Hans Christian Andersen said ‘Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower’.
Growing up in the countryside of North Wales I was lucky enough to encounter edible flowers at an early age; family walks were a daily occurrence and when running through the woods we would regularly scan the hedgerows for our favourite wood sorrel. We called it ‘bread and cheese’ though the taste is in fact, very zesty.
Fast forward a few years and I am still referring to it as bread and cheese (much to Andi’s amusement) and now we use sorrel not only to enhance the presentation of our dishes, but also to add extra layers of subtle flavour.
Growing flowers, not only for their beauty but for their edible properties, is hugely satisfying. Wherever you grow them - in your window box or allotment, vegetable patch or balcony - your blooms can add spice, colour and taste to your plate.
Here are our top 5 edible flowers:
Calendula or Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Traditionally, calendula has been used for centuries to treat burns and rashes due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Not only will the brilliant orange and yellow flowers cheer you and your garden up, they will also add a beautiful pop of colour when sprinkled on salads or used to replace saffron to colour dishes.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
These are a great place to start if you are a gardening novice (like me) as they are really easy to grow. Be careful with these beauties - if the flowers aren’t picked they will self-seed and spread themselves everywhere! Nasturtiums have a lovely delicate peppery taste similar to watercress. Our favourite way to use them is to top off our signature canape: beef carpaccio and horseradish crème fraiche. As well as being delicious, nasturtiums also have health benefits as the leaves are high in vitamin C and have strong anti-bacterial properties.
Violet or Pansy (Viola)
I must admit to having a small obsession with these pretty little flowers. Their heart-shaped leaves and characteristic irregular flowers are a familiar sight for most of us. Pansy flowers come in a huge variety of colours and they are mild and fresh. Basically, their delicate and perfumed flavour can be used in anything! A great addition to salads and desserts, they can also be candied and frozen in ice cubes to use in cocktails - the sky really is the limit!
I’m pretty sure you fellow 80s children out there made rose water at some point growing up, so you may be surprised to find that there are actually many other uses than home-made, back-garden eau de rose!
The best flavoured rose petals come from rugosa roses, which have large single flowers. The rose petals can be used to flavour syrups, teas, sauces, jams and preserves...the possibilities are endless. We love to crystalize the delicate petals to dress desserts and canapes on our wedding menus.
This may be a slightly controversial choice for an edible flower as many of us associate lavender with restful sleep and scented pillows. But guess what - we’re bringing it back to the plate.
Though the pretty blue/purple flowers add lovely colour and scent to the garden, when eaten, they are best used in sweet concoctions such as jams, jellies, ice creams and baking. The flowers can also be crystallised (you may have noticed that we really like crystalizing things).
Lavender flowers are also a big hit with bees. Easily grown, it thrives even in poor, dry soils - which is good to know because we all forget to water our plants right?
Simply put, growing flowers in your garden will not only add colour to your life but also a new way of adding flavour, fragrance and taste into your cooking.