. They tempted evolution to make this thing, and evolution obeyed.

Someone taught me as a child to gently pull a single floret from a clover head—it faded from purple to bright white at the base. We pressed the white end between our teeth, closing our eyes to conjure the faint taste of nectar. Maybe I’ve always been a sensualist at heart, pouring myself out through my senses, wanting to absorb the world, make it part of me, then sing it back into being. 

The richness of the tiniest thing is tantalizing.

Lavender’s purple buds taste just like they smell. The pea flower, its prim, bonneted face, may be eaten along with its leaf and tendril, curled like a damp stray lock at the base of a neck.

Now, this is the hardest part: crushing it between your teeth, feeling it tear so easily.

Here’s a story: Before my husband and I were married, we lived together for a time, and I gave his wary mother a tour of our leggy patch of garden. Wandering down a row, I pinched off a nasturtium and popped it into my mouth. She gasped audibly. I think I threw back my head and laughed before politely trying to explain the delight of edible flowers.

I couldn’t convince her to try the nasturtium. But I’ll tell you how: Make your choice—the deep orange with the yellow center, or the yellow with the orange streak. Pinch it off at the very end of the stem. Bring it close to your face—your breath will fluster it. Check for insects on its whiskered interior, spiders hiding deep in that translucent throat. Touch it to your face, feel its satin brush your cheek, the corner of your mouth, your parted lips. Be a little reluctant. If you place the slender back end so that it points toward your tongue and hold the open end between your lips, you can pretend your mouth is a flower, and whatever you speak or sing blooms out of you like sunrise.

Bring it in, onto your tongue. It feels like it shouldn’t be there, all fluttery and wild and still untorn. You can smell its sharp scent through the back of your throat. Now, this is the hardest part: crushing it between your teeth, feeling it tear so easily. When you break the center, it will bite you back, peppery sharp.

Swallow. It is you now, its atoms your atoms. Its intention your intention. Its beauty your beauty—so exquisitely formed, so more than enough, so fine.

Hannah Fries is the author of the poetry collection Little Terrarium and the book Being with Trees. Her work has appeared most recently on Terrain.org and The Marginalian, and in EcoTheo Review. She is an editor at Storey Publishing and lives with her family in western Massachusetts. Find her at hannahfries.com.