Just had to share this excellent article from our Organic Gardening friends over at Ryton on Dunsmore. As the national organisations spearheading organic and pesticide free vegetable growing, we’ve always had a lot in common.
All the flowers they mention here, as edible, are plants we grow in our Gardens in Castle Bromwich. We try to grow plants that would have been around and familiar to gardeners between 1680 and 1760, so its pretty certain that back then using the flowers for eating would be pretty common … lets make sure we don’t lose that knowledge… nor those delights.
“Organic flowers aren’t just beautiful, some are edible too. Why not try a few petals to zing up a salad, pep up a curry, or delightfully decorate a cake. Blooms and buds will add spice, colour and taste to your plate. You can even add them to summer cocktails!
We list below the tastiest flowers. And because you’ve grown them yourself, the organic way, you won’t be ingesting the chemicals used in commercial flower growing.
- Only eat flowers that have been identified as edible.
- Do not eat shop bought flowers. They could well be laced with chemicals.
- Flowers are an important source of nectar or pollen for bees and other insects. Don’t be greedy and pick them all! Share your blooms.
Here are our ten favourite tasty blooms:
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – Basil is usually grown as an annual herb for its leaves. The flavour of the flower is milder, but similar to the leaves. So don’t despair if your basil plants start flowering in the summer and early autumn. Simply pick the flowering tops as soon as they open, and sprinkle the flowers over salad or pasta and add to soups and pesto. Basil requires a rich well-drained soil. It needs a warm sunny position, with protection from the wind. It will thrive grown in pots on a sunny windowsill, or in a greenhouse.
- Borage (Borago officinalis) An annual herb with bright blue-purple star shaped flowers that taste mildly of cucumber. The flowers can be tossed in a salad or floated on summer beverages such as Pimms. Also excellent as a garnish for both sweet and savoury dishes and on iced soups. The flowers can also be crystallized for cake decorations. Likes a sunny spot in any soil. Although an annual, will readily self-seed.
- Brassicas – broccoli, cauliflower, mustard (Brassica spp) If you don’t get around to picking all your leafy brassica crops, they will flower. The small yellow flowers have a gentle spiciness and mild brassica flavour. They are delicious in salads or in stir-fries. Best grown in rich soil, sun or partial shade. Net to prevent pigeon or caterpillar damage.
- Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) Pale pink or blue, the cornflower adds a deliciously spicy taste to salads. They are particularly pretty when scattered over iced cakes. Easy to grow from seed sown either in late summer or in mid spring. They like a well-drained sunny site and will grow on almost any soil. Don’t pick wild cornflowers – they are an important part of the wildflower meadow ecosystem.
- Courgette, squash, marrow and pumpkin (Cucurbita spp) These large yellow flowers have a mild vegetative flavour. Courgette flowers can be coated in batter and then deeply fried. They can also be stuffed (mozzarella cheese is particularly delicious!) then steamed or baked. A popular method is to shred the flowers, soften in oil and add to pancake batter or to a tortilla filling. Grow best in a rich soil in full sun. Start seeds indoors in spring, then plant out when the soil is warm and there is no danger of frost.
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) This common weed has a yellow flower that tastes of honey if picked young. It turns bitter when mature. The flowers can be made into tea, wine and beer. Coat fully-open flowers with chickpea flour batter, mixed with a pinch of garam masala, and shallow fry for dandelion bhajis. They can also be used to garnish a salad. When serving a rice dish use the brilliant yellow petals like confetti over the rice. Dandelions will readily grow in most soils. Leave some blossoms as a nectar source for early Spring emerging insects.
- Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp) Not to be confused with other types of lilies, the daylily petals have a crisp and juicy flavour, especially the nectar filled base. Do NOT eat shop bought lilies. Hemerocallis plants have numerous hybrids with different coloured flowers which appear each day. Usually the darker coloured flowers tend to leave an unpleasant aftertaste while the lighter coloured flower are sweeter with a flavour akin to asparagus or green beans. Petals can also be used to decorate salad. Or wait until flowers are slightly withered, then use them to flavour and thicken cooked food. You can also freeze them.. Daylilies are an easy to grow herbaceous perennial. They can withstand neglect in sun or partial shade and will grow through short grass. But they will give the best flowers if grown in reasonable soil in full sun.
- Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) The flowers can be dipped in batter and fried, or turned into cordial. They go very well with gooseberries, or make a delicious light sorbet, custards or ice-cream. Dark-leaved elders sometimes have pink flowers, which retain their colour. Elderflowers and berries can be dried for use as a tea, often used as a remedy for a cold. A hardy shrub which will grow anywhere – except waterlogged sites.
- Lavender (Lavendula spp) This familiar strong tasting flower can be used in jams, jellies, ice cream, biscuits and vinegar. The flowers can also be crystallised, added to salads or used to make a tea. Flowers are best picked when they first open, before seeds begin to form. An evergreen perennial shrub which needs a neutral to alkaline soil in an open sunny position. Plants become woody with age, but can be pruned back immediately after flowering in order to maintain vigour.
- Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) A deliciously spicy-peppery tasting flower. The colourful petals, leaves and seed pods of this annual plant are edible. The leaves have a taste similar to cress. Pick flowers throughout the summer for immediate use. The fat green seed pods can be pickled and used as an alternative to capers. Nasturtiums are a colourful addition to salads, pasta, meat dishes and vinaigrettes. Sow seeds in situ in spring, but many plants will self-seed. Prefers full sun and a light well-drained soil. Grows well in containers but feeding with fertiliser will encourage leaves and no flowers. Keep well-watered in hot weather.
And here’s a few more to add to the floral bunch:
Agastache (Agastache foeniculum and relatives) – Agastache (giant hyssop) has small but powerfully fragrant flowers with a hot peppermint-like twang. Scatter over ice cream for a delicious garnish or add to drinks or stuffings. This tall perennial plant needs full sun and well-drained soil. Grow from seed or by root division. Hyssop blossoms are particularly loved by bees.
Bergamot (Monarda didyma) This hardy perennial gets it common name, Bee’s Balm, from the bees’ love of its nectar. The flowers are a mixture of interesting flavours, ranging from citrusy and sweet to hot and minty: each flower colour tends to have a different flavour. Can be used to make tea and as an ingredient for cakes. Prefers a moist, rich soil. Tolerates partial shade to full sun. Can be grown from seed or root division.
Chives (Allium schoeonoprasum) The purple onion-like flowers from this perennial herb provide an oniony, but not overpowering flavour. Harvest flowers just as they are opening. Alternatively, developing seed-heads are slightly stronger in taste. Frequent picking will encourage flowering to continue until the first frost. Can be used to garnish salads and added to sauces. Chives are among the most versatile edible flower in savoury cooking. Best grown in rich, free draining soil in full sun, but also performs well in pots. Must be kept well-watered and cut back frequently to promote new growth. Propagated from seeds and by splitting clumps in mid spring.
Dill (Anethum graeveolens) & Fennel (Foeniculum vulgarae) Both these plants have a distinct sweet aniseed flavour throughout. Fennel pollen has recently become very fashionable as an addition to fish dishes, but the flowers can be used for cakes, stuffings, salads or vinegars. Dill is a tender annual and fennel is a hardy perennial: both do best in full sun and well-drained fertile soil.
Hollyhock (Alcea cannabinifolia & A. rosea) The large flowers of hollyhock have a substantial if slightly glutinous texture, and add colour to salads, stir-fries or drinks. Best grown as a biennial from seed: older plants often suffer badly from rust fungus. They need sun and well-drained soil.
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) The white or purple flowers, have a delicate ‘floral’ flavour. Add to yogurt or use the flowers as an attractive garnish. The flowers are also very tasty deep fried. This familiar shrub is very hardy and easy to grow.
Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana, Viola tricolor) Pansy flowers have a mild fresh flavour, or a slightly grassy taste, depending on the pansy variety and how much of the flower is eaten. The petals are very mild in taste but the whole flower tastes much stronger. Use pansies to garnish cocktails, desserts, soups and fruit salads. Do NOT eat pansies grown commercially.
Pinks (Dianthus spp) Flowers taste spicy and clove-like. They should be picked when first open and the white base removed. They can be added to salads, fruit pies and sandwiches, candied, pickled in vinegar and made into a syrup. A hardy perennial, best grown in a sunny, sheltered, well-drained position in a poor soil. Easily propagated from seed and stem cuttings. To grow in containers, window boxes and tubs use a very free draining compost.
Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) Pot marigolds produce orange or yellow flowers, which come in a range of flavours: spicy, bitter, tangy or peppery. Petals can be sprinkled on soups, pasta, salads and rice. Powdered petals, also known as poor man’s saffron, can be added to give a golden hint to herb butter, spreads, soups and scrambled egg. Pick flowers just as they open in summer for fresh use and for drying. Grows in a wide range of soil, but does prefer a sunny position. Direct sow seeds in spring, after the last frost: in mild areas can also been autumn sown to overwinter for earliest blooms. Deadheading encourages a continuous harvest of flowers.
Rose (Rosa spp) The rugosa roses have large single flowers with the most flavoursome petals of all the roses. They are followed a close second by old roses – damask and gallica rose petals are particularly delicious. Hybrid roses have flavoursome petals only from the most fragrant varieties, although some leave an aftertaste, so sample a petal before taking it into the kitchen. Ensure when harvesting petals that the whitish petal base is removed, as it is sour. Rose petals can be used to make jam, to flavour vinaigrettes, sauces, sweet or meat dishes. Roses grow best in a rich, well-drained but heavy-textured soil in full sun.
Rocket (Eruca versicaria) The flowers have a spicy taste, not unlike the peppery leaves. A pretty addition to salads, especially early in the year. Sow at monthly intervals from March to September, annual plant which sometimes overwinters in mild areas. Needs sun and a good soil.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) A perennial herb with mauve-blue flowers in midsummer. The flowers have a milder taste than the sage leaf. They can be used in pesto, salads, soups and with fish dishes. Other members of the sage family have tasty flowers too – Salvia elegans tastes of pineapple, while S. gregii is vaguely blackcurrant-like. Grows best in full sun and prefers a light soil. Can be grown from seed or cuttings in the spring.
Sweet violet (Viola odorata) Has scented small blue or white blooms: one of the few edible flower available in winter and early spring. They have a delicate flavour, used to add taste and colour in confectionery, as a thickener in soup and stews and make a tasty, interesting garnish for salads, fruit salads and desserts. Avoid eating to excess as they may have a laxative effect. Sweet violets thrive in a moderately heavy rich soil in a semi-shaded spot. If grown in containers they succeed well but need to be placed in a cool position throughout the summer and must not be given heat during the winter.
Wysteria (Wisteria sinensis) A woody climber with heavily fragrant blooms. The petals are excellent in an infused vinegar or cordial. The latter is particularly good in baking or as a cocktail mixer. Plant deep in full sun. Pruning twice a year will encourage heavy flowering.