Gorgeous flowers, good for the eating…
In Europe, some flowers have been eaten since the Middle Ages, and others have been found to be edible in the last forty years. Gorgeous edible flowers can make ordinary dishes that little bit more special; they taste great and are packed full of oligo elements and antioxidants too.
So how can flowers be enjoyed as a food? To cook beautifully with flowers, find out the most interesting flavours and learn to choose them and mix them. Here are some tips from Pierrette Nardo, passionate author and chronicler of garden gastronomy.
Choosing edible flowers
"There are more than 200 different edible flowers but only about fifty can be used in cooking," explains Pierrette Nardo. The majority of these edible flowers run wild through gardens and fields: violets, roses, nasturtiums, poppies, daisies, primroses, honeysuckle, marigolds, chamomile, mimosa, dandelions, clover and courgette flowers, borage flowers, elderflowers and lime blossom.
Flower have been used in cooking for centuries: for example; in dandelion jam, fried elderflowers, violet, rose and poppy syrups. This array of culinary delights expanded thanks to renewed interest in these plants and foreign voyage: for example begonias and also daylilies which have been eaten for millennia in China – exactly like chrysanthemum, wisteria, camellia and also rosella (hibiscus sabdarriffa) which originates from Africa and is increasingly becoming a sensation in the kitchen!
Flowers of fragrant plants are equally edible, with a different taste to the leaves: dill, chives, basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme, mint the list goes on. Choose well; don’t use flowers from a florist especially, as they have undergone chemical treatment. It is best to grow them yourself at home, in the garden or on a balcony, or pick them in the countryside, in spots that are far from cultivated fields and busy roads. “Gather them across a little wood or grove, as here you will find natural little spots,” advises Pierrette Nardo. Some organic growers also sell edible flowers.
A word of warning: do not serve dishes with flowers in to anyone who is allergic to pollen. To avoid any risk of poisoning also, be extra-careful when identifying flowers. If you have the slightest doubt, leave it.
Cooking with edible flowers
To wash the flowers, rinse them quickly under water and then drain them. “The majority of edible flowers are fine to eat raw,” explains Pierrette Nardo. So they can be added to green salads (lettuce, Batavia and mixed salad leaves), or in crudités. In summer, give your salads a kick with nasturtium flowers.
You can also incorporate flowers in other foods, chopped up in thick goats cheese for example (perfect as a spread) or in cottage cheese or even butter, so you get a wonderfully original sauce for crudités.
You can eat simple cooked flowers. For example, daylilies are excellent pan-fried. For those who are fond of good food, fritters made of elderflowers are pure joy. For those who prefer savoury to sweet, you can also cook fritters made out of chives, courgette flowers or nasturtium.
It is also possible to make savoury tarts, based on nasturtium flowers, borage or daylilies. Finally, think about putting them in soups, vegetable terrines and omelettes, adding chives, pot marigolds etc.…
Some flowers really suit jams, like dandelions, violets and roses, which were all enjoyed in this form in Antiquity. Saffron and roses are great in condiments. Flowers give vinegar and different types of oil a lovely fragrance. The most classic combinations are vinegars with roses or violets, but you can also use chive, fennel and oregano flowers.
Storing your edible flowers
Flowers only keep for about 2 of 3 days in the fridge. If you want to keep your flowers longer, specialists advise against freezing them, as the results are pretty disappointing, being the delicate little things that they are.
Instead, Pierrette Nardo advises the following: “To preserve flowers, the best thing to do is to air-dry them, on a tea towel or on cardboard and then store the dried flowers in a glass jar or paper packets in the dark’. You can then use your flowers all year round in cakes, sauces and cream. Another way of preserving them is to crystallise them and use them as cake decorations.
Flowers are really yummy and make your dishes look gorgeous, but they are also full of goodness; rich in minerals, oligo elements, and antioxidants found in their colour. So don’t think twice about adding them to your cuisine!
Get three of Pierrette Nardo's great flowery recipes
- Flower-infused oils and vinegars
- Borage cheese spread open sandwiches
- Rose geranium and cherry pudding
For lots more lovely edible flower recipes:
- Edible Flowers: From Garden to Plate - How to Grow and Cook Edible Flowers, Kathy Brown, Aquamarine 2008 - £9.96
- The Scented Kitchen: Cooking with Flowers, Francis Bissell and Sue Lamble, Serif 2007 - £7.23
- Cuisinons les fleurs - 80 recettes inattendues, Pierrette Nardo, Editions Terre Vivante 2011 (if you read French)
Copyright © 2011 Doctissimo
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