Palatable petals for food & beverages
Flowers with a sweet flavour as well as those with a floral taste are unbeatable for flavouring fruity desserts, cake batter and cocktails. Use citrus- and mint-flavoured blooms in salsas, fish dishes and yoghurt sauces.
Flowers have been used for culinary purposes for centuries. The Romans were particularly partial to violets, the Dutch actually ate their tulips, and Oriental cuisine has long made use of daylilies. So what's our pick of the bunch?
Borage: The sky blue, star-shaped flowers of borage have a refreshing cucumber taste. Scatter them in fruit and green salads, or set in ice cubes for summer drinks. They are an ideal accompaniment to raita, a condiment in Indian cooking.
Calendula: The petals of Calendula officinalis were traditionally used as a substitute for saffron for colouring food. They add a golden hue to soups and rice dishes, and can be added to salads, omelettes and cheese dishes for their piquancy. Remove petals from flowerhead and snip off any white parts.
Chives: The lilac-pink flowers are somewhat crunchy and impart a mild onion flavour. They look great atop baked potatoes, in green salads, scrambled eggs and pasta dishes. Chive flower butter looks spectacular and can be served with just about anything.
Dandelion: Regarded today as weed, dandelion flowers were once commonly used to make dandelion wine and tea. The petals, which impart a sweet, bitter taste, can be added to salads.
Daylily: Both the petals and buds are edible, tasting a bit like snowpeas with a peppery aftertaste. Add to stir-fries, pasta dishes, green salads and soups. Daylilies open in hot water, so once picked, plunge them in hot water to open.
Dianthus: The petals add a sweet clover-like flavour to fruit salads, puddings and herb butters. Remove the petals and snip off the bitter white heel.
Elderflower: Has a musky scent and almost-vanilla flavour which lends itself to hot and cold drinks, including elderflower cordial and elderflower bubbly. The flowers combine well with many fruits, including strawberries, gooseberries, rhubarb and raspberries. Remove stalks – these can be bitter.
Hollyhock: The petals have a very light floral flavour. They look fabulous in green and fruit salads, and crystallised to decorate cakes and desserts. Remove the stigma from the centre of each flower and snip off the green parts.
Nasturtium: With a bold peppery flavour, nasturtiums go well with veges, omelettes and cream cheese. The bright colours make great accents in salads. Whole flowers can be stuffed with a savoury mousse, and the leaves can be eaten, too – both flowers and leaves are great in sandwiches.
Pansy: The whole flower is edible, which makes it a great adornment atop cakes and savoury dishes. They have a mild minty flavour, so work well with savoury or sweet dishes.
Rose: Rosewater, rose syrup, rose petal jam and rose sugar all have their origins from the petals of roses. They make beautiful crystallised flowers. All varieties are edible but the sweeter the scent, the sweeter the taste. Remove the white heel from the base of each petal.
Viola: Johnny-jump-up or heart’s ease ( Viola tricolor) has a faintly sweet taste and, like pansies, the whole flower can be eaten. Add to salads, or crystallise. Sweet violet ( Viola odorata) partners well with both sweet and savoury foods.
• Pick flowers in the cool of the day, after the dew has evaporated. Place long-stemmed flowers in a container of water and keep in a cool environment. Place short-stemmed flowers in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel, and store in the fridge. Use flowers within a few hours.
• Choose flowers that are newly opened. Flowers that are past their prime will have diminished flavour and fragrance.
• Before using, wash flowers gently in cold water and pat dry on absorbent paper.
• Remove petals from the flower just before using to prevent wilting.