Edible flowers are making health news at the moment. Researchers in China analysed some of the flowers used in traditional cooking there and found they have very high levels of phenolic compounds linked to better health and a reduced risk of conditions like heart disease and cancer.
I was therefore keen to try some as part of my ‘new foods’ challenge. I was told the THE people in the UK to buy your edible flowers from was Devon’s Maddocks Farm Organics and owner Jan Billington there was all to happy to send me a very pretty punnet to play with.
I wasn’t sure what to do with them so I basically nibbled on them neat to start with then popped some in a salad. The taste surprised me a lot. I was expecting them to be sweet (and some are) but on the whole in this selection they were actually peppery, spicy or bitter and very pungent. Not a criticism but I wasnt expecting their tastes to be so strong or so discernible. It was amazing. What was also fascinating was how different they all where. The little white flowers were pungent and bitter, the red ones were a mix of sweet and sour that was like nothing I’d tried before.
I needed to know more so I got on the phone to Jan who was fascinating. So, in four simple questions, here’s your need to know guide to edible flowers….
Q: Okay Jan, I’m amazed and surprised at the variety of tastes I just experienced, how can this be?
Jan: If you think about it it makes total sense for the best to be in the blossoms. Flowers compete against each other to tempt bees. They need to show off or the bees won’t come back and so they’re going to load themselves up with goodness and taste. Interestingly, the smaller the flower the stronger the taste.
Q: So I’m guessing nibbling them neat wasn’t the best way to show this off, what can you do with them?
Jan: Traditionally flowers were eaten in all sorts of ways in the UK but using them as an ingredient out of favour; when they did come back it was as a ‘garnish’ usually discarded at the end of the meal. Only in the last year have chefs really started to experiment again. For example, I was working with a chef the other day on a flower pesto, you can make jams, infusions, cakes and more.
Q: Can we just eat our way round the garden then?
Jan: No, some flowers are poisonous, others are just quite nasty. For example, I wondered why no-one was using certain type of dianthus as dianthus are quite widely used in cooking, then I tasted one. Most dianthus are sweet and delicious, this one wasn’t.
Q: Which are your favourites?
Jan: There’s so many but I do like vegetable flowers like those from broad beans or runner beans. They’re like intense bursts of the flavour from the vegetable.
As Jan said, simply picking your own flowers isnt recommended unless you know what you’re doing, so if you want to give eating flowers a try, check out Jan’s prepared punnets. Order them online at maddocksfarmorganics.co.uk
Note: Jan asked me to amend her answer to Q3 to clarify her dianthus comment which I have done 16/6/14