Winter edible flowers
There is a simple antidote for the winter blues. Use edible flowers in salads, snacks and desserts as a colourful and tasty ingredient.
Do’s and don’ts
- As with vegetables and herbs, don’t use pesticides or else use products labelled for edible crops, making sure you observe the safety period.
- Pick the flowers in the morning when their water content is at its highest. The flowers can be kept fresh in a glass of water or kept in the glass of water overnight in the refrigerator.
- Wash the flowers before eating and check for insects among the petals!
- Pansy and viola flowers can be eaten whole but for most other flowers it is better to remove the stamens and pistels. This can be done just before eating so that the petals don’t wilt.
- Don’t mix edible flowers with non-edible flowers when garnishing because many people may assume that everything on the plate is edible or don’t think to ask.
Washing and preparing edible flowers
The best way to wash flowers is to put them in a strainer or sieve in a large bowl of water. Drain and dry the petals on paper towel. If allowed to dry quickly (but not in the sun) the flowers keep their colour and fragrance.
Limp flowers can be quickly rejuvenated by floating them in icy water for a few minutes.
Calendula officinalis is a sun loving winter annual that grows in most soil types as well as in pots. Pinch out the tops to stop the plants becoming straggly and remove dead flowers to encourage more blooms. Use only the petals and discard the rest of the flower. Cut off the bitter white portion at the base of the petal where it was attached to the flower. An infusion can also be made from the petals and used to treat fungal infections.
Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) and Violas (Viola cornuta)as well as the Viola tricolour “Heartsease” and Viola odorata all have edible flowers but it’s the visual effect that’s even more pleasing.The Viola tricolour ‘heartsease’, has healing properties and can be used to relieve coughs, colds, and indigestion as well as skin conditions if applied externally in a cream base. Being smaller the viola flowers are a more delicate garnish while the pansy flowers crystallise very well and can be eaten as sweets or used to decorate ice cream.
Bellis perennis (English daisy) has petals with a pleasant sourish taste. The petals and young leaves can be used to flavour vinegar and the buds pickled in vinegar can be used as a substitute for capers. The plant grows in full sun to semi shade, and does well in colder areas.
Oriental vegetables such as Tatsoi, Pak choi, Mizuna and Japanese Giant red mustard all produce delicate yellow flowers that can be used in salads. Normally the plants should be prevented from flowering but towards the end of winter they can be allowed to flower and will produce sprays of flowers that are also a source of nectar for the bees. The flowers have the same mustardy taste as the leaves. Being Brassicas the oriental vegetables benefit from regular feeding in winter.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), is a very attractive low growing perennial groundcover with fine green leaves and white daisy like flowers with deep yellow centres. It grows in full sun and likes soil that drains well. The flowers can also be used to make a soothing tea, as chamomile helps to relieve stress, anxiety and digestive problems.
Borage (Borago officinalis) has small bright blue star-shaped flowers that have a fresh, cucumber like flavour. Borage flowers are often used to decorate drinks and in previous centuries were added to wine to prevent drunkenness. It also helps to alleviate feelings of stress, fear and anxiety. Add to salads and desserts as well. The plant has an informal growth habit, reaching a height of 60cm. It is water wise, easily growing in poor soil in a sunny spot.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a graceful, aromatic perennial, growing up to 2m, with feathery foliage and yellow flowers, with yellow-green seeds. It grows in full sun, in well drained to sandy soil, and does not always survive very wet or cold winters. The flowers have the same anise flavour as the leaves and can flavour fish dishes as well as make a delicious tea.
Lavender intermedia ‘Margaret Roberts’ seem to flower off and on throughout the year. The flowers have a milder taste than the foliage but even so, only use a few for flavouring biscuits, cakes, ice cream and other desserts. If making lavender tea infuse for a very short time and add a teaspoon of honey.
Rocket (Eruca versicaria sativa) is often grown in warm frost free gardens as a salad leaf in winter. As temperatures riseit tends to bolt into flower. The creamy beige flowers also have a strong peppery taste and can be used alongside rocket leaves in salads and snacks.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is frost tender but does well in warm sheltered gardens. Coriander tends to flower very easily and it is worth letting some plants flower so that the small sprays of mauve-white flowers can be used to garnish salads, soups and desserts or incorporated into stir fries. The flowers echo the pungent taste of the leaves