A Taste of History
Flowers were first recorded as being used in culinary methods in 140 BC, many different cultures since then have incorporated flowers into traditional, everyday foods.
The Romans used violets and roses and historically flower petals were eaten mostly in salads or as garnishes. It was also common to dry the petals and include them in tea blends. Flowers were believed to be cleansing for the body and many varieties certainly have medicinal properties. Roses are rich in antioxidants that are said to prevent cardiovascular disease. Lavender calms the nervous system, it is said to prevent nausea and most edible flowers are generally high in Vitamins C or A.
In medieval times the monks used to make a sweet syrup with viola petals to preserve them.
What to Grow: Edible Flower Guide Chart
|Edible Flower*||Tastes Like…||Which parts are edible?||Best eaten with / in|
|Calendula||Peppery/citrus tang||Petals||Salads, stir-fries, coleslaw, biscuits, pasta dishes|
|Carnation||Peppery/clove-like||Petals||Salads, meat dishes, desserts e.g. cheesecakes|
|French Marigold*||Citrus||Petals & leaves||Salads, stir-fries, biscuits|
|Hollyhock||Mild marshmallow||Petals, leaves & roots||Garnish, salad dressings, fish dishes|
|Lavender***||Mild sweetness||Flowers||Biscuits, herbal tea, cakes, creme brulee, ice cream|
|Nasturtium||Peppery/watercress||Whole flower & leaves||Salads, stir-fries, curries, pasta dishes, meat dishes|
|Pansy||Lettuce||Whole Flower||Garnish, salads, sandwiches, cake decorations, fruit salads|
|Poppy**||Nutty||Seeds only||Bread, biscuits, cakes|
|Sunflower||Nutty||Buds, petals & seeds||Bread, biscuits, cakes. Unopened buds can be steamed like artichokes|
|Viola||Mild sweetness||WHole flower||Garnish, salads, sandwiches, cake decorations|
* Should only be eaten in moderation and DO NO EAT AFRICAN MARIGOLDS
** Only eat the seeds, THE REST OF THE FLOWER IS POISONOUS
*** Lavender is very strong, only a tablespoon is needed to add flavour
Note: If you have asthma or severe allergies take caution when eating edible flowers and try a small amount before adding to recipes.
Calendula flower petals make a tasty addition to summer salads and stir-fries.
Sow: March-May thinly direct into finely raked, moist, warm, weed free soil where the plants are to flower 13mm (½”) deep. As the seedlings develop, thin them out in stages to achieve a final spacing of 23-30cm (9-12”). For early flowering the following year, sow direct August/September where the plants are to flower.
Varieties of Calendula: Orange King, Pink Surprise, Fiesta Gitana, Lemon Zest.
Carnation petals have a slight peppery taste and are good with grilled meats, salads and stir fries.
Sow: Jan-Apr in a propagator on a windowsill or in a greenhouse, at approx. 15-20°C (60-68°F) using a good quality, moist compost. Cover the seeds with 3mm (⅛”) sieved compost. Transplant seedlings, spaced out 5cm (2”) in trays and grow on in a good light. Acclimatise plants and pinch out growing tip before planting out 30-40cm (12-16”) apart in a sunny position. Use bushy twigs to support plants if necessary.
Variety: Chabaud Giant Mix.
French Marigold flower petals make a tasty addition to summer salads and have a citrus type flavour.
Sow: February-May thinly in pots or trays on a windowsill or in a greenhouse at approximately 15-20°C (60-68°F) in a good quality, finely sieved, moist compost, 6mm (¼”) deep. Transplant seedlings spacing them 5cm (2”) apart in trays and grow on. Acclimatise the plants to outside
conditions and plant 15-23cm (6-9”) apart in a sunny site. Alternatively, sow thinly direct outside into finely raked, moist soil where the plants are to flower.
Varieties of French Marigold: Boy-O-Boy Mix, Jolly Japes, Fantasia Mix, Mowgli Orange.
Hollyhocks are completely edible—root, leaves and blossoms.
Sow: April-June in a propagator on a windowsill or in a greenhouse at approximately 15-21°C (60-70°F)
using a good quality, moist compost. Cover the seeds lightly with sieved compost. Transplant seedlings, spaced out into trays and grow on. Acclimatise plants gradually before planting out 38-45cm (15-18”) apart in a sunny position. Alternatively, sow direct outside May/June.
Varieties of Hollyhock: Chater’s Mix, Black Knight, Showgirls.
Lavender has a bitter taste so in cooking a little goes a long way. It can be used in stews, sauces, in cakes, and in ice- cream/sorbet.
Sow: January-June in a propagator on a windowsill or in a greenhouse at 15°C (60°F) for flowering in the first year. Alternatively, sow in a well-raked seedbed outdoors April-June 3mm (⅛”) deep and cover lightly. Transplant to a site in full sun or partial shade in autumn to begin flowering the following year spacing the plants 41cm (16”) apart.
Variety: Multifida Blue Wonder.
Nasturtium flowers have a peppery taste and are great when added to salads, stir fries, and curries.
Sow: March-June thinly direct into finely raked, moist, warm, weed free soil where the plants are to flower 13mm (½”) deep. As the seedlings develop, thin to achieve a final spacing of 25cm (10”). Alternatively, for hanging baskets and
containers sow on a windowsill or in a greenhouse at approximately 13-18°C (55-65°F) 3 or 4 seeds to a 7.5cm (3”) pot. Plant after acclimatisation to outside conditions.
Varieties of Nasturtium: Castanets, Jewel Mix, Whirlybird Mix, Dayglow Mix.
Pansy petals have a mild, sweet flavour, great for adding to desserts such as crème brulee and fruit salads.
Sow: February-April in pots or trays in good quality, sieved compost, 6mm (¼”) deep and stand in a cool greenhouse. As the seedlings develop, transplant 5cm (2”) apart in trays and grow on in a cool, shady place. Plant into flowering positions 10-15cm (4-6”) apart. Spring sowings are planted mid May-mid June and summer sowings (June-July) in September/October to flower the following spring.
Variety: F1 Amber Kiss.
Sprinkle Poppy seeds on bread and cakes.
Sow: March-May direct into finely raked, moist, warm soil where the plants are to flower at a depth of 6mm (¼”) raking in lightly. Thin out seedlings if necessary to a final spacing of 23cm (9”) apart, removing any competing weeds. Can also be sown in September for flowering the following year.
Varieties of Poppy: Mother of Pearl, Love Affair, Shirley Mix, Oriental Poppy Pizzicato Mix.
Sunflower seeds (good for sprinkling on bread) and petals are both edible. Steaming the petals before adding to summer salads will lessen the bitterness.
Sow: March-June thinly direct into finely raked, moist, warm, weed free soil where the plants are to flower, 13mm (½”) deep. As the seedlings grow, thin in stages to achieve a final spacing of 30-45cm (12-18”). Support the plants as they develop. For early blooms sow indoors in April, carefully acclimatise plants to the outside conditions and plant out mid-late May.
Varieties of Sunflower: Giant Yellow, Aslan, Ruby Sunset, Waooh!
Violas are often used as cake decoration, both the flowers and leaves are edible and can add a sweetness to fruit salads and desserts.
Sow: February-April thinly in pots on a windowsill or in a greenhouse at approximately 10-15°C (50-60°F), 3mm (⅛”) deep, in a good quality, finely sieved, firmed, moist compost. Transplant seedlings, spacing 5cm (2”) apart in trays and grow on. Plant into tubs or baskets in May, after carefully acclimatising to outside conditions, 15cm (6”) apart in the container, preferably around the edges. Alternatively, plant outside 23cm (9”) apart as a ground cover edging. Sow June-July for flowering next year.
Varieties of Viola: Midnight Runner, Fancy Shades Mix.
We’ll shortly be adding four, really great recipes using edible flowers so keep an eye out in the recipes section