These days the phrase "edible arrangement" brings to mind one of those kind of bizarre but tasty bouquets of melon cut up in flower shapes. But there are so many other (perhaps more elegant?) ways to use edible elements in bouquets for gift-giving or enjoying around the house. Berries, herbs, and vegetables add such a lovely feeling of abundance and seasonality to a traditional grouping of flowers and plants.
One reason I love edibles mixed with cut flowers is that they tend to elicit a strong emotional response. We all have powerful feelings associated with various foods; they evoke childhood memories and meaningful experiences from throughout our lives. When you hand your hostess a big bunch of dahlias mixed with mint and blackberries, she might smile because it's pretty, but also because it reminds her of summers at her grandparents' house at the Russian River, or of drinking cocktails on a picnic the day her husband proposed. Who knows? Our associations with foods are so rich and varied, perhaps more so than with flowers alone.
If you have a vegetable or herb garden, you can make a bouquet from your own harvest to deliver as a gift that's both beautiful and functional. My friend Seth, who grows all kinds of herbs and mixes them into syrups for homemade sodas (look out for him in a future Garden Party column!) once brought over the most beautiful little mason jar filled with lavender, mint, purple basil, and lemon verbena. It was surprisingly colorful, with a complex fragrance, and we cooked with the herbs all week while still enjoying the bouquet on the counter.
And even if you don't grow your own veggies and fruits, chances are you can find fresh ones to use in your bouquets. Try visiting your local farmers' market; ask your favorite vendors if they will pick longer stems for you (figs on the branch, strawberries with their leaves). They might charge a bit more, but you'll get more product too.
Here are some of my favorite seasonal edibles to incorporate in cut flower bouquets:
• Lately I've really been enjoying working with mint. The fresh green color is so summery, and of course there's that clean, bright fragrance too. Mint lasts a good long time in the vase (as long as you keep it out of the sun), and it's lovely mixed with other seasonal florals or just on its own, gathered in a nice full bouquet in a mason jar (second photo above). Parsley is also fun, with a less sweet scent.
• Berries of all kinds are lovely as a complement to cut flowers. Those with thorny stems can be a bit difficult to work with, but you can remove the thorns with a sharp knife (or a professional rose stripper, if you're so inclined – they are cheap at craft stores). Pick blackberries or raspberries when they're not quite ripe and they'll turn color in the vase. Strawberries, with their vining foliage and sweet white flowers, make a lovely bouquet just on their own, don't they?
• In the past I've had a hard time working with figs because I can't help myself from gobbling them all up. Luckily, they're easiest to work with in arrangements when they're still unripe. If you like a sculptural, modern aesthetic, you can pluck off the leaves and display the branches with fruit alone. Or keep the leaves for a softer look (though they don't last terribly long when cut). If you can't find fig branches, try using the fruit by itself, straight out of its pint from the supermarket (see the first photo, second row above).
• Artichokes (and their close relative, the cardoon) produce a striking, spiky flower in a vibrant periwinkle color. The layered, tapered form of the vegetable itself is also lovely as a focal point in a mixed arrangement. The baby purple variety is my favorite, mixed with white flowers for contrast. I've seen artichokes used as vessels for bouquets as well: just hollow out the choke, drop in a little yogurt jar or other glass jar, and fill with water.
For some more edible bouquet inspiration, check out these posts from the archives:
• An Herbal Table from Chelsea Fuss
• Bring an Edible Bouquet to Dinner
• Tip: Keep Herbs Fresh in Your Table Bouquets
(Images: Susie Nadler; Chelsea Fuss; Faith Durand; Susie Nadler; Nicolette Owen for Real Simple; Martha Stewart; Kenneth Brown Design; Susie Nadler; The Knot (strawberry bouquet))