Do your flowerbeds look good enough to eat? Well if you’ve grown the right plants they could well provide a meal or two! Many of the popular flowers we grow are edible and can be used to add colourful garnishes to summer salads and cocktails or put a bit of zing into your favourite recipes. Here are some of our favourites…
The peppery taste of nasturtiums leaves makes them an excellent choice for mixed green salads and savoury dishes. You can also eat the colourful flowers, which have a slightly stronger flavour, with cream cheese as hors d’oeuvres or use them to garnish potato salad and vegetable dishes.
GYO Nasturtiums are very easy to grow from seed and can be sown direct in the garden in spring. They also grow well in pots but shouldn’t be given too much fertiliser otherwise flowers will be few and far between. Plant them in a sunny spot and pick off dead flowers to prevent them running to seed.
The sunny orange and yellow daisy-like flowers of pot marigolds or calendulas are known, as poor man’s saffron as they can be used for colouring and adding a warm, aromatic flavour to food. The petals are thin and fragile, and seem to melt on the tongue. Sprinkle them on salads and omelettes or add to pasta and rice dishes. The peppery leaves are edible too.
GYO Sow pot marigolds in the garden and spring and they’ll self-seed and be popping up in odd places for years to come! Light soil and sunshine will bring out the best in them. Raise them in pots too and add to summer container displays.
It’s well known that roses and lavender are used in perfume but did you know they make a delicious teatime delicacy. Try rose petal jelly on homemade scones, or crystallise the petals to decorate iced buns. Make meringues with lavender flavoured sugar or make lavender oil to baste barbecued chicken.
GYO Buy plants and propagate more from summer cuttings so you have plenty to edge a bed of fragrant David Austin English roses. Fill the gaps with lilies using the compact habit of lavender to mask the untidy basal foliage of Madonna lilies.
Pansy flowers, which have a faint lettuce-like taste and velvety texture can be used to decorate cakes and add colour to salads but for a sweeter and memorable flavour you need to grow the sweet Parma violet or Viola odorata. These flowers can be crystallised and used to puddings like chocolate mousse or added to syrups for pouring over sorbet and fresh fruit.
GYO Violets like a bit of shade, whilst pansies will tolerate sunshine, however both prefer a rich soil and will grow well in containers. They look best planted en masse in bold drifts or as thick ribbons running along the edge of flowerbeds.
If you’re growing courgettes you should try your culinary hand at cooking up gourmet starter using only the flowers fried in a little garlic-flavoured oil. The bright yellow trumpet blooms can also be stuffed with cheese, nuts, herbs or rice and fried in batter, to make a more substantial meal.
GYO In spring sow courgette seeds indoor. Plant out after the frosts in a well-prepared sunny site. Pick the flowers when they are just opening, leaving some on the plant to go on to produce courgettes or marrows.
The star-shaped flowers and young leaves of borage have a delicious cucumber taste making them a great garnish for Pimms cocktail and iced summer soups. Remove the bitter-tasting black centre and stamens of the flowers and you can sprinkle them in salads or crystallise them for decorating iced cakes. The leaves are edible as well, though older ones have unpleasant spines.
GYO Borage is a great companion plant, attracting bees that are beneficial for pollinating neighbouring plants. It’s grown as an annual from seed and prefers a light, well-drained soil and sunny position.
Sunflowers are amazing plants – watch them turn their heads to follow the sun! They are delightfully edible too. The buds can be served up as a vegetable and taste similar to Jerusalem artichokes, the petals, which have a bittersweet flavour, can be used to decorate salads and in pasta dishes.
GYO Sunflowers are grown annually from seeds sown outside in situ in spring. They come in shades or red and gold and there are mini varieties, which are ideal for pots and giants, which can easily reach up to 10ft tall if they are well fed and watered.
The nutritious sunflower seeds are great for nibbling and birds love them!
The petals and buds of day lilies or hemerocallis are crisp and crunchy to the taste with a slight pea-like flavour and are great in salads, hot and cold soups and can be served up in Chinese style stir-fry dishes. The buds will open in hot water, so you can pick them in bud and store them in the refrigerator or freezer until needed.
GYO Day lilies are perfect partners for red hot pokers and crocosmia in the late summer garden and can be planted with grasses and perennials in wild prairie style planting. They like a sunny spot in moist fertile soil.
The petals of the stunningly beautiful fuchsia blooms are a bit bland to taste but are excellent for brightening up green salads or fruit salads and if you prefer, they can be crystallised whole and used to decorate iced cakes.
GYO These versatile plants can be grown in pots, hanging baskets and borders and some of the hardy varieties make excellent hedges. Keep picking the flowers of the bedding varieties throughout the season and they will keep going until the frosts come.
Leave a few flowers on the plant because small black fruits that follow can be used to make jam or jelly
The showy scarlet flowers of bergamot are a firm favourite with bees and butterflies. The whole plant is impregnated with a delightful fragrance, which has mint overtones. Use the leaves to make a refreshing tea and add a few flower petals to fish, pork and chicken dishes to give them a more robust flavour or simply use them to add colour to salads.
GYO Bergamot is a cottage garden staple and combines well with spiky flowers like those of salvia. Itthrives in moist, light soil, and the flowers will last longer in situations where the plants have only see the morning sun.
You’ve probably noticed cats rolling about in a state of ecstasy on a bed of catmint, so imagine how you’ll feel when you nibble a few flowers? This aromatic herbaceous perennial produces beautiful blue flowers with a spicy flavour, which resembles that of mint. The flavour is quite strong, so add just a few flowers to salad dressings or lamb dishes.
GYO Catmint likes well drained soil and full sun and is a superb plant for edging flowerbeds along paths so that there pungent aroma is released as you brush by. Combine it with pink roses and lilies for stunning good looks.
Taste of herbs
Herb flowers, such as those of basil, chives, oregano, rosemary and sage taste like the herb’s leaves, but often with a touch of sweetness. They can be tiny and delicate, so pick right before using, or snip the entire blossom stem and put it in water until ready to use.
GYO Most of the common perennial culinary herbs are Mediterranean in origin. Their frost tolerance varies, but otherwise their needs are similar ― full sun, good drainage, and light to moderate irrigation. Annual culinary herbs generally need more water and perform better in enriched soil, especially herbs of tropical origin, such as basil. Although a perennial, garlic chives also need regular water.
To ensure freshness, store your blooms in a plastic container in the fridge and cover with a damp paper towel. Always wash flowers thoroughly and only add them right before serving, to ensure they stay crisp for longer
Add some fresh blooms for a summer salad that can’t be beat!
Some of them are slightly spicy, some are grassy, some are sweet ~ just give them a nibble to see. I recommend starting with pansies or marigold petals, they’re easy to come by, and have a big impact. Violas, with their sweet nectar, are better suited to desserts. Pea flowers are also worth using as they complement salty fish dishes.
The Chelsea Fringe Collins
Try Lottie Muir’s delicious cocktail photo: Robbie LeBlanc
50ml Jensen Bermondsey Old Tom Gin (or other good quality gin)
15 ml St Germain elderflower liqueur
15ml rose petal syrup
25ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
Dash orange bitters
Fill highball glass with ice.
Fill cocktail shaker with gin, elderflower liqueur, rose petal syrup, lemon juice and bitters.
Fill the cocktail shaker with ice. Shake for 20 seconds
Strain into a highball glass.
Garnish with borage blossoms, dianthus, fennel fronds, lavender, wild strawberries and a lemon twist
This delightful cockatail made by Lottie Muir (aka The cocktail gardener – www.thecocktailgardener.co.uk) to celebrate the Chelsea Fringe, where it was a hit at a pop-up bar in 2013 at the Midnight Apothecary at the Brnel Museum.
The 170 year old Brunel Museum (http://www.brunel-museum.org.uk) is the venue for concerts, heritage walks, lectures, river trips and garden events, in a lower garden. Thee upper community food garden is managed by locals. Set on three levels of landscaped grounds, the museum is where Isambard Kingdom Brunel at nineteen helped his father, Sir Marc Brunel, build the Thames Tunnel, the world’s first tunnel under a river and the oldest tunnel in London, home of the world’s oldest metro system.
This year’s Chelsea Fringe (chelseafringe.com) runs from 19th May to 27th May, intensifying the festival buzz into a nine-day burst of excitement! That’s two weekends and everything in between; including a few days’ overlap with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
TIP: Check that no chemicals or sprays have been used on the flowers before eating
Flowers and ready prepared floral salads, starting from £7, are available from www.maddocksfarmorganics.co.uk. They will also pick bespoke salads specifically to meet your catering needs – contact Jan on 07935 268744 to discuss.