The Peterborough and District Master Gardeners will be assisting with the planning, and supervising the installation of, an edible garden at the St. Joseph’s at Fleming. As well as fruits and vegetables, I’d like you to think about flowers as edibles.
The Romans used edible flowers in their oils, sauces, soups, and salads, and flowers have been an important part of cooking around the world ever since. They can be candied, flavour and colour sugars, vinegars, decorate cakes and cookies, and steeped in teas.
There are a few important things that should be considered first before launching into the use of florals. DO be sure that the flowers that are being used are edible! If there is a question, check with a reliable source. DO know where the flowers came from. Florists and garden shops have used preservatives and pesticide sprays in order to keep the flowers attractive longer, so steer away from them. The best source of edible flowers, is your own backyard, or anywhere where you know the plants are truly organically grown. Harvest the flowers in the morning, just after the dew has dried, but before they start to fade from the mid-day heat.
Here are a few flowers to try. Roses, harvest just as the flowers have opened fully. Remove all the leaves and stems, separate petals and remove any white portion from the base of the petal, as that tends to be bitter. Generally, the more fragrant the rose, the more flavourful it is. Any rose is edible, made into flavoured waters to add to cakes, and added to fruit salads. The hips, a great source of vitamin C, may be eaten raw, or processed into jelly.
Nasturtiums make colourful additives to any culinary effort. Like watercress, they add a peppery taste. The darker the flower the stronger the flavour. Young leaves are edible too, as well as taste good in a salad. Stuffing the flowers with an herbal crab or cream cheese mixture makes a tasty and lovely presentation set out on a plate which has been dressed with larger nasturtium leaves.
Calendula, or Pot Marigolds, are happy colourful annuals, coming in a variety of shades of yellow, orange, and mahogany. Used to decorate the top of cooked goods (let cool slightly before adding), crushed and added to rice (the rice takes on a yellow colour, resembling saffron) but without the taste. Use the petals sprinkled around on the foods, as opposed to the whole flower, when decorating the cakes, fruit salads, or puddings.
Squash flower buds, and the flowers themselves are frequently used. The buds can be coated with an egg mixture and deep-fried. Flowers are stuffed with an assortment of mixtures as hors d’oeuvres.
Day lilies, annual cornflowers, and all edible herb flowers (thyme, chives, basil, sage, and dill) are useable. The herbs impart their colour as well as taste to vinegars, and oils, too.
Tuberous begonias are stunning used to decorate cheesecakes, fish dishes and salads. The petals have a citrus taste. Remove the centres of the flowers – stamens and pistils- to reduce the chances of an allergic reaction.
Try small amounts of whichever flower you plan to use, then increase according to taste and eye. Have fun.