We may be more accustomed to eating the leaves, shoots, roots and fruit of plants, but the beauty of an edible flower garnish brings colour to a dish in shades and style that is hard to beat.
# Raising edible flowers
If you’re planning to grow edible flowers, steer clear of using any chemical control. Systemic insecticides remain in plants for weeks and will end up on your plate. Give shop-bought plants 3-months before harvesting for the same reason.
Also consider where you’re going to grow the edible flowers, as you want minimise contact with animals, including pets. Always wash flowers thoroughly before consuming.
# Safe to eat
Most importantly, you need to ensure your flowers are safe to eat: always do your research and if doubtful, don’t eat them. The list further down is a good place to start.
For favourable results pick flowers just as they’ve opened, early morning is best. Add to your dishes as soon as you can, shelf-lives are short and may not extend beyond a few hours outside a fridge or freezer.
Many flowers benefit from having their calyces removed (the green part surrounding the flower base) and removing the paler base of the petal will reduce bitterness in most instances.
Most herb flowers are edible, often tasting a shade more subtle than their foliage counterparts.
# What’s on the menu
Pansies & violas (Viola x wittrockiana, V. tricolour & V. odorata): usually used as a garnish for its lightly fresh flavour and as a pop of colour, particularly if you candy the petals first.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus): the vibrant flowers have a peppery, savoury flavour and are perfect along with the leaves in a summer salad. Also purported to have anti-inflammatory effects.
Borage (Borago officinalis): dainty blue, cucumber-and honey-flavoured flowers popular for crystallizing and using in ice cubes.
Rose (Rosa spp.): the exquisite scent of rose petals lends itself well to flavouring drinks such as tea and champagne cocktails, as well as icing and macaroon. A petal garnish is the finishing touch.
Pinks (Dianthus spp.): the heady, clove-like scent of the pinks translates well to food, pairing well with fish and adding zing to desserts and soups.
Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis): an intense, peppery taste that lends itself well to heavier dishes such as broths, soups and stews. The vivid petals also brighten up salads.
Squash (courgette, marrow & cucumber): stuff the blooms with cheese and herbs and fry or bake till crispy. Use male flowers so as not to affect yield.
Daisy (Bellis perennis): Along with its cousin, chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), can be used as a subtle, yet charming garnish.
Primrose (Primula vulgaris): Our native primrose looks charming in ice cubes or, even better, decorating cakes when crystallized.