An Ian Thorpe rose.
An Ian Thorpe rose. Keagan Elder

Edible flowers: Roses aren't just for looking at

MY FATHER was a keen grower of vegetables, but he refused point-blank to grow flowers. He considered them to be a complete waste of space. Why grow flowers when you could grow food to eat? Well, we now know that having flowers in the vegetable garden is a really good idea, for many reasons. They look pretty, they help to attract beneficial insects, and lots of them are edible.

Marigolds and calendula taste a bit spicy and peppery. The petals can be used raw in salads. They are sometimes called poor man's saffron, because they release a fabulous colour when cooked.

Nasturtiums have a sharp, peppery flavour similar to watercress. Use them fresh in salads. The pickled green seeds are called poor man's capers, and taste delicious.

Beautiful blue borage flowers taste like cucumber; Johnny-Jump-Ups (and other violas and pansies) have a mild, sweet flavour.

Day lilies taste like a slightly sweet vegetable, reminiscent of asparagus or zucchini. You can stuff the whole flower like zucchini blossoms, or use the sweet petals in salads or dessert.

Rose petals taste a bit sweet, with subtle hints of strawberry and apple. They make a very pretty, delicious jam. Lavender has a sweet, floral flavour, with a hint of citrus. It can be used in desserts, custards and ice creams as well as in savoury dishes.

Herb flowers taste like a mild form of the leaf. They are best used fresh and uncooked, sprinkled over salads or as a garnish.

Pick flowers in the morning or late afternoon when the water content is high. Select flowers that are freshly opened and blemish-free. Normally, the petals are the only portion to be eaten, so remove the stamen and the pollen. Some flowers, such as roses, dianthus and carnations, have a white section at the base of the petal. Remove this as it can taste quite bitter.

Use edible flowers as garnishes, toss them through salads, or freeze them in ice cubes to make a lovely feature in cool drinks. Crystalised flowers or petals can be used to decorate cakes and desserts.

You should only consume flowers that you know have been grown without the use of chemicals. Commercially grown cut flowers may be sprayed with chemicals which could be harmful if eaten. And be aware that not all flowers are edible. Some can cause serious stomach problems and some are quite poisonous. Don't be tempted to taste azaleas, crocus, daffodils, foxgloves, oleander, sweet peas, lobelia, brunfelsia, brugmansia, vinca and wisteria, to name a few. If you're not sure, don't eat them, and make sure the kids know that rule too.

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