After the long, dark days of winter, the first spring flowers look like jewels bursting from the soil. Tulips and freesias produce exquisite blooms. Phlox, love in the mist and verbenas flower in a delicate haze of colour. Borage, chives, sage and wild garlic burst into a sea of blue and lilac followed by bright coloured marigolds, sweet peas and roses, thus beginning a feast of flowers. Not only do they look magnificent, they taste wonderful as well.
Flowers have been used in the kitchen for generations. In the Orient, orange blossoms and day lilies have long been a part of their culinary history. The Romans used roses and violets to enhance the flavour of their food, and used the flowers from herbs to flavour vinegars.
The Victorians had a love affair with flowers, using them for jams and crystallizing the flowers to adorn cakes and desserts. Courgette flowers have been stuffed for use in Mediterranean dishes for years.
When using flowers in the kitchen the most important thing is to make sure that they have not been sprayed with any pesticides. The simplest way to ensure this is to keep a constant supply of flowers in the garden or in pots on a balcony. They will self seed and you will have them forever. My borage, marigolds and love in the mist pop up all over the place since I first sprinkled a few seeds ten years ago. Marigolds and chives will grow well in a pot placed in a sunny place and provide abundant flower petals for summer salads.
Rose petals can be transformed into rose water to use in a number of dishes, but use pink or red roses for good colour and try to use old fashioned varieties, which have a stronger scent than many of the modern roses. If you are short of space a rambling or climbing rose will look and smell beautiful trained up a wall.
Borage, chives and sage will dye back in winter. Borage will self seed, but I always cut my chives and sage right back in winter to encourage new growth, as then in spring they will produce the most delicate flavoured flowers, as well as the pungent, more commonly used leaves.
I recently tasted some Basil flowers used in a salad dish. They were delicious. What sense to cook with the flowers you pluck from the plant to lengthen its life, and how wonderful to preserve flowers into syrups and sugars as a reminder of their beauty long after the flower has wilted and died.
When using flower heads gently remove the stamen from the flower and give the head a gentle shake or a quick rinse to ensure no tiny insects are hiding inside the bloom. If using the petals, simply pull them from the flower.
I prefer to harvest flower heads in the early morning, before the sun has evaporated some of the scent.
Remember, only use flowers that you know are edible, as some flowers are toxic.
Flower petal Vinegar
I first tasted Vinigre di Fiori
years ago, in Italy. The perfumed scent of flower petals suspended in white vinegar adds a floral flavour to salad dressing. I now make it every spring with fresh young spring flowers.
- 1 litre white wine vinegar
- 2 cups of flower petals: I always use the following flowers:
- Marigolds for a peppery taste
- Borage, which has a soft cucumber flavour
- Chive flowers for a hint of onion
- Sage flowers for their delicate perfume
- Rose petals and lavender for a floral scent
Place the flowers and petals in a clean jar.
Bring the vinegar to the boil, pour over the flowers and seal.
Leave for a month then strain into clean bottles.
A sweet floral syrup, delicious spooned over Vanilla ice cream
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup white sugar
- Half cup of fresh lavender flowers
- Zest of one Lemon
Pour the water into a saucepan, add the sugar, flowers and lemon zest, bring to the boil, and reduce the liquid until it becomes syrupy.
Strain and pour the syrup into a clean bottle and seal.
The syrup will keep for up to three months in the fridge.
You can also make Lemon Verbena Syrup using the same method, but just leave out the lemon zest.
Golden Marigold Potato Salad
The marigold petals add a fresh peppery flavour to the potatoes.
- 1kg Organic new potatoes
- 3 tblsp Marigold petals
- 50ml olive oil
- Zest and juice of half a lemon
If you are using new potatoes leave the skins on.
Boil the potatoes in salted water till soft, then drain.
Return the potatoes to the pan and while they are still hot add the oil, lemon zest and juice and a good pinch of salt.
Place the salad into a serving dish and sprinkle over the Marigold petals.
Flower Petal Salad with a Yoghurt Dressing
A simple summer salad. The peppery rocket is a good balance with the flower petals. Dress the salad 30 minutes before you serve, and serve at room temperature.
- 100grm Rocket
- One cup of mixed flower petals. I like to use Marigold, borage and Chive flowers.
- 100ml plain Yoghurt
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Sprinkle of chopped chives
- Salt to taste
Mix the ingredients well and pour over the salad.
Christine Stevens has farmed organically for the last 10 years, in the Western Cape. Here she produces a range of award winning quality Organic Wines under the Mountain Oaks Label and grows a range of Organic fruit and Vegetables . She has written two books 'Harvest' and 'Harvest Diaries', both about food and life on an Organic Farm. More information can be found at the Mountain Oaks Facebook page.