By Matt Gibson and Erin Marissa Russell
Squash blossoms and zucchini flowers are the edible and incredibly tasty blooms of both summer squash and zucchini plants. The flowers produced by winter squash and pumpkin plants can be used in the place of summer squash or zucchini blossoms, as the blooms are similar in every distinguishable way: specifically in size, shape, color, and flavor.
Squash blossoms are not just a tasty treat, however. Although they aren’t a substantial food, they contain a relatively high amount of the vitamins and minerals humans need in their diets. Squash blossoms are significantly high in vitamins C and A, and also contain no small amount of calcium and iron. Each cup-sized serving clocks in at just five calories, so there’s no need to worry about watching how many you eat (unless they’re fried and stuffed with cheese, which is actually the most common way these flowers are prepared and served).
You might be wondering why people eat squash blossoms instead of letting the flowers develop more fruit. Or maybe you’re thinking that it would be better to leave all of the blossoms on the plant so that they will provide more squash for you to harvest. Well, luckily for squash blossom aficionados, not all of the blooms on your plants are destined to turn into fruit.
Squash flowers come in both male and and female form, and only the females produce squash. The males are around just to pollinate the females. The first few flowers that pop up each season are male, and these can be harvested once they reach maturity, as there won’t be any females around for them to pollinate yet. It’s a good idea to leave a few males around to pollinate early female blooms, but typically, more than enough male flowers will sprout up on your squash plants along with the female buds to handle this task and fill your plate.
As long as you keep a few of the male flowers in your garden during pollination time, your squash plants should have no problem producing plenty of fruit. The common preference and recommendation is to harvest mostly male flowers, leaving only a handful of male blooms on your plants to pollinate the females. However, female flowers can also be harvested, and sometimes you can snag them when a baby squash is still attached to the base of the bloom for an extra tasty treat.
Three are considerably more male blooms than there are female blooms on squash plants, and the males grow all over the plant, while the females are relegated to only the central stems. When bees visit the male flowers, they get a bunch of pollen on their little hairy legs and proceed to transport it to the female flowers, dropping pollen particles into the center of the female squash blossoms, which pollinates them and allows them to produce fruit. Once the female flowers are pollinated, the male flowers are no longer needed, so it’s perfectly okay to gently remove them from the plant and use them in recipes.
How To Grow Squash Blossoms
Gardeners in USDA hardiness zones three through ten can grow both summer and winter squash varieties. For those living in areas with short growing seasons, we recommend the bush-style varieties. Summer and winter squash plants have practically the exact same growing condition requirements, only differing in the time they take to mature. Either type can be started indoors three to four weeks before the last frost in your area so they can get a head start on the growing season.
Plant squash in a location that receives full sunlight exposure and in a bed composed of well-draining, humus-rich soil that is chock full of finished compost and kept slightly moist at all times. Getting the leaves of your squash plants wet can lead to a wide array of disease issues, so avoid overhead watering and water at the base of each plant, or use a drip irrigation system to avoid wetting the foliage.
Provide one to one and a half inches of water per week, though more water may be necessary during especially dry or hot weather conditions. Add a light layer of organic mulch to your squash beds. No more than one to one and a half inches of mulch is needed to deter weeds and help improve moisture retention.
Squash are heavy feeders, so be sure to pretreat your beds by digging lots of compost into your squash beds in the fall for the upcoming spring season, or if you missed the chance in autumn, just mix lots of compost in during the growing season instead. You should also give your squash an extra nutrient boost by watering your plants with diluted compost tea once or twice a month. Squash plants can also benefit greatly from a continuous release granular fertilizer.
Move your seedlings outdoors or direct sow into your beds once the soil temperatures reach 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant your squash seeds one half inch to one inch deep, and thin down to the healthiest-looking seedlings to give each plant 36 inches of space in every direction. Squash can also be planted in small hills or mounds raised approximately one foot high and spaced at least six feet apart. On each hill, plant four to five seeds two or three inches deep and three to four inches apart.
How to Harvest Squash Blossoms
In the middle of the day, when your squash plant’s blossoms are open, use a sharp, clean knife to remove squash blossoms from their stems, cutting the stems one inch below the blossoms. Slice off male squash blossoms, and leave a few inches of stem for new flowers to grow from. Slice the female flowers off either above or below the fruit, depending on the needs of the recipe you are going to use them for.
The majority of the blossoms that you harvest should be male, but leave several male flowers on each plant throughout the growing season to keep the female blossoms pollinated. If your plants are producing vigorously and you have plenty of squash, it’s not a bad idea to harvest more blossoms than you normally would.
How to Prepare Squash Blossoms
Before you begin to cook your squash blossoms using the recipe you’ve chosen, there’s a bit of prep work you’ll need to do to get them ready. Handle the blossoms gently throughout this process, as they are quite fragile. No matter how you choose to serve them, squash blossoms are eaten whole, so you’ll want to preserve the beautiful flower in all its glory.
First, (after washing your hands, of course), use your fingers to delicately pry open the petals so you can access the bloom’s interior. If it’s sealed up especially tightly, you may not be able to do this by hand. In that case, you can (carefully) use tweezers or a pair of nail scissors to help get the blossom to open up.
Remove the pistils and the stamen that you’ll find inside, and throw them away. The pistil is the long stem-like piece inside the flower, and the thinner stamens surround it. Trim the flower off the squash, if it is still attached. Most recipes won’t use the long stem some blooms will have, so unless yours includes the stems, clip that off as well. Rinse the blossoms off under a gentle trickle of cool water from the faucet, and lay them on paper towels to dry.
Stuffed or fried squash blossoms are the classic preparations, so those are the most common recipes you’ll find. Other frequent methods of serving squash blossoms include filling quesadillas or pupusas with them, adding them raw to salads, or using them as a topping or garnish for pizza and pasta.
There are other recipes out there with more unique and creative ways to eat squash blossoms, too—not to mention, you can substitute squash blossoms for zucchini blossoms in any recipes for those that strike your fancy. We’ve collected a few of our favorites from around the web and listed them below for you to peruse. Try a few of the ones that look best to you, and you’ll soon have a whole repertoire of ways to serve these delicacies from the garden.
Blistered Squash Blossoms from Sunset Magazine [https://www.sunset.com/recipe/blistered-squash-blossoms]
Crab Salad Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Lemon Sabayon and Shaved Asparagus Salad from TableAgent
Crispy Squash Blossoms Filled with Pulled Pork and Ricotta from Food Network [https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/crispy-squash-blossoms-filled-with-pulled-pork-and-ricotta-recipe-2122429]
Fried Squash Blossoms from The Kitchn [https://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-fried-squash-blossoms-57209]
Fried Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Crab and Mascarpone from My Three Seasons [https://www.mythreeseasons.com/fried-squash-blossoms-stuffed-with-crab-mascarpone/]
Goat Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossoms and Roasted Tomatoes from Eatentions on Food52 [https://food52.com/recipes/37861-goat-cheese-stuffed-squash-blossoms-and-roasted-tomatoes]
Linguine with Squash Blossoms and Lemon Cream Sauce from Fine Cooking [https://www.finecooking.com/recipe/linguine-with-squash-blossoms-and-lemon-cream-sauce]
Oven Roast Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Bacon, Mushroom, and Ricotta from White on Rice Couple [https://whiteonricecouple.com/recipes/stuffed-zucchini-flowers/]
Panko Crusted Baked Squash Blossoms with Garden Herb Ricotta from Food to Glow [https://kelliesfoodtoglow.com/2014/07/29/panko-crusted-baked-squash-blossoms-with-garden-herb-ricotta/]
Pappardelle with Fresh Ricotta, Squash Blossoms, and Basil Oil from New York Times [https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1014191-pappardelle-with-fresh-ricotta-squash-blossoms-and-basil-oil]
Pappardelle with Zucchini Blossom Sauce from Orangette [http://orangette.net/2006/07/pasta-no-pomodoro/]
Pimiento Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossoms from My Recipes [https://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/pimiento-cheese-squash-blossoms]
Sauteed Squash Blossoms from Kitchen of Youth [https://kitchenofyouth.com/sauteed-squash-blossoms/]
Shaved Summer Squash Salad from Epicurious
Spring Vegetable Lasagna with Heirloom Tomato Bechamel from O&O Eats [https://www.oandoeats.com/home/2014/7/22/spring-vegetable-lasagna]
Squash Blossom and Garlic Scape Pasta from Zest and Simmer [https://www.zestandsimmer.com/squash-blossom-garlic-scape-pasta/]
Squash Blossom and Pancetta Pizza rom What’s Gaby Cooking [https://whatsgabycooking.com/squash-blossom-and-pancetta-pizza/]
Squash Blossom Pasta with Feta Cheese from Black Pepper Chef [https://blackpepperchef.com/2019/07/03/squash-blossoms-pasta-with-feta-cheese/]
Squash Blossom Quesadillas from Leite’s Culinaria [http://leitesculinaria.com/96315/recipes-squash-blossom-quesadillas.html]
Squash Blossom Soup (Crema de Flor de Calabaza) from Kitchen Konfidence [https://www.kitchenkonfidence.com/2012/07/squash-blossom-soup-crema-de-flor-de-calabaza/]
Stuffed Squash Blossom Bruschetta from My Recipes [https://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/stuffed-squash-blossom-bruschetta]
Waldy Malouf’s Baked Squash Blossoms with Ricotta and Honey [https://nymag.com/restaurants/recipes/inseason/35787/]
Warm Squash Blossom Salad from The Local Palate [https://thelocalpalate.com/recipes/warm-squash-blossom-salad/]
Zucchini and Squash Blossom Souffles from New York Times [https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016635-zucchini-and-squash-blossom-souffles]
Zucchini and Zucchini Blossom Lasagna Blanca from Sugar Love Spices [https://www.sugarlovespices.com/zucchini-and-zucchini-blossom-lasagna-bianca/]
How To Store Squash Blossoms
Squash blossoms are best eaten quickly after picking, as they don’t store well for long periods of time. For best results, harvest your squash blossoms the day you’ll be preparing them to eat. When you need to store them for a short while, line a baking sheet or plastic food storage bin with a dish towel or some paper towels, and spread the flowers out in a single layer on the baking sheet. Covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated, you can keep the flowers fresh for at least a day using this method.
Squash blossoms have a light, airy texture and a mild squash-like flavor. If you are growing summer or winter squash, zucchini, or even pumpkin plants, the flowers that they produce should be harvested and enjoyed just as much as the fruits. Some gardeners enjoy eating the blossoms even more than the squash itself. If you have never had a fresh squash blossom picked directly off the vine of a mature squash plant, there is no time like the present to change that story.