Clockwise, from bottom left: Lavender blossoms sit waiting to be added to lemonade; A pizza made with edible blossoms and thinly-sliced squash; A bee buzzes around a bolted cilantro plant, which produces green coriander; Hosta shoots can be fried in butter and garlic Credit: Courtesy photos via Robert Dumas, Andrew Doiron

Andrew Doiron was pretty confident the hosta shoots he was cooking up would be tasty. But just in case, he did not tell his wife what she was eating until after she tried and liked them. So much she asked to have them again the next night.

Hostas are a perennial flower popular as landscaping plants around the state. They are shade tolerant, have colorful foliage, smallish flowers and are just one example of edible plants often overlooked in gardens.

Doiron grows a variety of vegetables at his central Maine homestead, but he’s always on the lookout for anything new, different or even odd to cook up. Hostas were his latest culinary discovery.

The hosta shoots taste like asparagus, Doiron said. But they need to be snipped early in the season when they are young shoots to eat.

If you know where to look and what to look for, plant experts say you can enjoy a variety of garden goodies you may never have considered. Doing so allows you to use more parts of a plant, or make the best of what your garden produces in a challenging growing season like this one in Maine.

Don’t toss those weeds

Weeds are a gardener’s nightmare — usually. But they can also be a prolific source of food.

“There are weeds having a banner year and we are so often trying to grow things we want but won’t grow and ripping out things we don’t want but that are edible,” said Robert Dumas, food science innovation coordinator at University of Maine Cooperative Extension

But not this year, Dumas said. Weeds like purslane, a succulent with a fleshy, paddle shaped leaf, are worth considering while some crops fail. It has a mild, spinach-like flavor and is very good tossed raw into a salad, he said.

Although it’s a weed, purslane is popular for landscaping. It is often found growing along sidewalks and other high traffic areas. Those plants are at risk of exposure to contaminants so you probably don’t want to eat them. But if you have purslane growing in areas away from sidewalks where animal urine, ice melt and other contaminants may taint the plant, it’s good to pick and eat.

“I would only eat things grown in a garden or wild area [and] I would also lean towards cooking any wild green,” Dumas said. “My purslane grows next to my lettuce in a garden bed, so no dogs.”

gardening tips from the bdn

Bolting doesn’t spell an end to harvests

When plants bolt, rapidly growing a flower stalk and producing seeds before the crop is harvested, it can mean the end of the vegetable you were expecting. But while your bolted broccoli, lettuce and other plants can’t be enjoyed as you envisioned, they can still be eaten — sort of.

Also called going to seed, a lot of gardeners take bolting as a sign the plant is no longer edible.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, Dumas said.

That’s good news in a year that has seen a lot of greens and plants in the brassica like radishes, turnips, broccoli and cauliflower family bolting due to the extreme weather conditions.

“What we are after are great crops with things like radishes producing those big, edible roots,” Dumas said. “Sometimes that does not happen and it bolts — but those radish flowers that you did not want are really a treat and you can enjoy them as a consolation prize.”

The radish flowers have a nice peppery bite, Dumas said. The flowers from bolted brassicas can be added raw to salads or sauteed in butter or olive oil first.

eat your way through the maine woods

Pick and eat those flowers

Flowers aren’t just for admiring. Borage, nasturtiums, calendula, daylilies and signet marigolds are all also edible. From adding to salads to cooking with them, flowers have many edible uses you might not be aware of.

During a recent demonstration to a 4-H group in Orono, Dumas said he made his “flower power” pizza topped with edible flowers, basil and thinly sliced zucchini.

“The kids loved it,” he said. “It tasted great and it was speckled with all these different colors.”

Doiron also used flowers for jams, jellies and beverages.

For instance, he said in the spring he steeps bunches of lilac flowers in lemonade for two or three days, which results in a drink with a mild strawberry-like flavor that he enjoys chilled. He also used the flowers to make a jelly he said tasted a bit like grape jelly.

Hosta flowers can also be used to make jelly.

“It came out really good and very sweet like a honey,” Doiron said. “In fact, it’s called ‘poor man’s honey.’”

gardening tips from the bdn

Then there are the seeds

The seeds from virtually every herb in your garden are edible, Dumas said.

Nasturtium seeds can be ground with a 10 percent salt solution to create a caper-like condiment. Herb seeds can be snacked on or added to salads for some extra flavor.

Day lilies are just about done flowering and are now producing green seed pods. Dumas said eaten raw, those pods are tender and tasty treats.

But the best of all, Dumas said, is bolted cilantro.

“Just because you did not get a big bushy cilantro plant does not mean you did not get food,” he said. “The seed is a green coriander and it may be one of the most delicious things you can grow.”

The flavor is an intense combination of citrus and floral and the seeds can be eaten right off the plant. Green coriander is a great addition to rice, lentils, beans, grilled or roasted vegetables. Just crush the seeds with the flat blade of a knife and add them to whatever you are making.

It’s not available in the stores so it can only be obtained if you grow it yourself.

how to eat your seeds

Smooth stalks

Don’t discount the stalks of some plants either. While kale stalks are too woody to enjoy, there is a surprising one that is edible and delicious. Dumas said he recently had an amazing meal prepared by a professional that featured the stalks of zucchini plants, something he never considered eating.

“He was working with a variety of zucchini bred to have smooth stalks without the bristles,” Dumas said. “He blanched the smooth stalks in salted water and was using them like a rigatoni pasta tossing them in a grated parmesan cheese and black pepper sauce — it was fabulous.”

Given the amount of genetic variation and cross pollination among zucchini plants in Maine, Dumas said he would not be surprised if somewhere out there, there is a smooth-stalked zucchini growing unexpectedly in a garden.

“Once you learn what parts of plants or plants you never knew about are good to eat, it really expands your options,” Dumas said. “It also gives you a bigger bang for your growing buck.”

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.