Edible blooms

Edible flowersNow you can have your flowers and eat them too. Truly! Certain flowers are just as tasty and nutritious as salad greens, such as these pea blossoms, as Sara over at Sara’s Kitchen discovered. For those who haven’t tried them, now’s your chance. It’s still pea-sowing season, so get sowing and you can harvest your own fresh peas – or flowers – in no time. The blooms are delicious – sweet and crunchy with a flavour just like peas. Same goes for the shoots and vine tendrils, which also have a pea-like flavour. Over at Kitchen Unplugged, Gattima has also used edible flowers to decorate her dish of home-made ravioli and figs.

So what flowers can you eat?

The sky-blue, star-shaped flowers of borage (Borago officinalis) have a refreshing cucumber taste. The blossoms can be used whole – scatter them among fruit, in salads or set in ice cubes for summer drinks. They’re an excellent accompaniment to raita, a cucumber sauce or dip prevalent in Indian cooking.

Also known as pot marigold, calendula (Calendula officinalis) was once known as poor man’s saffron; the Greeks and Romans used the colourful petals as a saffron substitute for flavouring and colouring food. The petals add a golden hue to soups and rice dishes, and can be added to salads, omelettes and cheese dishes for their piquancy. The petals should be removed from the flower and any white parts snipped off.

The lilac-pink flowers are somewhat crunchy and impart a mild onion flavour. They look great atop baked potatoes, in green salads, scrambled eggs and pasta dishes. Herb butters look spectacular with chives flowers in the mix and can be served with just about anything, including potatoes, vegetables and bread.

Dandelions are edible in their entirety. Roots, leaves and flowers have been chomped on or slurped up in liquid form for centuries. In days gone by, the blooms were commonly used to make dandelion wine and tea. These days, adventurous chefs are offering dandelion fritters. Deep fry dandelion flowers in a light batter for about a minute, or batter and fry them in a frying pan. Or you can throw the petals into salads to impart a sweet, bitter taste.

Both the petals and buds are eaten. They’re somewhat crunchy and taste a bit like snowpeas with a peppery aftertaste. Add to stir-fries, pasta dishes, green salads and soups. Daylilies (Hemerocallis) open in hot water, so you can pick them in bud, put them in the fridge until ready to use, then plunge them in hot water to open.

Dianthus petals add a light nutmeg-like scent and sweet clover flavour to fruit salads, puddings and herb butters. In the past, flowers were pickled with white wine vinegar, cinnamon and mace, then the pickled flowers were mixed with sugar and a little fresh vinegar to be used on meats in a similar fashion to mint sauce. Remove the petals and snip off the bitter tasting white heel at the base of each petal.

Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra) have a musky scent that lends itself to beverages, both hot and cold, like elderflower cordial and elderflower bubbly. The blossoms combine well with many fruits, including strawberries, gooseberries, rhubarb and raspberries. Remove the stalks, as these can be bitter.

Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) have only a light floral flavour, but they look fabulous in green and fruit salads and crystallised to decorate cakes and desserts. Remove the stigma from the centre of each flower, snip off the green parts and brush off any pollen on the petals.

These colourful blooms have a bold peppery flavour, which goes well with vegetables, omelettes and cream cheese. The bright colours make great accents in salads. Whole flowers can be stuffed with a savoury mousse, and the leaves can be eaten, too – both flowers and leaves are great in sandwiches. Nasturtium seed pods can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers.

The whole flower is edible, including the sepals, which makes it a great adornment atop crackers smeared with cream cheese. They have a mild minty flavour, so they work well with savoury or sweet dishes.

Rose water, rose syrup, rose petal jam and rose sugar all have their origins from the petals of roses. The petals were often added to dishes in Victorian times and make beautiful crystallised flowers. All roses’ petals are edible but the sweeter the scent, the sweeter the taste. Remove the white heel from the base of each petal.

Johnny-jump-up, or heartsease (Viola tricolor) has a faintly sweet taste and, like pansies, the whole flower can be eaten. Add to salads or crystallise to use on cakes and desserts. Sweet violet (Viola odorata) also has a mild flavour, which partners well with both sweet and savoury foods.

The blossoms of zucchini are served as a side dish in Mexico and in the Mediterranean where they are often stuffed with rice. In Italy and France they are stuffed with cheese, then battered and deep-fried. The blossoms have a mild zucchini flavour and can be eaten hot or cold.

Additional herbs
Most herb flowers are delicious to eat, their flavour usually milder and sweeter than the leaves. Basil, dill, rosemary and sage are all edible – perfect for subtle flavouring or garnishing.

Points to remember

• Only eat flowers that you’re 100% certain are safe – not all flowers are edible, some are even toxic.

• Don’t eat flowers from a florist or garden centre. More than likely these have been treated with pesticides.

• Remove pistils and stamens from flowers before eating.

• Like all foods, don’t eat in excess.

• Pick flowers in the cool of the day, after the dew has evaporated. Place long-stemmed flowers in a container of water and keep in a cool environment. Place short-stemmed flowers in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel, and store in the fridge. Use flowers within a few hours.

• Choose flowers that are newly opened. Flowers that are past their prime will have diminished flavour and fragrance.

• Before using, wash flowers gently in cold water and pat dry on absorbent paper.

• Remove petals from the flower just before using to prevent wilting.

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