Because of the almost forgotten, ancient way of growing food and flowers as part of a cottage kitchen garden, a lot of what we grow is not known to be edible and wasted – left to die-off or simple thrown away (hopefully at least on a compost heap!).
Last year I discovered how wonderful it was to pop out in my garden on a hot day, pick some Courgette and Squash flowers, dip them in a light tempura batter to deep fry for a few minutes…. such a delicate, self indulgent and delicious treat. To get the best of flowers and fruit pick only male flowers leaving some behind to help the bees pollinate the female flowers which will form the courgettes. Ideally pick flower before they are fully open and just before you intend to cook and eat, removing the central parts. Gluten-free flour and or polenta (corn) flour and fizzy soda water makes excellent crispy tempura batter but you can substitute beer or sparkling wine for the water and stuff them with a little cheese (feta or goat cheese are lovely).
The seeds from most kinds of garden variety squashes can also be cleaned and roasted in a low (slow) oven for approximately 30 minutes plus the leaves and sprouts cooked Thai style in coconut milk are very good.
Day Lillies (not Tiger or other commercially grown lillies which can be toxic!!) are slightly sweeter than squash flowers and can be used in desserts, but also for stuffing and frying. Every part of the daylily plant is edible (a popular staple in Asian cuisine). You can pluck the young shoots, boil the tubers like potatoes, or brighten up salads with the bright orange petals. The flower bud is usually the favourite part and a cross between asparagus and green peas – lovely ‘sauteed in a little garlic and butter, or dipped a light batter, deep-fried and sprinkled with a pinch of salt’.
A lovely discovery for me were the cultivated Violas and Pansies I have growing in every pot & window box in my garden. Like their original wildflower version Heartsease, they have a sweet fragrant flavour, and winter pansies produce flowers all through the winter months -the more flowers you pick the more they produce. What I hadn’t realised was that the leaves are also edible if steamed or boiled.
I often pop a few flowers from the Herb garden into soups and salads and enjoy delicious Rose-infused teas using the petals or rose-hips but this year I plan to include more of the flowers as part of my food harvest.
We are so lucky to have such an abundance of delicious foods and flavours growing in our gardens and most of us don’t even realise it.
(video below thanks to Maddocks Farm Organics where you can take courses on edible flowers and commission special occasion cakes with edible flowers)
Most herb flowers from the garden can be used in the kitchen but do make sure all flowers and leaves are washed well to remove all traces of soil and visible dirt, and take care to avoid wild areas prone to pollution or which may have sprayed with chemicals.
Basil – are milder than the leaves – add to salads and pasta
Borage – a cucumber flavour suitable for cold soups, sorbets and cold drinks (Pimms, gin & tonic, and iced teas)
Chive – mild onion flavour good in salads, eggs and soups
Carnations and dianthus – really delicious spicy flavour to use in desserts or salads
Cornflowers – slightly sweet, clove-like flavour
Dandelion – yellow parts of the blossom have sweet, honey-flavour (the green is bitter). They make a fine wine and the blossom can be added to salads (or pancakes)
Dill –stronger than the leaves – great for seafood and dressings
Fennel – mild aniseed flavour for deserts and garnish
Lavender – garnish and in savoury or sweet dishes
Marigolds – English or Pot (not French or African!) – sprinkle colourful petals through salads with a zesty lemon flavour
Marjoram – milder than leaves, use as leaves.
Mint – marinades & dressings (use sparingly)
Nasturtium – leaves and flowers have a peppery taste – flowers can be used whole and the seedheads can be picked and pickled to use like capers.
Onion – a stronger flavour than the leaves – add to egg dishes and soups
Oregano – milder than leaves, use as leaves
Rocket –flowers have similar taste to leaves.
Rose –have a fruity, rose flavour which varies by type and colour but all roses are edible. Garnish desserts and salads and use in syrups and jellies. Use rose-hips to make rose-hip tea and vinegar. Rose-leaves are high in tannins but lack flavour so combine with mint or lemon balm to make tea.
Rosemary – milder than leaves, use as leaves
Sage – milder than leaves – salads, bean and vegetable dishes
Thyme – milder than leaves – salads, rice and pasta dishes
Use fragrant roses but none bought from shops or florists, or from a garden that might have been sprayed with chemicals.
Rose Hip Vinegar Recipe
Vitamin rich (2000 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams of uncooked fruit) – tasty in sweet and sour sauces, marinades, and salad dressings and especially good for sweetish ingredients such as apple and cabbage slaw.
Add 2 cups of cider vinegar for every cup of smashed rose hips into a clean glass jar.> Cover and leave to infuse for 1 month away from direct heat and light
Strain the vinegar through a paper coffee filter or clean muslin cloth to get out the seeds and little hairs
Transfer your rose hip vinegar to a clean bottle, cap or cork, and store in a cool dark place for up to 6 months.
Mince some fresh, fragrant rose petals and stir them into a good local honey, using about 2 parts honey to 1 part rose petals.
The honey will preserve the rose
Use like jam.
Note: As with all things edible exercise caution when eating herbs if pregnant – in small culinary amounts most herbs are safe.
Blog post written by Maggi Martin & thanks to Maddocks Farm for inspiration