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Broccoli: Edible Flower

Broccoli Flower1

Broccoli FlowerQuick! Name an edible flower!

Ok, which once did you name: nasturtium, pansy, viola, marigold or lavender, day lily, carnation or sage? The petals of each of those can be added to a salad for both taste and show. There are dozens of flowers that are edible.

But did you name the most commonly eaten flower of all?

If you said broccoli, you’re right.

Millions of pounds of broccoli are eaten around the world every year. A relative of the cabbage, broccoli is one of the most accepted vegetables anywhere. If you think about it for a minute or two, it’s easy to understand why.

First, broccoli bears over a very long season. Generally, broccoli is a cool season vebetable, meaning it can get its start early in the year, even before the last frost in spring. As well, broccoli can be planted in late summer or fall for crops in witner or early spring. And where the summers stay cool, broccoli is very much a summer vegetable.

Second, broccoli is good for you. One large cooked stalk will provide one-and-a-half times the vitamin C needed every day, half the vitamin A, and a good portion of the riboflavin, iron, calcium, potassium and other nutrients you need. (A cup of fresh broccoli contains 19 calories.)

Third, broccoli tastes good. It’s good crunchy raw or cooked just to the point where it’s tender or “al dente.” But that’s nothing new. One of ancient Rome’s most famous food writers, Pliny the Elder, was raving about broccoli way back in the second century.

Broccoli is a biennial, which means it’s full life is about two years. But it’s in the first year, in fact, in the first 40-90 days, that most varieties of broccoli grow leaves and form flower heads. That’s the part you eat.

The key to buying broccoli at the farm market is to choose stalks that are tender and firm, not woody. The flower heads should be tight and compact; dark green or purplish green is fine–that’s simply a matter of the variety you have in hand. The tiny flowers that make up the head should be tightly closed. A broccoli head that has yellow buds, that has started to bloom, is too old.

When proudce inspectors grade broccoli they often look at size favorably. But when it comes to flavor, size is not the determining factor, freshness is. How do you know if broccoli is fresh? Well, it should smell fresh. A little practice and you’ll have it down perfectly.

Broccoli, like other cool season vegetables, will bolt into flower as temperatures climb. While that might be good for setting seed and keeping the family lineage in tact, remember, the best tasting brocolli has a tight, compact head with not even a hint of visible yellow bud.

As we approach mid summer and the temperatures climb, the local broccoli season is coming to a close. If you are craving tasty fresh broccoli and want to have yours in hand before it’s too late, get going.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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