30 April 2024

How edible flowers can make your dishes look and taste divine

30 April 2024

Garden designers and growers Lucy Hutchings and Kate Cotterill, founders of new heritage seed company She Grows Veg, are known for growing a range of delicious edibles – but they also realise the value of tasty flowers.

“With outside space being ever more of a premium for many people, it’s not really surprising that edible flowers continue to grow in popularity,” says Hutchings, former jewellery designer to the stars-turned-social media veg grower (@shegrowsveg), with 186k Instagram followers.

“Anything that helps create a beautiful outside space, while also offering an abundant harvest of food, is always going to be a winning formula.”

She and Cotterill, marketeer and music festival organiser, will be exhibiting at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for the first time his year, showcasing the She Grows Veg ‘Edimental’ display in the Great Pavilion, working with floral designer and broadcaster Hazel Gardiner to create a huge exhibit inspired by renaissance old masters paintings but with a modern twist.

Each display will be a mix of seeds, young plants, mature plants and harvested fruit and veg showing the full life cycle from seed to food.

Acclaimed chef Raymond Blanc will also join the She Grows Veg team on opening day to cook their heirloom produce for press day visitors.

Leaf through some easy-to-grow plants which the pair recommend to provide you with a beautiful harvest of edible blooms to wow your friends and family in the months to come.

1. Violas and pansies

The classic edible flowers add colour to salads, garnish desserts and adorn garlic butter, and can be crystallised to decorate cakes. They are really easy to grow from seed and largely perennial, meaning they can be enjoyed for many years.

2. Nasturtiums

Arguably the most useful of all edible flowers, not only do these summer blooms add bright pops of vibrant colour, often in shades of zingy yellow and burnt orange, to the garden but the entire plant is edible. The flowers and leaves give a peppery punch of flavour similar to rocket and make a fabulous pesto when used in place of basil. You can even pickle or brine the seeds while they are still green and use them as an alternative to capers. A particularly beautiful variety is called ‘Bloody Mary’.

3. Sunflowers

“A much loved flower in many gardens, it is surprising how little is known about all the ways in which this spectacular flower can be eaten,” says Hutchings.

“Rather than roasting the seeds and attempting the fiddly job of peeling them, try sprouting them as a microgreen that can be enjoyed throughout the year.

“Additionally, the unopened flower buds can be eaten like globe artichokes and the heads can be picked before the seed coats harden, then roasted and eaten like corn on the cob. For giant heads with huge yields of seed, try ‘Titan’ sunflowers,” she suggests.

4. Dahlias

These beautiful late-flowering blooms offer spectacular colour from summer and throughout autumn to the first frost. The flower petals are edible, yet the plant was first introduced to Europe as a food crop, not an ornamental.

It comes into its own when dug up ready for overwintering. Remove a few of the outer tubers and enjoy like a fragrant new potato. Cheap and easy to grow from seed and with a fiery mix of flowers on nearly black foliage, ‘Bishop’s Children’ will flower in the first year.

5. Calendulas

Super easy to grow, this flower can be picked fresh and sprinkled into salads or desserts. Alternatively, the petals can be dried and used as a substitute for saffron. For vibrant orange flowers, perfect for drying, try ‘Orange King’.

6. Artichokes

We think of globe artichokes as vegetables, when they are in fact the most gourmet of all edible flowers. If you consider the price you pay per head for this ingredient in the shops, this plant is a valuable addition to any garden from a financial, culinary and aesthetic perspective.

Easy to grow from seed, this perennial will provide food and stunning flowers for many years, and if some heads are left to fully flower, the bees go crazy for them. For a particularly pretty option, consider ‘Italian Purple’, they suggest.

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from May 21-25. 

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