It's that time of year again when we put ourselves through the rigours of digging over the beds and potting out – but this year do something different and add a little flavour to your borders with a sprinkling of elegant edible flowers.
That's right. Edible flowers. The concept is not new. Flower cookery has been traced back to Roman times and was especially popular in the Victorian era. Today, many restaurant chefs and innovative home cooks garnish their entrees with flower blossoms for a touch of elegance.
But one very important thing that you need to remember is that not every flower is edible. In fact, sampling some flowers can make you very, very sick. You also should never use pesticides or other chemicals on any part of any plant that produces blossoms you plan to eat.
So, that's the first thing to look for when purchasing flower seeds. Make sure the listing in the seed catalogue identifies the variety as an edible flower. One edible flower variety that everyone is familiar with is the sunflower. Choose a mammoth or giant variety. You can harvest the seeds after the petals drop, cure them, then eat them raw or oven-roasted.
Here are some other possibilities for edible flowers:
Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor) pictured left–This tender perennial has tiny, pansy-like flowers in deep purple, mauve, yellow and white. Blossoms have a mild wintergreen flavor and can be used in salads, to decorate cakes, or served with soft cheese. This plant will do well in sun or shade and grows to a height of six to eight inches.
Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) pictured right–This low-growing annual, originally from Peru, became popular during the reign of Louis XIV, who grew them in the palace flower beds. Blossoms taste like watercress with a slightly sweet flavour. You have several edible varieties to choose from, most of which grow best in full sun or light shade.
Marigolds (Tagetes signata) pictured left–Select lemon or tangerine varieties. Blossoms have a citrus taste and can be used to perk up vegetables, pasta, and salads. Marigolds are easy to grow and like full sun.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) pictured right–This attractive perennial bears deep lilac-coloured flower spikes that bloom profusely for several months. The blossoms make attractive plate garnishes and are often used in Chinese-style dishes. The leaves can be used for a naturally sweet tea or sugar to make candies. Both flowers and leaves have a delicate anise or liquorice flavour. Some people say the flavour reminds them of root beer.
Borage (Borago officinalis) pictured left–This annual ornamental plant produces clusters of one-half inch sky- blue flowers, which bees find particularly attractive. Borage blossoms have a light cucumber taste and can be added to salads, fruit cups, or frozen in ice cubes for cold drinks. Plants grow two to three feet tall.
Chive (Allium schoenoprasum) pictured right–This herb has attractive lavender-pink blossoms that make a delicious addition to salads, egg dishes, and potatoes. Both blossoms and the slender dark green leaves (or "stems") have a subtle onion flavour. This perennial plant likes full sun and can grow to one foot.
Two vegetables with edible blossoms are runner beans and zucchini. Or sample the tiny flowers of arugula, oregano, dill, garlic chives, thyme, or savoury. Just remember: not all flowers are edible. Check the seed catalogue or the seed packet to make sure the flower variety is safe to eat, before you indulge!
By Dr. Leonard Perry
Last modified: March 27, 2015