Flowers have appealed to us since ancient times and we have a long tradition of enjoying eating them. Although a few add flavour, most are purely decorative. We can eat some whole or just sprinkle on a few petals. We can grow them in our garden or gather a few wild ones. Crops that run to seed in the heat of the summer might be over but are often a great source of flowers for the table – some in a vase and others on our plate.
Many edible flowers are annuals that we can grow easily from seed. They’ll often re-sow themselves year after year once established. Most herbs have pretty flowers you can eat that taste similar to their leaves. Matching flowers with the flavour of our food works well – mint flowers on peas and rosemary flowers with lamb are good choices. ‘Weeds’ such as clover, dandelion and fennel all have flowers that are good to eat as long as we avoid picking them from plants that might have been sprayed.
Flowers are best picked early in the day and eaten as fresh as possible. Sprinkle sparingly raw on a salad or, for a longer life, freeze individual flowers in ice cubes makes chilled summer drinks both pretty and refreshing. Make a floral ice-bowl by freezing petals in water between two nested bowls. It’s a great way to serve fresh fruit as a centrepiece and keep it cold.
It’s easy to forget that enjoying a meal is about much more than fueling our bodies. Making what we eat attractive is fundamental to it satisfying more than just our physical hunger. Whether eating alone or sharing a feast with family, flowers make any food more beautiful and more delicious as a result.
Fifteen favourite edible flowers
- Basil – a beautiful spire of white or mauve flowers.
- Borage – brilliant blue dainty flowers with a hint of cucumber.
- Calendula – scatter a few bright orange or yellow petals in a salad or on a saffron risotto.
- Chives – pretty purple or white blooms have a mild oniony taste.
- Clover – sweet pink or white flowers with a slight suggestion of liquorice.
- Coriander – quick to sprout lacy white flowers.
- Dandelion – bright but bitter blooms.
- Mint – some are stronger in flavour than others but all are definitely minty.
- Nasturtium – hot and peppery flowers and buds
- Radish – too late for the root? Enjoy a few pale peppery petals.
- Rocket – slightly nutty in taste, similar to the leaves, delicately veined.
- Rose – choose scented and unsprayed blooms with fragranced petals.
- Rosemary – pick a few tiny blue flowers to decorate a dish flavoured with the herb’s leaves.
- Sage – similar in flavour to the leaves. Crimson pineapple sage is my favourite flower to eat.
- Viola – these multi-coloured friendly faces are easy to grow and scatter on a salad whole.