Our attraction to flowers is not frivolous or fanciful, it is a survival instinct that without, we would have probably perished.
As hunters and gathers, ancient people needed to not only be able to recognise food and medicine sources but also be able to read the signs that indicated the coming fruits and vegetables.
If you could recognise apple blossom, you would know apples would surely follow and to see a field of sunflowers one year would tell you that this place would again provide all that these sunny blossoms share to create oils, food and textile materials.
Most historical investigation will result in the conclusion that people have always consumed flowers and references can be found in most ancient imagery and texts to support this.
The use of flowers as food as well as medicine is well noted in Ancient Chinese and Indian cultures and references have been found throughout the Americas as well.
Edible flowers are mentioned in Ancient Egyptian texts, the Bible and frescoes uncovered that date back to 1500BCE on the island of Santorini.
The Ancient Greeks grew many flowers for culinary purposes including carnation, poppy and lotus and the Ancient Romans too had a great affection for the cultivation of edible blossoms.
They had an almost obsession with roses and carnations with both being used as a flavouring and colouring agent as well as food.
Calendula, a flower we today regard more for its medicinal qualities was extensively eaten by the Romans and is the original colouring agent for butters and chesses.
Indigenous Australians have long used the blooms in culinary ways as well as other parts of native plants.
These days with the rise of farm to plate interest and a focus on what can be grown at home for our own cooking explorations, edible flowers of all types are popping up everywhere yet again.
Apple (Malus domestica)
These tiny delicate flowers do have an apple flavour to them and work very well in any place you would use apples.
Perfect in drinks, sweets, baking and salads.
You will need to find a variety that prefers our warmer climate and suggestions include ‘Sundowner’, ‘Granny Smith’ and ‘Fuji’.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
They taste like fresh cucumbers and make a refreshing tea but can also be added to just about any dish or drink to add a delightful splash of blue with their brilliant royal to sapphire blossoms.
It is an annual that requires a very sunny spot, most soils and should be planted in spring through to late summer.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
This traditionally medicinal flower with fantastic skin-healing properties is also a culinary hero as a natural food dye.
It has a mild aromatic flavour and works well in almost any form of cookery.
Plant from spring through to autumn in a moist, rich soil in a sunny position.
Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus)
People have been writing about the joys of eating carnations since writing began!
They have a peppery taste and make amazing pickles, drink additives and desserts.
Plant in spring through to autumn in a full sun position with a free-draining soil.
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale)
You might be more familiar with this flower as a medicinal herb tea, but it can also work well in salads and stir-fries.
The blossoms are sweeter with an almost honey flavour when young and become bitter when older so keep that in mind when harvesting and cooking.
You will probably find the flower of this weed growing in your garden but if not, grow your own from seed in the patches of your garden that have poor soil and sad conditions.
Day Lily (Hemerocallis spp.)
Here is a plant that offers up yummy tiny tubers that taste just like potatoes as well as delicious flowers with a sweetly cucumber taste.
The blossoms are best served in salads and other raw recipes but can be lightly cooked.
They are also very good for you with high levels of carotene and Vit C. Day lilies are relatively easy to grow being happy with full sun to part shade and a well fertilised soil. You can plant year-round.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Best with stronger and bitter flavours like dark chocolate or drinks such as wines and spirits, this is a flower that also alienates a few with its strong sweet perfume flavour.
The mistake most gardeners make is overwatering lavender – they are a Mediterranean plant and likes full sun, the best drainage you can ensure and light feeding.
Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus)
I love these in egg dishes and on sandwiches and wraps.
They have zingy pepper flavour that also works well with stir-fries and salads while looking so bright and inviting.
Plant by seed in autumn and you will find that they are also a wonderful addition to vegetable gardens as pollinators.
Soak seeds overnight before planting in full sun in most soils.
Rosella/Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
There are more than a few different types of what we in Australia call native ‘Rosella’ and even though they confusingly all have the same botanical name, (Hibiscus sabdariffa) at least they are all edible.
Some are referred to as ‘Wild Hibiscus’.
The dark red calyx of the flower can be used to create jams and syrups and can be candied or persevered in a sugar syrup as well.
The flavour of the calyx is berry-like and can be used best in drinks and sweet dishes while the flowers do well in salads.
Grows easily from plant cuttings or seed in late spring through to early summer and needs full sun.
Roses (Rose spp.)
Most people have a love/hate relationship with rose flavoured foods.
They are the base of Turkish Delight, and give an exotic aroma and taste to desserts, drinks and sauces.
Sugared rose petals are also a pretty decoration for confections and baking.
The trick to using roses is to separate the petals and trim away the white base end of each petal as it has an undesirable flavour.
Roses need full sun, at least six hours a day, in a wind-sheltered position with rich well-draining soil.
Zucchini (Cucurbita pepo var. giromontiina)
With flowers that mildly taste like their yummy vegetables, these blossoms are one of the most popular of the edible flower bunch.
They are delicious stuffed with anything you can imagine but are particularly good filled with cheese-based recipes and then fried or baked.
They also make wonderful additions to stir-fries and Mexican cuisine.
Plant in spring after the risk of frost has well and truly past. They need a compost-rich soil that is free-draining and full sun.
Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus)
Brighten up your next salad with sunflower petals and you will also find they work very well in breads and other baked goods.
Their flavour is mildly earthy and reminiscent of leafy greens. Plant seeds from late winter through until late spring but I have personally had success planting year-round on the Central Coast and in Sydney.
They need full sun, a moisture-retentive soil and if you are growing taller varieties, a stake for each.
Violet (Viola spp.)
Popular as a sugared decoration for baked goods, violets can be tossed into salads, desserts and drinks to add colour and sweet flavour. Plant in autumn and late summer in a semi-shade but bright spot, in a rich moist soil. They are mostly annuals but all easily self-seed.
There are many more flowers that are edible but be sure to research their safety before use and never harvest in parks and along roadsides as chemicals could be used for weed control.
It’s important to note that you should remove all non-petal parts of most flowers before use such as the stem, sepal, pistil and stamen.
These parts are not usually toxic in edible flowers, but they can be irritants or have unpleasantly bitter flavours.
ON THE GARDEN GRAPVINE
The COASTFM Gardening Gang, Live Broadcast, Leagues Club Park, Gosford Sat. 27th Feb. 8 – 10am
Come and say hello to Pete Little and Cheralyn Darcey as they present their popular gardening show ‘At Home with Gardening Gang’ live from the public opening of the new Gosford City Park. They will be near the stage area or tune in COASTFM96.3.
Small Space Gardening with The Gardening Gang, East Gosford Community Park, Sat. 27th Feb. 11am – 12:30pm. Pete Little and Cheralyn Darcey visit this lovely community garden and Cheralyn will be chatting about gardening in smaller spaces, courtyards, on balconies and even verges.
Meet the team at GUST (Grow Urban Shade Trees), Sunday 28th Feb between 11-1pm Sydney 2000 Park Sydney Road, Umina. Celebrating the 500th tree planted (well done team!) Find out how you can grow shade trees on your verge and have a chat about the best trees for your area and verge and how to plant them.
THIS WEEK YOU COULD PLANT
Asian greens, dwarf beans, beetroot, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, chicory, cress, lettuce, mustard greens, parsnips, climbing peas, potato tubers, radish, rhubarb, salsify, shallots, spring onions, silverbeet, spinach, swede, turnip, calendula, cornflower, delphinium, dianthus, everlasting daisy, forget-me-not, foxglove, godetia, gypsophila, honesty, larkspur, nigella, statice, chives, coriander, garlic, marjoram, oregano, parsley
DOWN IN THE GARDEN MAIL
Gary writes: “Bugs are taking over my garden, but I do not want to use chemicals. Any tips Cheralyn?”
Well Gary, next week in this column I’ll be sharing Organic Pest Control methods but to get you started here’s an all-rounder recipe for you:
6 unpeeled cloves garlic
3 whole hot chillies
½ cup of chopped tomato plant leaves
½ teaspoon liquid soap
- Blend all except soap in a blender and then mix in soap, strain into a spray bottle.
2. Test on a leaf first and watch for adverse reaction over 24hours.
3. If not noticed, spray all over plant when plant is not stressed and in the cooler evening.
4. Use only as needed, no more than once every few weeks.
Cheralyn Darcey is a gardening author, community garden coordinator and along with Pete Little, hosts ‘At Home with The Gardening Gang’ 8 – 10am every Saturday on Coast FM.
Send your gardening questions, events and news to: firstname.lastname@example.org