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Imaginal Cells and Edible Flowers

Nature has given us the ultimate example of change and transformation when the chubby, fuzzy caterpillars become the flutters of pure beauty flitting along flower corridors on their great migrations.


While we can see the caterpillars trundling their way up branches, and later witness soaring gossamer butterflies flitting between flowers, what we don’t see is the process, taking place in the

cocoon or chrysalis. This has elicited musings from many a poet and philosopher. Gaston Bachelard wrote, “The word chrysalis alone is an unmistakable indication that here two dreams are joined together, dreams that be-speak both the repose and flight of being, evening's crystallization and wings that open to the light.”


The process is less of a joining and more of a hostile takeover. First, the caterpillar dissolves into goo. It’s suspended, cells without structure, in the branch of a tree. What vulnerability, what trust in its universe! These are known as imaginal cells. This is the fertile void – it is the primordial process of becoming. This goop has the blueprint of the butterfly, which is a threat to the caterpillar, and so is attacked by the caterpillar’s soupy immune system. But the future cells multiply, communicate, and form into clusters until they become a multi-celled organism. The caterpillar doesn’t transform into a butterfly. The butterfly emerges from the dissolution of the caterpillar.


The butterfly has a critical job to do. It’s a pollinator. They have a long proboscis that curls under their body when flying. They alight on open flowers and use this proboscis to reach deep into flowers and access their nectar. In the process, getting pollen on their legs and transfer it flower to flower. Butterflies can carry pollen for hundreds of miles as they migrate.


We are at times in our lives, all of it – caterpillar, goo, emergent, pollinator, and the pollinated. It’s helpful to remember this during the rough passages in life – maybe you’re just goo, in battle with itself so it can transform. And when you’re a butterfly, remember, you’ve got a vital job to do on planet earth. In the meantime, enjoy the birds, butterflies, and bees and flowers that are all getting busy.


Cherry blossoms – preserve in salt and ume vinegar and dry. Use these for a tart, floral mignonette sauce for oysters.



Rose petals- infuse honey with these and drizzle over plain yogurt or make honey-rose petal crème brulee.


Elderflower- make into a simple syrup to add to sparkling water or wine. Cook with berries for a compote.


Borage flowers- these lovely little blue stars make salads beautiful.


Wild radish blossoms- cut and use for garnish


Wild mustard blossoms- garnish clams and pea shoots with these


Violas- roll these in spring rolls


Nasturtium- roll these into homemade crackers


Pineapple guava- these exotic blossoms are lovely garnishes for grazing platters


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