Edible Flowers

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe
Authors and holistic/slow gardeners in Spain

When we did our regular REM gardening radio programme last week we had a discussion on the number of flowers that are edible and healthy in various ways. It reminded us of just how many we eat raw or cooked or as the basis of infusions from our own garden at various times of the year. We therefore share our ideas with a wider audience in this article.

Before doing likewise do ensure that they have not been sprayed with chemical insecticides, fungicides or foliar fertilizers or fouled by cats or dogs. The number of possible edible flowers make a good reason for making your garden chemical free if not already so. Our books include natural alternatives.

Flowers for inclusion in salads.

The obvious ones are fresh young broccoli and cauliflower and also those from nasturtium plants. The seed buds of the latter also being added as substitutes for capers that we have failed to grow in our part of Spain. If you are lucky enough to have a caper plant then use the real thing. When rocket starts to flower we cut off the flowering tips for inclusion in salads which slows down their going to seed. From the herb garden the flowers of pineapple sage, chives, garlic, thyme, basil and rosemary add flavour and colour. When we visited Cuba for an informal study tour of organic gardening practices some Christmases ago we were entertained to a salad of hibiscus flowers at the end of an edifying tour of the botanical gardens outside Havana. They now grace many of our summer and autumn mixed salads as have rose petals. Viola flowers are also popular in Spain and are often seen sealed in plastic containers in top class greengrocers. Many are grown organically in Aragon.

Flowers for cooking.

Naturally broccoli, Romanesque and cauliflowers are favourite winter possibilities. Come the spring globe artichokes which are in fact flower buds become available and continue through to early summer. Sunflower buds can also be steamed like globe artichokes. Courgettes, pumpkins and squashes produce many flowers only the female flowers producing fruit so why not pick and add the male flowers and stuff them with a spicy meat or fish filling before steaming or baking for a delicate dish.

The flowers and seeds of many herbs such as anise, oregano, coriander, dill and fennel are useful flavourings. In some households marigold flowers are used to flavour and colour soups and rice dishes no doubt from the days when many could not obtain or afford saffron.

And don’t forget that the invaluable and expensive Spanish flavouring saffron is the dried stamens of autumn crocus flowers.

Flowers for infusions

Popular infusions include the tips of lemon verbena including the leaves and flowers, spent passion flowers, rosemary flowers and leaves, mint flowers and leaves, hibiscus flowers – a refreshing summer drink, and of course jasmine the basis of jasmine flavoured teas.

Flavourings for Kombucha

The several thousand year old Asian health drink is now becoming popular in Europe, including in our household, as it is easy to prepare and very much less expensive than buying in bottles from health stores. The basic green tea recipe can be enhanced by the addition of elderflowers to give it a champagne like effect.

Festive uses for flowers.

Rosemary and lavender flowers soaked in brandy make an excellent filling for seeded grapes before covering them with chocolate to produce homemade after dinner chocolates. The flowers fresh or sugared can also be used to decorate the tops.

Thinking of sugared flowers remember the sugared violet flowers that used to be used for cake decorations. Well violets do grow in sheltered semi shaded spots of Spanish gardens. Pansies, viola and citrus flowers can also be candied.

Remembering the rose water produced in vast quantities in Morocco we recently made some subtly rose flavoured ice cream If you live inland or northerly climes you may be lucky enough to live near an elderberry tree or even have one in the garden. How about making home made elderberry flower champagne, a favourite activity of Clodagh before coming to Spain.

When we recently visited Cazalla de la Sierra inland from Sevilla we were reminded that the local Cartesian monasteries used to make a local version of Chartreuse using carnation flowers.

No doubt there are others that we don’t as yet use or have forgotten.

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe November 2007.