By Helen Billiald
EDIBLE FLOWERS ARE NOTHING NEW. Think of artichokes, stuffed courgette flowers and elderflower cordial. They can be sweet or savoury, used as flavourings, food or delicious decorative garnishes. The main limitation seems to be our own timidity. We’re perfectly at home with broccoli and cauliflower, but we don’t tend to venture much further. So why not get creative and add a little flower power to your kitchen?
Before you start plundering your borders, a couple of warnings. If you suffer from allergies or hay fever you need to be careful since eating pollen can be a trigger. Like any food you need to know what you’re dealing with and unless you’re sure about a plant’s identity, it’s best to leave it alone – some flowers are poisonous. If you use sprays in your garden make sure the flowers are free from chemicals and avoiding picking any from alongside busy roads.
You may be familiar with eating globe artichokes but have you tried courgette or daylily flowers? Both can hold their own as a vegetable. Daylily buds are delicious stir-fried, while the male courgette flowers (those without the immature courgette behind them) can be stuffed with ricotta and herbs. Dip them in a light batter and deep fry for a crispy treat.
Vinegars, dressings, oils and marinades can all benefit from a well-placed flower or petal too. The sweet scent of lavender transforms shortbread using only the tiniest of amounts; it can even be used to perfume icecream. Elderflower and gooseberry icecream was my father’s major kitchen success and since I’m far too superstitious to cut the dozens of elder trees in this garden for firewood, I’m thinking of bringing this childhood recipe back into use!
Rose petals are another great perfume provider. They’re perfect for delicious rose petal jam. Flowers that I use more regularly include chives (see the salad dressing recipe right) as well as rocket petals and coriander flowers. By putting them to good use, you might feel less irritated when plants rush to flower!
I’ve heard flowers described as lazy garnishes, and if that means electric-blue borage flower ice cubes (remove the thorny backs to each flower first) or primroses floating in a champagne jelly, I say bring it on! Why deprive yourself of such a fresh and bountiful garden resource?
Further talking-point decorations include dashing red pineapple-sage flowers (Salvia elegans) with their citrus-mint flavour. And what could be smarter than a cake topped with a drift of crystallised rose petals? Yum!