It is surprising how many flowers growing in our gardens or on our balcony are actually edible; but how many do you actually eat?
Background to edible flowers
The Chinese were purportedly the first to experiment with flowers as far back as 3000 B.C, since then, the Romans and Greeks are known to have used pinks and carnations petals, and Eastern dishes are often found with orange blossom and pot marigold flowers.
Edible flowers are a delicacy either on their own or cooked with other ingredients. They bring texture, colour and flavour to dishes as well as being used for decorations on appetisers, starters, cakes and many other dishes.
Jekka's book 'Good Enough to Eat' was published back in 1997 before micro herbs and edible flowers were as common place as they are today, but is sadly now out of print. Even so, there is still some uncertainty concerning which flowers are edible, which ones to use and where. This blog will acquaint you with some edible flowers but if you would like to know more, we run Master Classes that will introduce you to some more unusual flowers and how to to use them.
For example, did you know the flower of Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora), smells as strong as the leaf and can add a punch of lemon to a dish? Try adding it to the top of a Lemon Tart. How about adding Primrose (Primula vulgaris) flowers to a salad whose flavour is like the scent, warm and sweet.
Jekka's top 10 edible herb flowers
It is always better to grow your own Edible Flowers as the majority are best served fresh and used almost immediately. Our Edible Flowers Seed Collection contains some of our favourites but below we list out a few more:
- Borage (Borago officinalis) flowers are delicate and blue with a sweet cucumber taste (as are the leaves). We particularly like the prostrate borage (Borago pygmaea) flowers as they hold their shape. Borage is synonymous with Pimms No. 1 but they also combine well with cream cheese, tomatoes and fruit, looking good in both salads and fools.
- Chive (Allium schoenoprasum) flowers have a mild onion flavour and are surprisingly crunchy. They are widely used tossed in salads, pasta, omelettes and scrambled eggs. Jekka's favourite is in bread sauce. Different varieties of Allium flowers are pink, white and purple making a colourful array.
- Coriander (Coriander sativum) flowers taste similar to leaf (spicy, earthy, orangeish) with an extra hint of sweetness and can be added to salads or as a garnish on carrot soup or a stir-fry.
- Dill (Anethum graveolens) flowers are tiny but can be eaten whole. The flowers have a milder flavour than dill seed but stronger than the leaf. They can be added to pickled gherkins, cucumbers or beetroots as well as making a beautiful floral vinegar.
Heartsease, Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor) flowers are edible and have a delicate nutty taste. They can be used as a garnish for desserts, in salads or frozen in ice cubes for your summer cocktails.
- Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) is an under-rated, under-used culinary herb who's blue flowers, as with the pink and white flowering varieties, are just as edible as the leaves. The small flowers pack a powerful punch and have a hot spicy and thyme-like flavour. They go well, for example, with chicken and french beans.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) flowers can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes from chicken to biscuits, for example. The flowers also make a good moth repellent, a relaxing bath oil and Queen Elizabeth I, when unable to sleep, was said to have partaken in Lavender tea as a mild sedative.
- Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) flowers have a peppery scent and strong peppery flavour. They add a spicy touch to salads and go well with tomatoes and cheese. They have been eaten by the Persians as far back as the fourth century B.C.
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare) flowers are wonderful added to tomato dishes, pizza and when making your own bread or can be added to butter for flavour. Even though the flowers of Majoram and Oregano are similar they each have a unique flavour. Sweet Majoram (Origanum marjorana) have tiny white flowers that have a warm spicy sweet flavour compared to Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare subsp. hirtum 'Greek') that pack quite a hot and spicy punch.
- Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) petals were used by the Romans as the poor man's saffron. It has a slight peppery taste and will add a light tangy flavour to bread and soups as well as scones.
This list could become quite extensive, some notable ones missing are Sweet Cicely, Anise Hyssop, Cornflower, Myrtle, Rosemary and Basil. You can try them at our Open Days or find out more on our Master Classes as well as by using the filter 'Edible Flowers' on Jekkapedia. However, if in doubt, please seek an expert's opinion to ensure the flowers are indeed edible.
Want to know more?
Herb plants are available and you can organise a collection from our herb farm in South Gloucestershire or at one of our Open Days or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar). Please see our 'Looking Good List' for availability and use our webform or email your list directly to us (firstname.lastname@example.org). We no longer offer a general mail order service for our plants but we do offer a limited selection of Jekka's Culinary Herb Boxes.
For advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out Jekka's How to Grow Herbs videos and ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring, summer and autumn & winter. Together they form the basis of Jekka’s guide on how to grow herbs.
We hope you will now start enjoying eating the flowers from your herbs.