Edible Flowers: blooming beautiful

Edible flowers have delighted the senses for thousands of years.

Not only do edible flowers smell and look great, numerous varieties can be easily grown spray-free in your backyard. We investigate how to grow, how to prepare and how to use.

Our creative ancestors were curious, forging the use of flowers for medicinal benefits as well as culinary ones. Ancient Greek, Roman and Chinese herbalists recorded flower usage. Edible flowers were used in the 1700’s where French were using carnation petals in the making of Chartreuse (the bright green liqueur) and in medieval Victorian times flower petals were candied for cake decoration and pastries.

It was common to dry the petals and include them in tea blends, just as it is today: hibiscus, rose and jasmine and monks were known to make a sweet syrup from violet petals.

Not Just a Garnish

Not many people know that some flowers can be consumed and will pluck them daintily from salads and discard them to one side.

Edible flowers have been mixed through muesli; candied and gracefully adorned cakes; topped salads, soups and rice dishes; have been infused into beverages and sauces – and even suspended in ice blocks!

Know your Flowers

Not all flowers are edible; in fact some can make you very ill so it’s good to do your homework before serving up flowers to your guests.

Follow some simple rules and you’ll have your guests calling for seconds, not the doctor:
  • Do not eat flowers from florists or garden centres and avoid picking from the roadside. In many cases these flowers will have been treated with pesticides not labelled for food crops.
  • It’s best to grow your own flowers so you are fully aware of the conditions in which they’ve been grown. Unless grown organically it is not safe to eat even edible flower varieties.
  • Edible flowers are best picked first or last thing in the day when the water content is high. Choose flowers that are free of blemishes or damage from disease.
  • Best to pick flowers within several hours of consumption.
  • Wash blossoms gently in a bath of cold water and drain on a paper towel. It is best to carefully remove the pistils and the stamens and only use the petals.
  • There is a phrase ‘too much of a good thing’. Introduce flowers slowly into your diet.
  • Only ever garnish with edible flowers (don’t be tempted to serve non-edible flowers).

Flower Power

There are many edible flower varieties. We can’t possibly cover them all here – but here’s a taste of our favourites:

Citrus tree blossoms – eg: lemon, lime, grapefruit: These blossoms are highly scented and have waxy petals. Use sparingly!

Herb flowers – eg: borage, sage, thyme, dill, chives, basil: Borage has striking blue star-like flowers and leaves have a cool cucumber taste. Add to punches, lemonade, gin and tonics, sorbets, chilled soups etc!

Vegetable flowers – eg: pea, beans, squash blossom: Sweet and crunchy these buds taste like peas, beans and squash! Both the shoots and the tendrils are edible. (Note: ornamental sweet peas are poisonous, do not eat).

Garden flowers – eg: nasturtiums, roses, lavender, violets, marigold, cornflower, begonia, fuchsia, impatiens, hibiscus : Nasturtiums lend a peppery flavour similar to those notes found in watercress, whereas rose, lavender and violets have a sweet flavour (often perfect partners for salads or desserts).

From Packet to Plate

Spring through to Summer is a perfect time to get your edible flower seeds propagated. Seeds can be purchased from your local garden centre.

You may like to start out growing versatile and easy-growers such as Borage and Nasturtium. Follow the instructions on the back of the packet. Within 5-21 days germination will be complete and you’ll have seedlings ready to nurture. These plants have dual-benefits: borage flowers will attract much needed bees to your garden and nasturtiums have natural insecticidal properties repelling borer, white fly, aphids and white cabbage butterfly.

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