Food gardening is enjoying a tremendous resurgence of late, much in part to perceived produce shortages and the fact that this pandemic has given many of us plenty of time to spend at home or in the community garden plot. While some have already discovered the culinary joys of edible flowers, these have only been available for sale in past at farmer’s markets or specialty green grocers like those at Granville Island, which are currently difficult to access. So I thought I’d provide you with a guide so that you can grow your own edible flowers right at home, starting with the four cardinal rules;
1. Always positively identify the plant before eating, relying on the botanical epithet not the common name, as the latter can apply to different plants. If you are not sure, don’t eat it.
2. Purchase organically-grown starter plants if possible or grow your own from seed (easy to do with annuals) but for non-organic hardy plants, grow them out for at least two years before eating the blooms.
3. Sample these new foods cautiously, as you have no idea whether or not you or someone in your family may be allergic to them.
4. Gently shake harvested flowers (to dislodge any insects), wash (controversial as some believe it diminishes the flavour) and with some exceptions, just eat the flower petals.
Well that covers the fine print, so let’s move onto the edible flowers;
Borage (Borago officinalis) Although never a particularly beautiful plant, the gentian blue flowers of Borage are stunning and have a mild cucumber flavour that works well in mixed drinks or as an edible garnish on goat cheese. Self-seeding Annual.
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) The glossy petals of Hollyhock provide us with a dazzling array of colour options including red, black, peach, purple and orange, all of which look great when sprinkled over a salad. Use petals only and expect little in the way of flavour. Hardy Perennial.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) Most of us try to harvest our basil leaves before flowering but all is not wasted if it begins as the blooms make a beautiful garnish over linguine with cream sauces or on salads and they still have wonderful flavour. The stronger tasting hybrid, ‘African Blue’ can also be used for Thai dishes. Annual.
Violet (Viola odorata) Perhaps one of my favourite edible flowers as the blooms taste as good as they smell. The species provides us with purple blossoms, while ‘Miracle Classy Pink’ has a confectionary flavour to it; both can be candied and used as edible cake decorations. Hardy Perennial.
Chives (Allium shoenoprasum & Allium tuberosum) – Both species of chives have edible blooms which are pale purple and white, respectively. They retain a mild flavour and are excellent sprinkled over salads or used as a last minute ingredient in stir-fry. Hardy Perennial.
Hosta (Hosta spp.) All Hosta flowers are edible but there are a few species or cultivars with exceptional flavour that turns any ordinary salad into a culinary delight. The species H. plantaginea as well as ‘First Frost’, ‘Rainforest Sunrise’ and ‘Royal Standard’ are good choices because they smell as good as they taste. Hardy Perennial.
French Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) This old-fashioned shrub is another plant with excellent tasting blooms, although they should be used sparingly due to their strong flavour. The flowers can also be candied for cake decorations or made into syrup for adding to teas or cold drinks. Hardy Shrub.