Edible flowers can be used within a range of savoury and sweet dishes, as well as cordials, oils and butters. Perfect for this time of year, a wide range of annuals and perennial edible flowers can be grown in the garden from early spring to late autumn.
Home-grown flowers, free from pesticides, are best. If you are looking to buy plants with edible flowers, only use those labelled for ‘culinary purposes’ as these will have been grown in ways that ensure any pesticide residues are at acceptable levels. Shop or garden centre bought flowering plants should be grown on for at least three months to reduce the risk of pesticide residues and only harvest subsequent flowerings.
Herb flowers like basil, chives, lavender, mint, rosemary and thyme impart a more subtle flavour to food than the leaves. By adding sprigs of edible herb flowers like basil or marjoram to oils and butters the delicate flavours can be used over a longer period.
When collecting flowers for eating, there are many practical considerations to keep in mind. Make sure you are able to accurately identify the flower you are hoping to use – if in doubt, don’t eat! It’s best to pick young flowers and buds on dry mornings before the sun becomes too strong; this is when the colour and flavours will be most intense. If you don’t use flowers immediately, place in a plastic bag and refrigerate for a couple of days. Dried or frozen flowers are best used within infusions or cooked.
As a general rule, only use the petals of edible flowers, so discard the stamens, pistil and calyx of large flowers, as well as the bitter ‘heel’ at the base of the petal. Petals of daisies, borage and primroses can easily be separated from the calyx. Smaller flowers in umbels, like fennel and dill, can be cut off and used whole.
If your plant becomes ridden with insects or disease, it is best to cut the plant back and encourage regrowth as no pesticides are specifically approved for use by home gardeners on edible flowers. It’s best to avoid old, faded or dusty flowers from roadsides and areas frequented by livestock or dog walkers.
When picking flowers, beware of bees and remove small insects by dipping them in a bowl of cold salt water and dry on paper towel. Those who are susceptible to allergies, especially pollen, should not eat flowers.