Most of us have flowers in the garden … as well as being beutiful they are an excellent source of food as well as a tasty treat and make dishes bright and colourful.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Borage is an annual herb with bright blue-purple star shaped flowers that taste mildly of cucumber. The flowers are wonderful floated on lemonade, elderflower cordial and other summer beverages or you can toss in a salad; they’re also excellent as a garnish on both sweet and savoury dishes and iced soups. Crystallize the flowers for cake decorations.
Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp)
Picked as an open flower, daylily petals have a crisp and juicy flavour, especially the nectar filled base. This plant has numerous hybrids with different coloured flowers. Usually the darker coloured flowers tend to leave an unpleasant aftertaste while the lighter coloured flowers are sweeter with a flavour akin to asparagus or green beans. If flowers are picked when slightly withered, they can be used to flavour and thicken cooked food. Flowers can also be used to decorate salad. Freeze Daylilies and keep for up to eight months.
Daylilies are an easy to grow herbaceous perennial. They are robust enough for sun or shade and will grow through short grass and can withstand neglect, but they will give the best flowers if grown in reasonable soil in full sun.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil is usually grown as an annual herb for its leaves. Depending on the variety of basil grown the flowers are white, pale pink or subtle lavender. The flavour of the flower is milder, but similar to the leaves. So don’t despair if your basil plants start flowering in the summer and early autumn. Simply pick the flowering tops as soon as they open, and sprinkle the flowers over salad or pasta and add to soups and pesto.
Basil requires a rich well-drained soil. It needs a warm sunny position, with protection from the wind. It will thrive grown in pots on a sunny windowsill, or in a greenhouse.
Common daisy (Bellis perennis)
Daisy buds and petals give a pleasant, slightly sour flavour to salads. The buds can also be pickled in vinegar and used as a substitute for capers. Daisy flowers are best picked in spring and summer thereby prolonging flowering and producing further crops. Daisies are hardy perennials that grow in your lawn in sun or partial shade.
Pinks (Dianthus spp)
These flowers taste similar to spicy cloves. Pick when first open and remove the white base. Add them to salads, fruit pies and sandwiches; or candy them, pickle in vinegar, or make into syrup. Pinks are hardy perennials and grow best in a sunny, sheltered, well-drained position and in a poor soil. Propagate from seed and stem cuttings. You can grow them in containers, window boxes and tubs but use very free draining compost and make sure they are watered.
Courgette, squash, marrow and pumpkin (Cucurbita spp)
The large yellow flowers have a mild flavour. Use both male and female flowers. Some cooks prefer to use female courgette flowers as young courgette fruits can be picked with the female flowers still attached; the plant will continue to produce more courgettes. Courgette flowers can be coated in batter then deep-fried, or stuff, steam or bake. Grow best in full sun. Start seeds indoors in spring, plant out when the soil is warm and danger of frost is gone.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
A deliciously spicy-peppery tasting flower. The colourful flowers, leaves and seed pods of this annual plant are edible. The leaves have a taste similar to cress. Pick flowers throughout the summer for immediate use. The fat green seed pods can be pickled and used as an alternative to capers. Nasturtiums can be added to salads, pasta, meat dishes and vinaigrettes. Sow seeds in situ in spring. Self-seeds well; prefers full sun and a light well-drained soil. Grows well in containers but DON’T feed if you want flowers; water well in hot weather.
Lavender (Lavendula spp)
Lavender flowers can be used in jams, jellies, ice cream, biscuits and vinegar; they can also be crystallised, added to salads or used to make a tea. Flowers are best picked when they first open, before seeds begin to form. Lavender is an evergreen perennial shrub which needs a neutral to alkaline soil in an open sunny position. Plants become woody with age but can be pruned back immediately after flowering to maintain vigour and encourage new growth.
Chives (Allium schoeonoprasum)
The purple onion-like flowers from this perennial herb provide an oniony, but not overpowering flavour. Harvest as flowers are just opening. Young developing seed-heads are slightly stronger in taste. Frequent picking will encourage flowering to continue until the first frost. Flowers can be used to garnish salads and added to sauces. Chives are among the most versatile edible flower in savoury cooking. Grow in rich, well-drained soil in full sun; in pots, keep them well watered; propagate from seeds and by splitting clumps in mid spring.
Sweet violet (Viola odorata)
Violet has small scented blue or white flowers and produce the only edible flower available in winter and early spring. They have a fresh flavour and are used to flavour and colour confectionery. The flowers can also be used as a thickener in soup and stews and make a tasty, interesting garnish for salads, fruit salads and desserts. Sweet violets thrive in a moderately heavy rich soil in a semi-shaded spot, they do well in containers in a cool position during the summer and must not be given heat during the winter.
Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana, Viola tricolor )
Pansy flowers come in a huge range of colours and have a mild fresh flavour or a slightly grassy taste, depending on the pansy variety and how much of the flower is eaten. The petals are very mild in taste but the whole flower tastes much stronger. Use pansies to garnish cocktails, desserts, soups and fruit salads.
Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Pot marigold get’s its common name from being used “for the pot”; its orange or yellow flowers come in a range of flavours: spicy, bitter, tangy or peppery. Sprinkle petals on soups, pasta, salads and rice. Powdered petals are also known as poor man’s saffron and give a golden hint when added to herb butter, spreads, soups and scrambled egg. Pick flowers just as they open in summer for fresh use and for drying. Pot Marigolds grow in a wide range of soil but prefer a sunny position. Direct sow seeds in spring, after the last frost. Deadheading encourages a continuous harvest of flowers.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelions are beloved of bees and a vital part of the food they need … don’t begrudge them space in your garden, they realy do help keep our pollinators going. You can use the leaves as well as the flowers in salads; yellow dandelion flowers taste of honey if picked young but turn bitter when mature so pick young ones. You can make tea, wine and beer from the flowers too – the wine is delicious! Sprinkle dandelion petals, like confetti, over the rice.
Bee balm or Bergamot (Monarda didyma)
Monarda is a hardy perennial that gets it common name from the bees love of its nectar. The red flowers are a mixture of interesting flavours, ranging from citrusy and sweet to hot and minty. Use them to make tea and as an ingredient for cakes. Monarda prefers a moist rich soil, tolerates partial shade to full sun, and can be grown from seed or root division.
Rose (Rosa spp)
The Rugosa roses have large single flowers with the most flavoursome petals of all the roses closely followed by old roses, damask and gallica rose petals are particularly delicious. If you have hybrid roses remember that only fragrant roses have flavorsome petals and that some leave an aftertaste, so sample a petal before using it for cooking. Make sure you remove the whitish petal as it is sour. You can user rose petals to make jam, vinaigrettes, sauces and meat dishes. Roses grow best in a rich, well-drained soil in full sun.
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
White or purple lilac flowers have a delicate ‘floral’ flavour. You can make wine from lilac flowers too; add them to yogurt or use the flowers as an attractive garnish; they are also very tasty deep fried. Lilac is very hardy and easy to grow; the modern varieties don’t throw suckers like the old wild lilac which can be very invasive.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Our native Sage is a perennial herb with beautiful mauve-blue flowers at midsummer that are milder in taste than the leaves. it too is much beloved of bees and another vital food source for our pollinators, as are all the edible flowers. Use sage flowers in pesto, salads, soups and fish dishes. Sage loves full hot sun and a light well-drained soil. Grow from cuttings or seed in the spring.
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
The delicate white flowers of Chervil have a lovely aniseed flavour. Their flavour is also delicat and very easily lost if you use stronger ones with the Chervil so sprinkle on salads or vegetables just before serving. You can also use the flowers to flavour cakes. Grow as an annual from seed in spring.
Sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, mustard (Brassica Spp )
Don’t waste the flowers if you just can’t eat all your brassicas before they begin to bolt; the bright yellow flowers have a mild spiciness comparable to a mild brassica flavour and are delicious in salads or in stir-fries.