Inspired by a friend's birthday present of a book entitled 'The Edible Flower Garden' and by Veg Plotting's 52 Week Salad Challenge, I've been on a mission to be more adventurous this year. I started eating flowers at an early age. In the summer months lightly fried courgette flowers dipped in a herby batter appeared quite regularly on the menu. Little did I know how unusual it was to eat such fare in England at that time. My Mum is Italian so bought she this dish with her persuading my Dad to grow zucchini, as we grew up calling them, on his allotment plot. Dad was the first person to grow them on his allotment site yet now these are staple plants on most plots. As I got older I think that perhaps I became more cautious about what I ate especially when I started to cook for myself. It's only in the last few years since I've had my own plot that I've been munching flowers again. This year I've eaten some flowers that I have tasted before such as roses, calendula, nasturtiums, violas, chive, borage and lavender but have also made a conscious effort to try out one or two new to me tastes :
The first of these were tulip petals. It's that long ago that I can't remember what they actually tasted like. I think that they were quite innocuous though. My book advised that a few people are allergic to tulips so that "all new diners should proceed with caution" which is exactly what I did. They obviously did not make much of an impact though so there was no danger of spoiling the aesthetic appeal of my pots of spring flowering bulbs.
Then in early summer there were pea flowers - yes the flowers of the garden pea. If you asked me what they tasted like I would have to say of pea. Nothing special but not at all unpleasant. My book suggests that "flowers of some varieties have a "grassy flavour" ; others have a mild, sweet, floral taste". I can imagine a few scattered in a salad but given that a pea flower turns into a pea pod I would rather enjoy the final product on my plate.
Day lily or hemerocallis flowers were also munched in 2013. Apparently the taste of the petals can range from "sweet floral to slightly metallic". Advice is given that you should taste them before using them in a recipe. Fortunately I came across "sweet floral" only. I was pleased that I was able to tempt himself into having a little taste of them when we were on holiday. The suspicious look on his face was priceless. When he realised that he was still living we had a conversation as to whether the colour of the petal might produce different tastes but we were unable to put this to the test at the time. Must try this out next year.
Moving on to pinks or dianthus. I have a most strongly scented bright pink pink growing at the allotment and it was petals from this plant that I tried. Taste wise the experience was pleasantly warm and clovelike. Definitely more memorable than pea or day lily.
Finally the revelation of the year were the petals of anise hyssop or agastache. A lot of taste is packed into these quite tiny petals. Aniseedy and reminiscent of a childhood sweet these are most refreshing and moreish. I had the odd nibble most days when I passed by the plant and was worried that I might eventually pluck the flower heads bald.
There are comprehensive lists of edible flowers over at Derry Watkin's Special Plants Nursery website (see list entitled 'Edibles In The Border') as well at over at Thompson and Morgan where there are also some recipe suggestions. Another list of suggestions can be found in Alys Fowler's book 'The Edible Garden'. Mark Diacono's book 'A Taste Of The Unexpected' includes a chapter on on 'Leaves and Flowers'. I particularly liked his advice "I'll also urge you to eat a few flowers. Although they may not be enough to keep body and soul together, edible flowers do add a little glitter to what otherwise be a plainer parade".
It goes without saying that you need to make sure that you need to do some careful research and have your facts right before you taste any flowers or come to think of it any other part of a plant. Expectant mothers and anybody with a medical condition needs to be extra careful. Some flowers may be eaten whole whilst with others just the petals are edible.
Meanwhile if you grow chrysanthemums in your garden and see an intruder leaning over them in the next few weeks to have a nibble it could well be me!