Not all flowers are safe to eat, but those that are can give your dishes/ drinks a wonderful burst of colour, creative flair and flavour, not to mention their health benefits. Just like microgreens, edible flowers are becoming more popular and firm favourites with top chefs. Many edible flowers are nutritious and contain potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that can support better health. There are so many possibilities to their use, they can be served raw, cooked as an ingredient in sauces/dips etc, fried as a snack (tempura), or sprinkled on desserts /cakes.
Here is a short list are some of my favourites varieties. . .
Marigolds are sometimes referred to as the 'poor man's saffron.' The flowers and leaves are said to taste either mildly citrusy to subtly spicy. Whatever you think of their flavour, the flowers are extremely beautiful and vibrant for decorating any dish or dessert. There are several edible marigold varieties, including pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis), French marigolds (Tagetes patula), African marigolds (Tagetes erecta), Mexican mint marigolds (Tagetes Lucida), and lemon marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia). Due to their antioxidant properties, uses for marigolds include homemade skin treatments to soothe sunburn, dry skin and blisters, and soothing teas to help with digestion.
Nasturtiums are culinary favourites because of their flavour, with their beautiful colours and delicate, elegant flowers. Both the leaves and flowers of nasturtiums are edible and may be enjoyed cooked or raw. They have a peppery, slightly spicy taste, although the blossoms themselves are milder than the leaves. The leaves are beautiful in design and in some ways resemble small lily pads. The leaves can be used in salads and are tasty as a pesto. The funnel-shaped flowers are typically bright orange, red or yellow. They make a beautiful garnish for cakes, pastries and salads. Nasturtiums are not only a versatile and eye-catching ingredient but they also contain a variety of minerals, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Squash & Courgette Flowers
Growing different varieties of squash here in our no- dig vegetable garden we have an abundance of these delicate flowers. One of the most popular are of course the courgette flowers, with their bright yellow, rounded bell shaped bloom. These flowers can be eaten raw as a garnish or chopped and added to salads. If you stick to eating the male flowers this will ensure you still get a lovely yield. The male flowers have a long, thin stem and typically grow around the outer edges of the plant. Female flowers tend to grow closer to the plant’s centre and have a small, bulbous fruit at the base of the blossom where it meets the stem.
Borage is an herb that produces delicate, purple/blue star-shaped flowers. The blossoms can also be white or pink. In herbal medicine, borage is used to treat minor ailments, such as sore throat or cough. Both the flowers and leaves are edible. The flowers are often described as having a slightly sweet flavour that is reminiscent of cucumber and honey. The flowers may be eaten fresh in a salad or as a garnish for desserts and drinks, or they may be cooked and added to soups, sauces or stuffed pasta fillings.
There are many varieties of beautiful colours, hues of purple, blue and yellow are most common. This is one reason why Pansies make wonderful decoration for desserts and cakes. They have five overlapping petals with a dark area in the centre. Typically, Pansies have a mild, fresh and lightly floral flavour. Aside from being a unique addition to a meal, Pansies are also a rich source of several potent plant compounds known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Lavender is probably best known for its distinctive fragrance and calming effects. The combination of colour and aroma make lavender a particularly desirable addition to a variety of foods, particular in baking, or as an infused syrup, liqueur or herbal tea. Its flavour pairs well with both sweet (such as which chocolate or citrus) and savoury ingredients (such as with sage or rosemary). When cooking with lavender, it’s best to start with a small amount and increase slowly until you achieve the desired flavour, as otherwise it can quickly become overpowering / soap like in taste.
The flowers are not the only part of dandelion that can be eaten. In fact, every part of this so-called weed can be enjoyed, including its roots, stems and leaves. The flowers can be eaten raw, either alone or tossed into a salad. They may be breaded and fried or used to make jelly, cordial or even wine. The roots are often steeped to make tea, while the greens may be consumed raw as a salad or a sandwich topping. They can also be cooked in stews or casseroles as an alternative to say spinach.
Purslane is a beautiful succulent that produces tiny, yellow flowers and thick, fleshy leaves. Both of which are edible and may be eaten cooked or raw. Purslane has recently soared in popularity due to its rich nutrient content. It’s filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and its biggest claim to nutritional fame is its Omega-3 fat content. In fact, purslane provides more omega-3s than almost any other vegetable of its kind. The flowers and leaves of Purslane can be served raw in many salads and sandwiches. They may also be sautéed or steamed with other vegetables as a side dish or added to your favourite soups.
Chamomile is a floral herb used in cooking and has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Medicinally, chamomile is often consumed to reduce anxiety and improve sleep so it’s a wonderful ingredient for a calming infused tea, or made into syrups. The flowers closely resemble daisies, but much smaller. They have a slightly sweet, earthy flavour to food when they’re cooked with. Most recipes call for heating the flowers in a liquid to extract their flavours and bioactive compounds. The leaves and flowers are usually dried first but can be used fresh.
There are many other flowers that are edible and we will explore more in future posts. We hope you will be inspired to try some of the above options on your favourite culinary dishes.