Anyone interested in edible gardening tends to grow vegetables, but have you ever considered growing edible flowers?
When you start looking into which flowers are edible, it is surprising to find that most gardeners have at least one variety of edible flower growing in their garden. The wonderful thing about growing flowers for food is that it gives you a good reason to take up growing space with them. Ideally our gardens are filled not only with vegetables and greens, but also flowers for us and the bees.
There are many varieties of edible flowers, but these top five are easy to grow, and perform well. Flowers can stay fresh for hours after picking – but avoid the heat of the day, and place the stems in water until you use them.
These are delicious in salads, and the best way to use them is with mint leaves on top of a butter or chocolate cake. The flowers are high in vitamin C and the young leaves, also edible, are high in vitamin A. The flowers have a delicate mild flavour, and the heirloom variety Arkwright Ruby has a stronger, almost vanilla flavour.
This is one edible bloom we all know about: children love to bite the end off and suck the nectar. The flower is peppery, and best suited to savoury use. Whip up a herb dip and stuff it into the nasturtium flowers, or add them to fresh garden salads.
These flowers look gorgeous adorning a cake. Or add the petals to rice as a saffron substitute.
These look special atop a cake. I like using an old variety of a climbing tea rose: they’re small and can either be eaten with the cake or pulled off afterwards.
Onion, garlic or plain chive flowers pack a lot of flavour. Garlic chives produce a delicate purple bloom, and onion chives grow a larger, paler flower. As well as these Allium species, the related society garlic Tulbaghia violacea is also useful in savoury cooking.
USING FRESH FLOWERS
If you’re trying to avoid using refined ingredients in the kitchen, having beautiful edible flowers to decorate cakes is a wonderful alternative to using coloured icing: they look stunning, either used whole or with different sized and coloured petals scattered for a confetti effect. Pick them first thing in the morning, wash them, pop them into an airtight container and freeze them for use later that day. They stay fresh and bright, even during the warmer months.
When adding flowers to salads, pick them at the same time as the salad greens, and use them straight away.
You can also preserve edible flowers, either by drying or sugar coating.
Tip: Only use flowers grown organically in your own garden. If buying plants from a nursery, don’t use any flowers that may be open or forming on the plant at the time, as they may have been treated with chemicals. Wash flowers before use, trimming the stem and removing the stamen.
STUFFED NASTURTIUM FLOWERS
This isn’t an exact recipe – taste frequently, and use your instincts.
1 ½ cups sour cream (or softened cream or cottage cheese)
a large handful of a mixture of your favourite herbs and greens from the garden (e.g. nasturtium leaves, basil, parsley, dill, chives, sorrel), finely chopped or snipped
½ cup of cashews or walnuts, finely chopped
¼ cup of pickled capers, drained and finely chopped
2 dessertspoons whole egg mayonnaise (homemade is best) fresh lemon juice
20 freshly picked nasturtium flowers, to serve.
Mix together the dip ingredients and season to taste. Add more herbs, capers or mayonnaise as desired, or a squeeze of lemon juice.
The dip can be made ahead of time, and kept in the fridge until needed.
To serve, use a teaspoon to fill the flowers, and serve immediately.
DECORATIVE ICE CUBES
Use small flowers such as pansies or winter tarragon. If using larger flowers, simply use the petals whole or snip them up.
To ensure that the flowers are in the middle of the ice cubes, half fill an ice cube tray with water and add the flowers or petals. Put into the freezer for at least four hours or overnight. When completely frozen, top up the ice cubes with more water and freeze.
Place the cubes into iced tea, cordial or your favourite cool drink.