People are often surprised to discover that flowers can be used in the kitchen. Some flower petals have a strong peppery or fruity taste, while others impart more subtle aromas and flavours. Some simply look exquisite, and are therefore fun to use. They can be scattered in salads, frozen in ice cubes, crystallised or used to flavour biscuits and ice creams.
Preparing and collecting flowers
Growing a few edible flowers amongst your vegetables will often reap other rewards. Many of the flowers that are best for this use also make excellent companion plants or attract pollinating insects to the plot. Some of the more vigorous annuals like nasturtium act like green manures, suppressing weeds and reducing evaporation of moisture from the soil’s surface.
Flowers wilt quickly, especially in hot weather, so pick in the morning where possible. Take care not to get stung by bees, particularly when picking borage, lavender and chives. Pick whole flowerheads rather than petals, then go indoors where it is cooler to prepare them. Spread the flowers out on a piece of kitchen towel as you work; this will allow any small black pollen beetles to be easily removed as they move between flowers.
In most species, the flowers are too tough to consume whole and the petals should be removed from the flowerhead or calyx by gently pulling them away. Put the prepared petals or flower heads into a small polythene bag and seal it with a little air inside to stop the contents getting squashed. The flowers should keep like this in the fridge for several hours.
Avoid washing flowers as most are easily damaged, but if they are wilting, put the heads in a bowl of water to revive them.
Annual flowers are the easiest to include in a vegetable plot because they are short-lived. Most of those recommended also self-seed readily, so you should have to buy only one packet of seed to get started. Sow in drills and take note of what the seedlings look like so that you know not to weed them out in subsequent years. Inevitably, self-seeded plants will appear in the wrong place, but these can easily be transplanted.
The flowers of many aromatic herbs, both annual and perennial, retain the flavour of the leaves but with less intensity, making them perfect for adding to salads. Dill, coriander and rocket are annuals that can be used in this way when they run to seed, using whole flowers. The flower heads of chives, garlic chives and lavender are composed of lots of smaller individual flowers which can be snipped off with a pair of scissors and then eaten whole.
Lavender flowers can be used to flavour biscuits, cakes and ice cream. The intensity of flavour can vary significantly from plant to plant, so it is worth experimenting with quantities. Sage petals can also be used.
If you get the taste for edible flowers, there are numerous garden flowers that can supplement your harvest. Try roses, hemerocallis and sweet bergamot for flavour, and primulas for decoration.
The Greeks use courgette flowers to create a tasty starter by stuffing them with a piece of feta cheese, dipping them in batter and quick-frying them. The intense yellow of the flower is revealed only when you bite into the parcels of cheese.