The culinary use of edible flowers has long been documented and stretches back for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks were especially fond of chowing down on flowery blooms, whilst the Romans were also well-known flower imbibers, using them to scatter over scran and infuse them in drinks. After a hard day’s legionnaire-ing, nothing quite sates the palate like a mouthful of rose petals and a jug of lilac wine…
But before you gad into the garden with your wicker basket in order to ape this ancient tradition, there are a few important points to consider where edible flowers are concerned. First, be absolutely certain that you know what you are picking. Ingesting a mis-identified plant could lead to more than just a sore tummy – it could potentially put you in hospital. It also stands to reason, but don’t pick plants from roadside verges or close to paths where animals like to roam (and subsequently relieve themselves).
And finally, always heed the law of the land. The Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) states that it is illegal “to uproot any wild plant without permission from the landowner or occupier” in Britain. ‘Uproot’ is defined as “to dig up or otherwise remove the plant from the land on which it is growing”, so essentially the picking of flowers and petals should be OK. However, plants that are situated on sites designated for conservation interest (such as nature reserves, Ministry of Defence property or National Trust lands) will most likely be covered by by-laws which make picking, uprooting or removal illegal.
With these stern warnings ringing in your ears (and Two Thirsty Gardeners ™ safely covered in case of legal action), here are our ten favourite edible flowers.
Our ten favourite edible flowers
Beloved herb of our pollinating pals, the star-shaped borage flower makes a great salad addition. Pluck a few flowers (leaving some behind for the bees) and drop them in a green salad where they will bring a refreshing cucumber taste to proceedings. They are also great for adding to drinks. Try freezing the flowers in ice cubes then lob them in a glass of Pimms.
2. Pot Marigold
If you can bear to cull these beautiful orange blooms in their pomp, use them in salads to add subtle peppery spice. You can also sauté them in olive oil, which will release the full range of their savoury flavours.
The brightly-coloured, peppery edible flowers of the nasturtium make a fine addition to salads and pasta dishes. You can use the whole flower if you like, or just the petals for a milder flavour.
Both prolific and easy to grow, the courgette has long been an allotment favourite of ours. Common gardening wisdom dictates that you should grow one plant per person, or risk drowning in a courgette glut come late summer. Stem the tide by eating the flowers – they can add flowery interest on top of a pizza, or dig out the deep fat fryer and fry them in a beery batter (if you can spare the beer).
Most varieties of mint flower can be incorporated into edible dishes. Apple, pineapple, peppermint and spearmint flowers all taste great when infused in oil – you can also combine them with butter for both sweet and savoury dishes. And if you can bear to interrupt your cat from the throes of ecstasy, prise them off the Catnip (Nepeta cataria) and use the strong, minty flavours of the flower head to accompany your roast lamb.
It’s not just rosemary leaves you can use in your culinary creations – pick the fresh flowers and use them as a sweet garnish for salads or tomato sauces, or use them to flavour butter or oil.
Teach this lawn-haunting weed a lesson and incorporate it in your culinary creations. It doesn’t possess the strongest of flavours but this edible flower does look rather fetching scattered over a cake or fruity dessert.
The lilac is a tenacious plant – we’ve spent a good deal of gardening time trying to fight back the one that threatens to overshadow our precious herb beds. Probably the best solution is to just let it bloom – not only will it provide a pollen-rich banquet for visiting insects but the edible flowers can be used as a perfumed, lemony addition for yoghurts and ice-cream.
Another low-level lawn-lover. Both red and white flowers of the clover can be used to garnish fruit and salads. You can also use them to make a splendid, floral jam.
Early June is the peak time for elderflowers, when the showy white blooms are a common sight, beaming from hedgerows. Drop a battered flower head into a deep fat fryer – the resulting bloom makes for a crispy floral treat. The best use for the elderflower is, of course, elderflower champagne. Here’s our definitive recipe:
- Gather 10 hand sized blooms (picked before midday to ensure the flowers are fresh).
- Shake off any insects and remove as much stalk as you can. (This can impart unwanted bitterness).
- Boil 8 cups of water, pour into a sterilized bucket and add 3 cups of white sugar and elderflowers then stir to dissolve.
- Add to this 8 cups of pre-boiled and cooled water, the juice of 2 lemons, 2tbs cider vinegar and some champagne yeast. You can use the natural yeasts found on the flowers if you like.
- Cover with a dish towel or something similar, then wait 5-7 days before filtering the liquid through a muslin cloth into a pair of 4 pint plastic carbonated drinks bottles.
- Leave for a week before consuming, remembering to loosen and retighten the lids daily to prevent any unwanted explosions.