by June Cynthia, 4th June 2021
Edible flowers not only impress dinner party guests, but are great fun and easy to grow
Inviting family and friends to a happy, delicious meal is something we can, at last, enjoy and it’s hopefully warm enough to eat on the patio or picnic in the park.
They say that attraction is in the eye of the beholder, so what better way of proving this than to put before your guests a meal that not only tastes good, but looks absolutely amazing. How? By introducing colourful, edible flowers to our food and indeed into our cocktails.
A combination of a decorated, pre-lunch cocktail and the scent of surrounding beautiful flowers is as good a reason to become intoxicated as I know. Mind you, I could become intoxicated by merely sniffing a cocktail, so I’ll stick to a mocktail and the heady scent of the roses. And I'd recommend any designated drivers do the same.
The giving of food has long since been a tradition of displaying warmth, friendship, love and generosity to our family and friends. So show that love by serving colourful, healthy food that you've lovingly prepared yourself. It encourages interesting conversations, too, on the use these flowers have in food preparation and - in many cases - ancient medical remedies.
Listed below are a few examples of herbs and flowers which I’m sure will delight your guests, will brighten any meal or cocktail, and more importantly could possibly earn you the title of the host who provided the most colourful, delicious meal of the month!
An attractive golden colour to enhance any salad, nasturtiums are deliciously peppery and similar in taste to watercress. These days chefs everywhere seem to like to stuff the flower with a savoury mousse. Nothing seems to go to waste as, surprisingly, they even pickle the seed pods to use as an inexpensive alternative to capers. It’s thought by many that the nasturtium is one of the most commonly used plants in the catering industry. The entire flower is used to garnish salads, cheese dishes, pasta, rice and open sandwiches, adding flavour and colour. A must for the garden.
This little beauty is never hard to find in a garden. Children love to plant them as they're so easy to grow and very obliging with their seeds for next year. Again they look absolutely lovely and will not only add a decorative peppery taste to your salad but will add flavour to your soups. The petals, which are the only edible part of the flower, are also cleverly used as a substitute for saffron for tinting the colour of soups and desserts. As well as eating, there are other uses. If you mix calendula with aloe vera, it can help soothe mild sunburn. And when the dried flowers are infused in water, it makes a wonderfully refreshing facial toner. If that's not enough, another plus for this bright-eyed little gem is that it contains a natural antiseptic plus anti-inflammatory properties to help clear skin abrasions.
A truly wonderful herb to grow with vivid, almost electric blue flowers which are a honey bee’s magnet. They love them, especially as blue flowers are known by the bees to produce more nectar. These exquisite flowers are not only used to decorate cakes and puddings, people freeze them into ice cubes when presenting guests with a delicious cocktail. As for the culinary uses of the borage plant itself, it’s said that it'll spice up your curries and can be used as a vegetable.
Most roses can be used to make a plethora of goodies in the kitchen. Be it a refreshing but delicate rose tea, jellies or even to make a wonderful rose butter. Sounds almost romantic, and goes with the rose petals which are lovingly scattered over the bed linen in the bridal suite. Candied rose petals are also used to decorate the wedding cake, to say nothing of the use of these petals for wedding confetti. So 'now' and so organic!
Back to the kitchen, before I make you all starry eyed. If you really have a sweet tooth, then you could wash and dry rose petals, place them into an airtight jar with some sugar to infuse, and use as a sweetener for your rose tea. Better still, if you love ice cream, try making a rose syrup which doubles as a strawberry coulis. Delicious! And finally, for those of you who want to throw the weighing scales out of the window for the weekend, you might like to try rose petal panna cotta infused with rose syrup for an unforgettably indulgent rose-flavoured experience. Heaven.
Me, I’m a rose-flavoured Turkish Delight kind of gal and I’ve taken my bathroom scales to the charity shop!
Other edible flowers:
Pansies, violets, primroses, lavender, hibiscus, cornflower, honeysuckle, magnolia, scented geraniums, cape jasmine, sunflowers, pinks, fuchsia, camelia, lilac and forget me not.
An example of some extremely dangerous and poisonous plants which should NEVER be eaten include aconite, lily-of-the-valley, larkspur, bluebell, clematis, hydrangea, oleander, daffodil, crocus, poppy, foxglove and rhododendron.
Please, remember to use organic, pesticide-free edible flowers, preferably from your own garden so that you know their history.
Never collect flowers from the roadside, because of pollution.
Always remember to wash all flowers before use and remember that not all parts of plants are edible. If in any doubt please seek professional advice before consuming, particularly if you suffer from pollen-related allergies, are with child or are taking medications. The purchase of a herb and edible plant book is recommended.
June Cynthia is a Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medallist and award-winning florist and gardening expert