With the better weather on its way (honestly!) and many of us starting to plan our gardens and pots for the summer, here’s an idea you might like to think about. Even if you don’t have much space to spare, it’s nice to be able to grow a few things to eat, tucked into pots and corners. Tomato plants in troughs, potatoes grown in stacks of tyres and pots of herbs are all ideal for the space-poor gardener.
Did you know, though, that there’s a wide variety of plants that produce edible flowers? Adding a few to your garden means that you’ll enjoy a double benefit – colour, interest…..and ingredients!
Planting your own flowers means you can be sure you accurately identify what you’re eating. It also means you can guarantee the plants will be free of sprays and pesticides. If you’re buying your plants rather than growing them from seed, some garden centres sell plants labelled ‘for culinary use’, or ‘organic’.
If you buy non-labelled plants, don’t pick and use the flowers for three months to give any pesticides a chance to leave the plant’s system. If you get an insect infestation on your culinary plants, don’t use pesticides – either cut off the affected sprigs and discard, remove the insects by hand or start afresh with a new plant.
Tips for harvesting flowers
Young flowers and buds have the freshest flavour – pick them early in the morning if you can, and avoid rainy mornings unless you’re planning to eat the flowers immediately, as they won’t last.
If you have a bumper harvest, you can dry or freeze most varieties and use them to make herbal teas or flavour infusions.
With small flowers such as violas, you can eat the whole thing. With larger flowers like roses, eat the petals only.
Types of edible flowers
Alpine pinks – these are very pretty, delicate pink flowers, ideal for pots or filling in corners in a flower bed. They taste a bit like cloves, and are great for baking. To use, pick the whole flower and wash it. Let them dry in a warm place for around 24 hours. Add them to sugar, and leave to infuse for a few days, then pick out the flowers and use the sugar in your usual recipe.
Lavender – probably the best known of the edible flowers, these have multiple uses in both sweet and savoury dishes. Using flowers rather than seeds will give a less intense flavour. For savoury dishes, use the chopped fresh flowers in place of rosemary. For sweet dishes, add to shortbread biscuits or sponge cakes for a fresh, summery flavour.
Nasturtium – easy to grow and use, these bright flowers have a strong peppery flavour that goes well with salads, soups and pasta. You can use the whole flower, but experiment first with just using the petals as the taste can be a bit intense.
Roses – all varieties of rose flowers are edible. Dry the petals and use them to flavour sugar, decorate cakes with them or even make them into rose petal jam.
For summery drinks, freeze whole flowers of borage, scented geraniums or primroses (in season) in ice cubes, and use to create perfect summer cocktails.
The flowers of most herbs (such as basil, chives, mint, rosemary) are edible, and have a more delicate flavour than the leaves. Use them to decorate salads, or mash them into pats of butter to create a subtly flavoured spread for fresh bread.