Edible Flowers - Pretty Tasty!
If you feel like growing flowers, why not try growing some of the edible flowers? Chances are, you will already have some growing in the garden already, and just not realised that they are edible!
One of the big benefits of growing edible flowers is that we know they are safe for little children, especially toddlers - and they love the bright colours and pretty shapes of the flowers too. Nasturtiums are a good example of safe flowers to grow with toddlers, as they are completely edible. The seeds (nice and large for little fingers) are used as a pepper subsitute, while the leaves and flowers can be added to salads.
One thing though before you go raiding your flower garden for edibles - make sure you are VERY familiar with the poisonous flowers and if in doubt, don't eat.
Warning: people with allergies such as asthma or hayfever are better off avoiding eating edible flowers as it can set off a reaction.
Edible flowers were traditionally used as subtle flavourings for foods, are still used in many mediteranian and eastern dishes and gaining popularity in top restaurants around the country, so by adding a few petals to our salads or decorating fruit tarts with flowers, we are in good company :)
Some Common Edible Flowers
Here are some of the common edible flowers either found in our gardens or easy for us to grow together with our children:
Nasturtium: one of the most popular edible flowers both for humans (and caterpillars as we found out last year!). Leaves and petals have a distinct peppery taste and are a great asset to any salad. Leaves are best picked and eaten when still quite small and young. Try growing them together with your herbs in a windowbox or trailing from a hanging basket.
Daisies: the petals are edible and look lovely scattered over a salad. Perfect for a wonderful flower soup for your toddler to make too!
Roses: the petals are edible, though the white base of the petal tends to be bitter, so is best removed. Rose petals are really lovely when iced and used as decoration on top of birthday cakes or summer flans. The more aromatic red rose petals are also the tastier ones to savour.
Pot Marigold: this beautiful bright orange flower has been used for centuries to colour soups and brothes, and was believed to 'gladen the heart'. Use the petals to add to soups and stews or even rice for a lovely subtle flavour and a delightful colour! However, make sure you only use POT Marigolds - the French Marigolds are not edible.
Sunflower: we all knew that the seeds were edible and delicious, but the buds are also edible, as are the petals which have a interesting taste somewhere between bitter and sweet.
Dandelion: this so-called weed is actually a very nutritious and highly useful plant, as the leaves, roots, flowers and buds are all edible. The leaves can be used in salads or brewed into a tea, the flowers and petals used for garnish and in salads. Pick as fresh and young as possible, as they taste more bitter with age.
Violas and Pansies: the flowers and petals are pretty when sprinkled on top of salads - or even as decoration on top of fairy cakes.
Clover: this grows wild in many fields and gardens. As children we used to look for clover in the fields and try sucking the sweet nectar out of the trumpets. However, the whole flower is actually edible and a high source of protein - though better digested when boiled lightly for 5 - 10 minutes. If you keep rabbits or guinea pigs, they will love clover too - ours do!
Lavender: really a herb so not dreadfully surprising that the flowers are edible as well as the leaves, but worth mentioning. The flowers can be used in a similar way to the leaves (needles) and are especially recommended for adding to lamb before cooking. But another great thing about lavender is that insects and slugs don't like the scent, so adding either a stem or a few flowers to a barbeque or spreading around the picnic area can help to keep annoying gnats at bay!
Edible Flowers from Vegetables
Many vegetable flowers are also edible. The flowers from courgettes are considered a delicatie in many kitchens, and flowers from runner beans and peas are equally used in dishes and for decoration - they all taste vaguely like the vegetable from which they stem!
They need to be picked when in at the height of flowering and preferably first thing in the morning just as the dew has passed and the flower opened fully.
Radish if left instead of being picked for salads will also flower, and the flowers are similar in taste to the radish, but much milder. The same applies to mustard.
Other flowers which are considered edible include geraniums (though not the lemon-scented variety), carnations, and the blossoms from apple, cherry and pear trees.
To ice flowers, dip the petals in egg whites individually, then coat in sugar on either side. Place on a flat baking tin in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes until the petals are crisp. Use as tasty and edible decoration on top of birthday cakes or similar.
Edible flowers don't keep very well once picked but can be frozen. To freeze, place the petals in ice-cubes with water and freeze quickly. They can then be added to drinks during the summer for a special lemonade!
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