Flowers are not just there to look pretty, to bring joy and colour to your garden and home. No, they have a wide range of other uses, including valuable medicinal properties. But many of them are also edible, and can really spruce up a salad. Go very carefully though, as some can be toxic in the extreme. Digitalis or foxglove, for example, can kill through heart failure in large quantities. In small amounts, it is USED to treat heart disease. Here are some delicious and delightful edible flowers, with some suggestions for their uses.
The Nasturtium is the best known and arguably most colourful of the edible blooms. It looks absolutely gorgeous in a salad, with yellow and orange delicate petals, sometimes red too. As goes for every one of these flowers, ensure they are grown to be eaten and so free from potentially harmful pesticides. Or, grow them organically yourself. They taste quite sharp and peppery, a bit like watercress, giving a good spicy kick to your salad. What a great way to add a splash of exotic colour to boring lettuce. Their buds can also be pickled, and used as a cheaper alternative to capers.
Violas and violets not only add that vivid purple colour but an incredible texture too. Another salad garnish, they taste a little like iceberg lettuce, but melt in your mouth. OK, they’re not full of taste – but should really be included on colour grounds alone. Pansies, especially little Johny Jump Ups, are mild and wintery. Carnations are not just pretty, but edible in pink and white. Make sure you taste them carefully however as some sprays are bitter.
The flowers of several herbs, delicate and pretty, are also good to eat. Unlike vegetables, it does not mention the edible time is over. Try the purple and white flowers of basil, which perhaps unsurprisingly taste like basil. Use them as a garnish on pesto dishes. Borage tastes like cucumber, while those lovely chive flowers add that mild onion taste atop your feast, and go great in an omelette.
Another popular choice is the yellow or orange calendula, which looks a bit like a daisy. They’ve got a tang but aren’t as spicy as the nasturtium, and can be used as a substitute for saffron. With saffron being so expensive, it’s great to be able to just pick some for free from the garden. You could also try bean blossoms, which are sweet.
Now, it’s not just in salads that flowers can shine. Here are some rather nice ideas. Freeze an individual whole flower in an ice cube, then add it to Pimms or punch. You could also preserve them in oils or vinigrettes, put them in jellies or marinades. There are many edible flower recipes to be found, both in books dedicated to the subject and on the internet. Fry or stuff squash blossoms. Use rose petals on brie. Yes, the rose is edible too, and of course its oil and water are highly prized. What a versatile flower it is.
Be very careful however that you follow the guidelines and don’t just experiment. Whilst lots of flowers can be eaten, as well as the toxicity possibilities, some may spark off allergies. Go steady and try them one at a time, watching for upset stomachs too.
Even some that look so innocent and pretty, like the simple buttercup, clematis, christmas rose and daffodil, can all do a great amount of harm. Organophosphates, sprays and pesticides can also be highly dangerous, so buy organic, from farmers’ markets and specialist supermarkets, and don’t spray anything in the garden you intend to eat.