Edible flowers

Edible flowers

We take for-granted the white curds of cauliflower that we cover in a cloak of cheese sauce, or the pert green florets of broccoli that beautifully transform a stir fry. Not to mention the gorgeous heads of Globe artichokes: a visual masterpiece in every sense of the word. But there are many more flowers that are already growing in our gardens that are easy to identify and will brighten up summer meals and tantalise dinner guests with their colour, flavour and presence.

The delicate, elegant and beautiful characteristics of flowers lend them to make wonderful garnishes for almost any sweet or savoury dish. Then the option to eat or not to eat is at the discretion of your guests. I have found that not everyone is impressed when confronted with flowers in the salad. Confidence in your skills in plant identification is absolutely essential.

It’s crucial to know what you are doing and to correctly identify the plants and to ascertain whether or not they are edible before you start to eat them or offer them to your guests. But when you start to consider just what flowers are edible you may be very surprised.

Violas make a colourful addition to a summer salad. Image: Martin Mulchinock.

Summer salads

Edible flowers can be used to brighten up summer salads and can become part of the menu too. Simple collections of lettuce leaves can be instantly lifted with a sprinkling of Calendula officinalis (pot marigold) petals and even whole blooms. The flowers can be added to rice or pasta dishes where they will add a golden tone to the menu.

Rich magenta rose petals contrast with red lettuce varieties and their soft, subtle texture and flavour is perfect for a garnish, a salad or even another ingredient in the stir-fry. Or why not harvest a colander full and make your own rose syrup or rose petal jam?

Nasturtiums with their fiery orange, red and yellow flowers can spice up summer salads adding a delightful peppery taste as well as setting the dish ablaze with their intense colour. They are so easy to grow and will self-seed around the garden year on year, so once you have grown them they will be a regular garden ingredient.

lavender ice cream
Try lavender in ice cream! Image: Martin Mulchinock

Herbs and herb flowers such as chives, marjoram and coriander add spicy undertones and colourful overtones to salad leaves and starters.

But some flowers can take the starring role in a menu:

  • Elderflowers, the bloom of the remarkable Elder tree, of which every part has a practical or culinary use, can also be deep fried in batter, used to create divine cordial drinks and as the main flavour of sauces to complement gooseberries. A whole menu can be created and produced around the fruit and flowers of this extraordinary tree.
  • Courgette flowers are large and vibrant yellow. Pick the male flowers, coat them in batter and fry them for a delightful summer starter, or stuff them with spicy mixtures of vegetables and rice for a filling main course. The flowers can also be randomly torn into salads to add colour, texture and very subtle flavours. The female flowers have tiny courgettes behind them and can also be used to create delicious dishes.
  • Lavender is another versatile herb and flower that provides huge medicinal and cosmetic miracles but it also has culinary finesse too. It’s beautiful fragrance is often used to flavour sugar and the fresh flowers can be added to biscuits, ice cream and even used as a relaxing herbal tea. Use the fresh flowers to garnish lavender scented creations adding their soporific scent, exquisite elegance and cool colour shades to every dish.

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