Herb flowers are rich in powerful flavours. As with all flowers only use those that you know are edible and have been grown free of pesticides or pollutants. Use them sparingly so as not to overwhelm other flavours. Pick early in the day; leave them in a cool place so any insect life can leave the scene and possibly give them a light rinse, before use. Here are six great herb flowers or combinations of herb flowers that you can use in your menus.
I enjoy using chive (Allium schoenoprasum) flowers in almost any salad you can think of. They add an extra spicy, almost sweet onion flavour and the colours – mauve or white –just add an extra zing to the look of the salad bowl. I use them when they are just peeping out of the bud. I use them whole at this stage, but I snip the stem off as this is quite hard and wouldn’t taste good. I also use chive flowers when the flowers are well out of the bud – then they are really quite ‘oniony’ and crunchy. At this stage a whole flower head will be too pungent for a mouthful. So they are best taken off the main stem and used as mini-florets. The individual purple or white florets are delicious forked into creamy mashed potato or butternut squash and make a delicious combo with soft cheese or goat’s cheese.
I usually nip out basil (Ocimum basilicum) flowers as they form to keep the plants producing lots of herb leaves. But I use these snippets of flowers in salads, but if I want a spicy sugar syrup for a dessert or I’m poaching pears or apples, I let some plants flower so I always have some at hand in the summer to use. They are pungent and provide a flavour that echoes that of the leaves. They are usually white or mauve in colour and if you are using lemon-flavoured basil, then they will add a similar citrus flavour. I use ‘African Blue’ basil to flavour ice cream. I also use it chopped and combined with softened butter to make a spicy topping for pasta or baked potatoes. Or mix it with ricotta for a spicy and pretty cheese sauce for pasta or potato dishes.
I pick fennel (Foeniculum officinalis) flowers, which have a decidedly aniseed flavour, just as they start to show a smudge of yellow and use them to flavour syrups and in fish dishes. They form large, upright umbrella-like heads, called umbels. Each has several little mini-umbels, so snip these off individually. They are great with smoked salmon or snipped into a cream cheese with smoked salmon on a bagel. You can use them as edible garnishes and if you leave them to open a little more on the plant, shake the pollen over a bowl of plain boiled rice. Flowers and pollen are great with pork dishes.
The flowers of hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) are mauve/blue, white and pink depending on variety and like the leaves have a spicy almost minty flavour. They add colour and hot flavour to salads. They are also good to use with the leaves to make a soothing tea. They are also a useful alternative to lavender flowers for flavouring and colouring scones or biscuits.
Sage, rosemary and thyme
Sage (Salvia officinalis), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and thyme (Thymus officinalis): This trio of herbs immortalised (along with parsley) by Simon & Garfunkel in Scarborough Fair, all have relatively small blue/mauve or white flowers that can be used in fresh in salads. Their aroma is a strong concentration of that found in the leaves and they are best used sparingly, fresh, in cold dishes or as edible garnishes for soups. I use thyme flowers in stir-fries, but they are so small that some leaf is inevitable. Sage flowers on their stems are tasty deep-fried in a light batter served with pork or roasted vegetables. I use rosemary flowers when I poach pears or with honey when baking figs. The flowers of rosemary, sage and thyme are also useful dried in at a low temperature in the oven and added to either salt or sugar to make savoury rubs or sweet additions to baking and desserts. I love the fruity scent of pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) leaves. The bright red flowers of this half-hardy perennial sage will certainly enliven a late summer or autumn salad and tropical fruit salads.
Summer and winter savory
Summer savory (Satureja hortensis) and winter savory (Satureja montana) produce small white flowers. Summer savory is an annual that I use to cook with broad beans and runner beans. I use whole sprigs, flowers and all, when I am cooking the beans, as it is supposed to lessen the windiness of the beans. That aside, it has a strong flavour and the flowers and leaves really spice up casseroles and roast meats. Winter savory flowers add similar, but more peppery, strength to salads and cooked dishes, but as they are so small, it is best to use leaves and flowers in cooked dishes and scatter a few flowers into a salad.