An introduction to edible flowers

Edible flowers. A topic people often brush-off as confusing, weird, too advanced or... just for the 'flower children of the 60s'. But nothing could be further from the truth, in fact, if you dabble in a bit of urban gardening, chances are you probably are already growing some. Most herbs and vegetables produce edible flowers at some point in their growth cycle. For the most part, the other varieties of edible flowers "grow like weeds" and provide a range of benefits to the average urban garden such as promoting plant growth, improving the taste of fruit, and attracting or repelling insects.

Nasturtiums add brilliant colour to your garden and salads alike

Nasturtiums add brilliant colour to your garden and salads alike

 

Basic Edible Varieties

Beauty & Companions

Violas (Garden Pansy)
Lemon-scented Geranium
Violets
Nasturtiums
Marigolds
Borage

Vegetables Flowers

Zucchini & Squash
Radishes
Rocket (Arugula)
Broccoli & Cauliflower
Fennel
Garlic & Chives

Herbs & Medicinal

Rosemary
Thyme
Bergamot
Oregano
Chamomile
Echinacea

 

Using Edible Flowers

Violas have a sweet honey like flavour

Violas have a sweet honey like flavour

Edible varieties of plants and flowers have been well documented over the ages... So while you're having fun adding to the menu of your next dinner party, don't take unnecessary risks.  Some flowers or leaves can be toxic, so be sure to check with old Mr Google before you go serving anything that might leave your guests retching.

Generally speaking, the petals alone are used in cooking, rather than the whole flower.  But often the leaves, stems, and seeds can be used too such as with Nasturtiums or even the root like with Turmeric.

Chive and Garlic flowers are great in meals

Chive and Garlic flowers are great in meals

It's always best to grow your own flowers for consumption, but if you're into a bit of foraging, make sure you know the flowers haven't been sprayed with any pesticides, and wash them thoroughly before use.

 

Chicken and Nasturtium Dumplings in Vegetable Broth

This comforting chicken and vegetable soup is a complete meal, one-pot cooking at its best and totally delicious.  Once you know the basic recipe you can substitutes the vegetables for whatever is in season or growing in your urban garden.  Although, avoid beetroot, as you will end up with a rather hilarious pink coloured soup (or maybe that's what your going for). 

Chicken and Nasturtium Dumplings in Vegetable Broth

Chicken and Nasturtium Dumplings in Vegetable Broth

2 litres Chicken Stock (0.52gal)
50g butter (1.76oz)
2 Carrots, diced
3 Celery Sticks, diced
1 Bunch of Radishes, diced
500 grams Chicken Mince (1.10lb)
1/3 cup Bread Crumbs
1 tbsp Milk
10 large Nasturtium leaves with stems, chopped 
1 Sprig of Tarragon, chopped 
1 cup Peas (fresh or frozen)
1-2 cups Cooked Brown Rice
2 handfuls of Spinach or Rocket Leaves
Sour Cream to Serve

In a large pot set the stock and butter to boil.  Meanwhile chop your vegetables.  When the stock comes up to boil put in the carrots, put on the lid and turn the heat down to a low boil/simmer.  In a large bowl stir together the chopped nasturtium and herbs, bread crumbs milk and season with pepper and salt.  Add chicken mice and mix until completely combined.  Add celery and radishes to the soup pot with the now half cooked carrots, lid on and adjust the heat to simmer.  Once the soup has been simmering for about 7 min carefully drop spoonfuls of the chicken mix into the simmering soup, lid back on and cook for another 5 min. Add peas, rice and when the soup comes back to a simmer add the spinach or rocket.  If a lot of liquid has evaporated add boiling water from the kettle to achieve your preferred consistency.  Add pepper and salt to taste.  The soup is ready to serve with a dollop of sour cream and some crusty bread or toast.

 

Blood Orange and Rocket Salad

Blood Orange and Rocket Salad

Blood Orange and Rocket Salad

1 Cos Lettuce
1 Handful of loose Rocket leaves (Arugula)
12 Large Sicilian Green Olives (pips left in)
2 Blood Oranges - Peeled and roughly cut
Extra virgin Olive Oil
Rocket flowers

Wash your cos lettuce well and tear the leaves into quarters.  Toss ingredients together in a large bowl, dress with Extra virgin Olive Oil, season with salt and pepper and then garnish with Rocket flowers.

 

Friends with Benefits (Companion planting)

The 3 workhorse plants in the theory of "Companion Planting" also happen to produce beautiful and delicious edible flowers. If you are a gardener who is serious about growing your own vegetables for the dinner table, then you need to know about Borage, Marigolds and Nasturtiums.

Borage has a beautiful blue/purple flower that attracts busy pollinators into your garden, and is best friends with Tomatoes, Strawberries and Zucchini.  Planted with almost all plants it helps to deter pest and adds trace minerals to improve general soil health.  But for Tomatoes it will promote growth, and Strawberries, improve their taste.  Plant from seed during spring right thru to late summer.  The flowers and stems are a great addition to your dinner table.  The flowers have a slight sweetness but otherwise they taste and smell of cucumber.  Hmmm... Gin and Tonic with an infusion of Borage flowers.... The flowers and leaves are high in anti-oxidants, vitamin C and are considered a mild anti-inflammatory.

Marigolds (Calendula) keep away pests

Marigolds (Calendula) keep away pests

Marigolds add a burst of sunshine and colour to your green space. They can be planted most of the year round (unless you have severe frost and snow), and are also terrific at improving general soil health and repelling insects (who hate their smell).  Tomatoes just love Marigolds, so be sure to keep a few around, but don't plant near beans or cabbage varieties.  In cooking, use the petals of the Marigolds, which are zesty and peppery, in salads or as garnishes.  Since Roman times, Marigold flowers have been used to treat infections and digestive problems.

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum) are my favourite. Mostly because I love all the ways they can be used in cooking, but also they are so much fun in the garden.  My kids have taken to picking and eating the flowers as they play in the garden, and love to help me collect the seeds.  Nasturtiums are also powerful pest deterrents and help your veggies to build up a tolerance to pests. They are great as companions to Radishes, Cucumber, Cabbage, Kale, Broccoli and Tomatoes.  Nasturtiums are another plant that has traditionally been used for it's health benefits and antiseptic properties.  I use the flowers and leaves, which have a peppery flavour, in salads and as garnishes, and also use the leaves like a herb to flavour dishes.

 

Your local scene...

With the prevalence of edible flowers being used in modern fine cuisine, there are constantly emerging commercial suppliers who are choosing to focus on the supply of fresh, carefully packaged flowers for wholesale to restaurants and specialty grocers.  You might like to check out what's happening and available near you.  This is a great way to try out some local and or exotic varieties before you choose what to plant in your own garden.

In Australia, our top chefs and artisans like Peter Gilmore have long been using edible flowers to blur the lines between food and art.  This trend, in various guises, has been adapted by most restaurants serving contemporary dishes as well as simple modern cafe fare.

A Salad of Pickled Rhubarb and Violet Flowers by Peter Gilmore

A Salad of Pickled Rhubarb and Violet Flowers by Peter Gilmore

But don't let the top chefs have all the fun... get planting, and then why not incorporate some edible flowers into your own cooking adventures? Add some colour, texture and excitement to your garden... and your next meal.

Lloyd Fenn (aka @lloydthefarmer)