No kitchen garden or allotment plot should be without flowers. They look good, aid pollination, increase biodiversity – and can also be good to eat.
While we might think eating flowers is a new craze, we’ve been noshing on the petals of violets, roses and lavender for thousands of years. Indeed, many edible flowers have powerful nutritional properties too.
Pick flowers in the morning, before the sun’s rays dry them out, and pop them in the fridge to keep fresh. The petals are the best bits – stems, stamens and all the other stringy bits can often taste bitter. The exceptions to this are nasturtiums and pansies, which can be eaten whole.
A word of advice, however. Just because you can chuck a handful of pretty petals into your salads or cake mixture doesn’t mean you should. Many flowers – hollyhocks, forget-me-nots, fuchsia, and gladiolus – are all edible, but not all of them taste good!
Here are some UK flower flavours I enjoy.
These beautiful cobalt blue flowers have a faint taste of cucumber and are perfect for freezing into ice cubes for summer cocktails or sorbets.
The leaves, flowers and stems are all edible – with a peppery, watercress tang. Even the seed heads can be pickled like capers. The brightly coloured flowers look wonderful dropped into a green salad or stuffed with cream cheese. The flowers can come in peach, burgundy, zesty lemon and marbled shades too.
Also known as pot marigold, these tangerine petals can be used to colour and flavour butter and cheeses - rather like saffron. You can also dry them to bring a splash of summer to soups and stews in winter.
Spicy, almost clove-like in flavour. These petals are great as confetti in pasta or salads, especially if you grow lots of different colours.
With a mild, lettuce flavour, these flowers are beautiful crystallised and used to decorate cakes and biscuits. Simply brush the flower head with egg white, sprinkle on the caster sugar and leave to dry, face down, on greaseproof paper for 24 hours.
If you can bear to part with your future bean harvest, then the flowers of all beans are well worth eating. They taste like a milder version of the vegetable.
Brilliant stuffed with cheese or deep-fried, squash flowers have a surprisingly sweet flavour.
These fragrant flowers are best used to infuse rather than be eaten whole. Add them to a pot of sugar and use it to flavour cakes and desserts.
N.B Always properly ID flowers before eating them: if in doubt, don’t eat it! Many flowers such as daffodil, poppy, foxglove, clematis, larkspur and hydrangea are very poisonous. If you suffer from hay fever or allergies, edible flowers should be avoided. Always add them to your diet gradually.