We are all familiar with vegetable flowers in the form of Cauliflower, Broccoli and Artichokes, but other, more ornamental flowers have been used in the cuisine of cultures all over the world for thousands of years. The Romans were keen on them, as were the ancient Chinese, and European medieval writings talk about feasts of venison cooked with marigolds and violets in salads.
Using peppery Nasturtium flowers in salads and sweet, perfumed rose petals in desserts is quite well known, but did you also know:
• The young shoots of Hostas are good spinach alternative – Hostakopita is a Greek spinach pie made with hosta shoots and in Japan nori maki sushi is filled with parboiled hosta shoots marinated in soy sauce, sugar & salt. They can also be steamed like asparagus. Only use young shoots though as older leaves are too tough.
• Hemerocallis – Day Lily – the flowers and buds have a sweet nutty flavour and look pretty in salads. (Don’t use other types of lilies though as they are poisonous!)
• Violets & Pansies – the sweet, fragrant flowers can be used in salads, desserts and drinks and can be crystallised for cake decoration.
• Sunflowers – we all know you can eat the seeds, but did you know you can also eat the buds & petals? The petals have a bitter-sweet taste and can be used in salads. The unopened buds can be steamed and have a flavour similar to artichokes.
• Lilac – the flowers have a floral, slightly lemony flavour and can be used in salads.
• Honeysuckle – the flowers have a sweet honey flavour and can be used as a garnish for salads and desserts. (Don’t eat the berries though as they are poisonous).
• Fuchsias – the vibrant flowers look great as a garnish.
• Campanula – the narrow leaves make a sweet addition to salads.
• Yucca – the white flowers have a thick and crunchy texture and a sweet flavour. Be careful of the spines at the tips of the leaves when picking though!
• Typha – Reed Mace – the young shoots taste similar to water chestnuts and the rhizome can be eaten raw or cooked, or dried and ground into flour!
• Even the humble Daisies and Dandelions in your lawn can be picked and used as garnishes.
N.B. It’s fun to use some of these more unusual edible garden plants, but do be careful you are sure what they are, as so many of our common garden plants are in fact poisonous. If in doubt, leave it out!
Also, never use insecticides or chemicals on plants you may want to eat, and make sure you wash them carefully first – not least to get rid of the creepy-crawlies!