A while ago I was blessed with a trug full of garden-centric gifts from the parental units, including some ultra glam gloves and several packets of seeds. I was especially delighted with a pack of nasturtiums and my Step Mum was equally delighted to point out to me that as well as being pretty, you could also eat them. This roused many unconvinced grumbles from two and a half generations of blokes in the room at the time which were not abated when I pointed out that Duck and Waffle Chef and personal fave social media type Tom Cenci does dishes with nasturtiums all the time. Unfortunately, a plate of lentils and green bits is never going to make my Father convinced of anything other than that he’ll have the steak, please, so we left that conversation there.
Flowers are plants, people! And I’m willing to wager that you eat plants every single day, even if you don’t do so all that enthusiastically. But where we all accept that we need to force down some greens to keep out innards clean and our calories down, the vast majority prefer to stick to peas and carrots and maybe a little pile of chopped parsley atop the casserole. All of these are good of course, and most of us will venture out into other more exotic fruit and veg options from time to time, or even every day but still shun the idea of chowing down on some petals. I think there are three main reasons for this.
I don’t have time for all that faffing about. I must admit, when talking about eating flowers I immediately think of a TV Chef painstakingly placing a single nitrogren-frozen violet on to a pile of sheep’s milk ice cream with some very long tweezers and the expression of a movie hero about to snip the red wire and save the world. It does not need to be like this. Whilst there is a hearty argument for using flowers for the wow-factor as garnishes or baking decorations, you don’t need to spend hours freeze drying or sugar dipping to make good use and enjoy them in your dinner. Many herb flowers like dill or coriander can be snipped straight from the plant and used the same way as you would the usual herb to add some flavoursome prettiness to a salad or marinade. Basil flowers are particularly lovely picked, washed and chucked straight into a tomato salad.
Don’t they taste horrible? Taste and scent are very closely linked and the word ‘flower’ might send you back to memories of choking on your Great Aunt Edna’s rose perfume and you don’t need that kind of experience with your sponge cake. Think for a second how different a beetroot tastes to a sweet potato. Both root vegetables, though. It is the same with flowers, their range in taste is pretty massive and not always as you would expect from their aroma.
Lavender, rose and citrus blossoms do however taste very much the way they smell but can be used sparingly to give an extra dimension of flavour to icings, pastries or sauces or alternatively try steeping theminto syrups to give a floral kick to cocktails or sweet dishes. There’s an easy lavender syrup recipe here that will work very well in a martini or drizzled over ice cream. Speaking of drinks, we’ve been making tea from flowers since the time of the dinosaurs, or something, so why not try some in your biscuits too? You aren’t restricted to sweet dishes with flowers though, who hasn’t seen those lovely bright courgette flowers being pimped all over the place by Masterchef contestants and gourmet Instagrammers everywhere? It is very on trend to stuff and fry all manner of squash blossoms, however if you do so you must expect for them to taste of deep-fried-whatever-you-stuffed-them-with and to my mind this is something of a mistake. I’ve been blessed with many pumpkin flowers from my triffid like vegetable patch this summer and they taste wonderful- light and only ever so slightly sweet they make a great last minute addition to a risotto (you can click here for a recipe ).
Many edible flowers like Hollyhocks don’t taste of all that much at all and are used purely for a show stopping garnish, where as borage flowers reportedly taste a lot like cucumber. Clover flowers have a distinct liquorice finish and marigolds have been reported to be quite spicy so quite like other fruit and veg, there is probably something out there for everyone if you are prepared to give them a try.
I wouldn’t know where to start. I need to add the idiot disclaimer now and insist that not all flowers are edible, in fact some of them will really make you very unwell indeed so before you start foraging for some pretties to tart up your Saturday dinner plate please research this extensively and avoid eating something that may cause you to suffer stomach upsets, blindness and a drawn out case of being dead. You can start by clicking here for a list of flowers that are safe to try. You will see many common garden favourites on this lists and incorporating them into your menu is really a lot simpler than you might think, just follow the following rules:
- Don’t eat it unless you are 100% sure what it is, and that it is safe to eat. Here’s that link again: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=764
- Stick to plants from your own garden or certified sellers and avoid anything that has been treated with pesticides. Some pest-treated plants will be safe to eat after a specified amount of time (check your bottle label) however you are doing a massive wrong to the bees of this world if you use such sprays on anything that flowers.
- Avoid using flowers from a level where they might have been, erm, visited by a dog or cat. For obvious reasons.
- Harvest your flowers early in the day or after a reasonable rainfall for the best flavour and use them quickly. Most of them will cope in the fridge for a day but the fresher the better.
- Before use, wash the flowers thoroughly but gently in cold water, being careful to evict any insects that have hitched a ride within!
- Use a recipe. If you had never baked a scone in your entire life would you just wing it with a bowl and some butter? No. Spend ten minutes researching how best to incorporate your florals into your food. The food site on the BBC is a good starting point, especially if you have courgette flowers.
If all this hasn’t convinced you then how about the nutritional incentives? As you will probably expect, the calorie content of flowers is negligible (before crystalisation/deep frying etc) and they wont upset any of your fat or sugar goals either. They do, however, provide a wealth of micro nutrient action often in the form of vitamins C or A, iron and potassium. Obviously this depends on the flower in question, and like your other fruit and veg the best way to get the most from them is to look for a variety of brightly coloured options to pack in the goodness along with the pretty.
So my summary point is that yes, I’m going to eat flowers, I already have, and maybe you should too. It’s a great time of year to try if you are in the UK it isn’t too late to spring some primroses or violets in the garden or head to your local greengrocers or farmers markets for flowering courgettes.