Floral fancy: How to use edible flowers
Spring brings an abundance of edible flowers. These add a floral finish to dishes and bring a depth of flavour that exceeds the same-old flavours of herbs and spices. Edible flowers add a fragrant dimension to cakes and sweets, while others add a flavourful kick to salads and savoury dishes. Whether you buy them from the supermarket shelves or pluck them from your own garden, edible flowers are a simple but effective addition to any culinary creation.
Fancy picking your own wildflowers? It’s best to avoid low-growing plants frequented by dog walkers (for reasons we won’t name!) and to head off the beaten track. Plants growing near the roadside are likely to be polluted by nasty car fumes. Wherever you roam, ‘Bee’ aware that there may be small insects hiding in the flowers you have foraged.
To avoid a six-legged surprise, the Royal Horticultural Society recommend dipping flowers in a bowl of cold salt water and leaving to dry before adding to food. Read on to find out how to make the most of the season’s bounty of blooms…
These dainty flowers will bring a dash of vibrant colour to any dish. Pick the flowers when they are just opening and leave them in cold water to swell slightly before scattering on salads and sweets. Alternatively, you can create crystallised violas by blending egg white and caster sugar; paint the mixture on with a fine brush, leave to dry for two hours and use within a week.
Marigolds are a favourite, no-fuss flower that bring a streak of bright sunshine to the garden – whatever the weather. The petals have a mild peppery taste and work wonderfully sprinkled over salads, soups or baked onto bread. You can also grind the flowers with a little olive oil to create a “poor man’s saffron” for colouring dishes without nasty preservatives.
Sugared primroses add a delicate touch to any cake, particularly if your icing skills aren’t up to much. Primroses are incredibly easy to preserve; simply wait until they are fully dried after cleaning, then use a thin paintbrush to gently coat the flowers with a mixture of one egg white and a teaspoon of cold water before dipping them in a bowl of granulated sugar. Leave them to dry for up to two days to ensure they stiffen up perfectly. You can also use this method to make sugared violas and rose petals.
We can’t get enough of these starry, sapphire-blue flowers. Borage flowers add a fresh, cucumber taste to summery salads and chilled gazpacho. They also make a great garnish for spritzers and seasonal cocktails like our passion fruit and thyme mocktini, or add to homemade ice lollies for an extra-special floral touch.
If you buy chives pre-packaged in the supermarket, you may not be aware that they have beautiful pink pom pom-like flowers, which are very popular with bees. Chive flowers have a subtle, onion-like flavour which is delicious in a salad.
If using fresh-cut chives in a potato salad, add the flowers on top to enhance the flavour and add an elegant touch to a stodgy salad. Chives are easy to grow and you don’t need a vast garden – simply grow them from seed in a pot on a window ledge.
We love using freshly cut basil to make a pesto or liven up a simple tomato sauce, but we rarely think to use the flowers. If you grow basil at home, keep an eye out for its flowers as letting them grow too long will result in a straggly plant with sparse leaves. Trimming back their blooms will enable the basil to focus its energy on producing more leaves, resulting in a lovely full plant.
Infusing olive oil with basil flowers is a particularly delicious way of enjoying them. Simply rinse the flowers, place in the bottom of a sterilised glass jar, cover them with oil and leave to infuse for two weeks to a month. You can keep adding blooms to your infusion whenever you prune your basil plant, just ensure they are fully submerged in the oil, which will prevent them from going mouldy.
Wild garlic flowers
Abundant in May and June, you might be able to smell the earthy, garlicy scent of this delicious plant before you look down and see it. Wild garlic abounds in damp conditions, so you may well spot it in your local woodland.
The leaves have a number of health benefits, and we particularly enjoy eating them in a fresh wild garlic pesto, but did you know they have edible flowers too? The delicate white flowers have a delicious peppery flavour, which is delicious served in salads or on top of pasta dishes.
While courgettes themselves aren’t the most striking-looking vegetable, their papery orange flowers are truly eye-catching. The cup-shaped flowers make them an ideal vessel for stuffing. Try them the Italian way, stuffed with ricotta and herbs and lightly fried or for a decadent treat, dipped in batter and deep fried, then served on a rich tomato sauce.
Nasturtium flowers come in a variety of shades, from subtle creams to yellows and jewel-bright oranges to deep burgundies. Both leaves and flowers have a strong, peppery flavour – perfect for adding to pestos or adding a savoury dimension to summer strawberries (trust us, it works).
The frothy, delicate heads of the elder tree are prolific between mid-May and June. You will find them in abundance overhead on footpaths and in the woods at this time of year, so there’s no need to splash out on expensive cordial when it is so easy and cheap to make your own from your foraged findings.
Follow our recipe to make a big bottle of delicious, sweet cordial that can be kept in the fridge to keep you refreshed all through summer. If serving at a summer party, top the cordial up with floral ice cubes filled with scented geraniums (pelargonium), rose petals, borage or pansies.
The soothing scent of lavender makes a great addition to drinks and desserts. Used sparingly, it has a sweet, delicate flavour which works beautifully in this buttery shortbread recipe as well as brightening up a plain biscuit with a tell-tale flash of purple. For a delicious treat, add lavender to iced tea for a refreshing cooler on a hot day.