Although we treasure garden flowers as eye candy and not as food, there are many that are edible. They’re also pretty enough to change an everyday dish into a botanical smorgasbord that will please all the senses…
Many herbs and vegetables produce flowers that are edible and flavourful, but the scope is so much wider if you really want to go to town with culinary experiments.
Seeing that it is autumn and planting time for many spring-flowering ornamental annuals and perennials with tasty flowers, why not plan for your first edible flower crop too? Here is a plan and ideas on what to do with your flower harvest. You can either mix it up and plant your flowers between winter vegetables, or you can give your edible flowers a little patch of their own, with some salad varieties planted between them. It will be very colourful in late winter and early spring if you jump in now, and you will have enough flowers to decorate a panoply of food platters!
A quick-sticks flower crop
Rocket (Eruca vesicaria) – Cool-weather annuals whose young leaves are normally used before the plants bolt and flower. But the flowers have a nutty taste not unlike horseradish and can be used in any savoury dish. So if your leaves have become too mature to use, just let some plants flower so that more than the pollinators can enjoy them.
Lekka ideas: Sprinkle it over pizzas or tuck into sandwiches.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) – A winter and spring annual that is sometimes called the poor man’s saffron. The petals have a slightly tangy, bitter taste and are often used for their colour more than their flavour. Only use the petals, discarding the rest of the flower. Also cut away the white, bitter part at the base of each petal and you are well away.
Lekka ideas: Use whole petals in soups and rice dishes, and add to fresh, leafy salads.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – A perennial with tubular grass-like leaves and globe-shaped lavender flowers, chives have a mild onion flavour. Harvest the flowers just after they open as the petals are crunchy when young. Pull apart all chive florets and sprinkle them over everything, just as you would use the leaves.
Lekka Idea: Make chive blossom butter to melt over vegetables.
English daisy (Bellis perennis) – A very popular cold-weather annual with pink, red or white double flowers. The petals have a slightly bitter flavour and are commonly used as a pretty garnish.
Lekka idea: Sprinkle the petals on steamed vegetables.
English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – This is one of the many ingredients of Herbes de Provence and one of the most useful culinary herbs. The flowers can be used fresh or dried in cakes, sweet dishes, syrups and ice cream.
Lekka ideas: Mix 1⁄2 cup dried lavender leaves and flowers with 2 cups of granulated sugar to flavour cookie dough or tea. Keep in a jar with a tight lid and shake it up occasionally. It will be ready for use after about a month.
Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) – The leaves, flowers and seed pods of nasturtiums are all edible with a tangy mustard-like flavour, with added perfume and some sweetness. The flowers must be harvested just as they open, and the petals can be used in salads or chopped up into butters and soft cheeses.
Lekka idea: Stuff whole flowers with guacamole or a soft, savoury cheese and place on a slice of cucumber for a snack with drinks.
Scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) – Lemon-and rose-scented geraniums produce pretty pink edible flowers perfect for fine baking, sweet fillings, cake decorating and candied flowers.
Lekka idea: Separate individual flowers from a cluster to add to créme fraîche served over strawberries.
Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) and violas (Viola cornuta) – These intensely colourful winter and spring annuals all have edible flowers with a lettuce- like taste. They are also cute to add to salads or to decorate desserts. Pansy and viola flowers can be candied and will last for a long time if stored well.
Violets (Viola odorata) – This perennial groundcover’s romantic and royal purple flowers have been a treat for centuries, in sugared form. The flowers have a sweet and floral taste and can be used fresh garnishes for salads, desserts and sandwiches. You can also use them to scent a sugar bowl or freeze them in ice cubes to float in drinks.
• Don’t use any insecticides on edible flowers, and make sure that you identify them correctly.
• Pick the flowers early morning and keep them fresh in a glass of cold water or place them in the refrigerator overnight.
• Wash thoroughly before eating them, checking for insects between petals. Also remove any stamens or other productive parts.