Edible flowers make a great addition to salads, or you can crystalise them for cake decorations, float them in summer punches and cordials, or add them to cake mixes.
Using edible flowers in cakes and biscuits
To make crystalised flower petals for cake decorating, brush the dry flowers with egg white, underside first, and drench them with caster sugar on both sides. A cake cooling rack is ideal here because they need hours to dry. Opt for darker flowers, and allow them to become stiff and dry before you put them on cakes. Snip the stems off after the flowers have dried. It’s a great activity for young children and especially suitable for lemon-iced cakes in spring.
Petals which make wonderful cake decorations when crystalised include rose petals, pansies and petunias. Try this recipe for rose cake.
Some edible flowers are great added to cake and biscuit mixes, try this simple recipe for lavender biscuits.
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Using edible flowers in salads
Lots of colourful flowers can be added to green salads and they include apple blossom petals, blue chicory (Cichorium intybus), chive, blue annual cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), evening primrose (Oenothera), annual sunflower, fuchsia, pot marigold (Calendula), nasturtiums, calendulas (or pot marigolds) and French marigolds (tagetes).
The flavour is slightly peppery, with sweet undertones, and you can either break the flowers up and scatter, or use whole ones as a garnish. Allow a little time for flea beetles to escape from the flowers though!
Certain vegetables also provide edible flowers. Pea shoots and pea flowers can be incorporated into a salad, as can red runner bean flowers.
Using edible flowers in tempura
Cucurbits (courgettes, squashes, cucumbers and pumpkin) produce enormous yellow flowers and these can be deep-fried in batter as tempura. Use 100g cornflour, 150g plain flour, 10g baking powder and enough cold fizzy water to form a coating batter. The Italians have special varieties selected for their large flowers and Seeds of Italy sell a seed mix called Courgette Flowers designed to produce masses of flower all at once.
Try Theo Randall's recipe for deep-fried courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta and herbs
Using lavender to make flavoured sugar
You can add lavender flowers to sugar as a flavouring for biscuits etc. You can do this by pulverising the flowers for a more intense flavour, or mixing whole buds into the sugar and leaving in a jar to infuse while still retaining the decorative flower buds.
Try this recipe for lavender and lemon shortbread
Edible petals for drinks
Blue borage (Borago officinalis) is a classic addition to summer drinks - although the blue flowers may turn pink quite quickly. You can also add dianthus petals and one old variety, once used as a cheaper alternative to the expensive clove, is called ‘Sops in Wine’. Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) and wallflower petals could also be added.
Elderflowers make excellent cordial, try this classic recipe for elderflower cordial
How to grow edible annuals
Nasturtiums, calendulas and borage can be sown in May to flower eight weeks later. Prepare the ground and plant the nasturtiums, which have large caper-sized seeds, into the ground using a trowel. Plant them to a depth of one inch with one foot between plants. Trailing forms make an sunny looking edging for a vegetable plot.
Varieties vary from compact to trailing and Whirlybird Mix or Thompson & Morgan’s ‘Crimson Emperor’ are both excellent. Cabbage white butterflies may attack the leaves and you must also guard against sowing earlier than May - because frost-susceptible nasturtiums can be killed by the slightest frost.
Seeds of borage and calendula can be sprinkled straight on to prepared soil that has been watered. Cover lightly with garden soil. They should take ten days to germinate and you may want to cover the seeds with sticks or wire to prevent cats from scratching the soil. Borage will then self seed on its own - sometimes a little too enthusiastically.
Calendula petals can be incorporated into chocolate and carrot cake recipes, or put into ice cream just before serving.
Read Val Bourne's guide to growing annuals
Other edible flowers
Primroses (including cowslips and polyanthas)
For edible flower suppliers and more ideas The Edible Flower Shop sell collections of seeds that include recipe ideas
Thompson & Morgan have a section on their website that includes recipes - and also sell seeds etc. www.thompson-morgan.com/edible-flowers
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