Flowers have been eaten since ancient times, and have medicinal as well as nutritional value. The most common use of flowers is in salads, but you can incorporate them into sauces, tarts, preserves, pickles, fritters and salads.
Many of the flowers used traditionally in this way are disappearing from the wild, but are available from many seed companies. If you are picking from the wild, follow a few simple rules : only pick flowers if they are really plentiful, and always leave far more than you pick (in some countries this is illegal). Wild plants should never be up-rooted. Don't pick from road-sides where there is a risk of contamination by car exhausts, or anywhere that may have been sprayed with poisons.
Pick the flowers early in the day when the dew has just disappeared, and handle the flowers gently so as not to bruise them. Shake gently to remove insects. Wash them gently when you get home, and pat them dry. You can store them for a few hours in the fridge if you put them in a polythene bag.
Small delicate flowers can be eaten whole, or you can separate the petals from larger varieties. Remove all the green parts, stems and leaves, and any white 'heels' on petals.
The following are flowers commonly used in British and cool temperate climates.
Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) : A common annual, in various shades of yellow to orange, with a quite definite flavour. Brightens up a salad.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) : Striking yellow, orange and red flowers on an annual plant which grows rampant and easily self-seeds. Leaves and seeds can be eaten in salads along with the flowers, and the seeds can be pickled as a substitute for capers.
Borage (Borago officinalis) : Beautiful blue flowers with a sweet flavour. Pull on the central part to pick the flower whole, and sprinkle on a salad or in Pimms.
Daisy (Bellis perennis) : The smaller variety is common in the wild and on lawns, but larger cultivated varieties are available. Pick just before they are to be used, to prevent flowers from closing up, and use small flowers whole or separate larger petals.
Geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) : A common perennial, coming in a variety of colours. Aswell as the flowers, the scented leaves of some varieties can be used in salads.
Rose (Rosa spp.) : All rose varieties can be used in salads. Some varieties could be too heavily scented.
Pansy (Viola wittrockiana) : A common perennial garden flower, can be used in salads.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus) : All wild or cultivated varieties of chicory can be used. The blue or pink flowers should be used soon after picking, and have a slight taste of coffee. The dried root is also commonly used as a coffee substitute.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.) : There are many varieties of lavender, and most are strongly flavoured – use sparingly, finely chopped, in salads.
Elder Flower (Sambucus nigra) : A lovely delicate flavour, the flowers can be eaten whole or sprinkled over a salad. Elderflower champagne is easy to make and delightful on a summer's day. Add 4 clusters per pound when cooking gooseberries to give a Muscatel flavour to the fruit (remove flowers after cooking).
Primrose (Primula vulgaris) : Primroses are becoming rare in the wild, and so cultivated plants should be used. Use the flowers whole in salads. Use liberally to impart a delicate flavour to apple pies.
Cowslip (Primula veris) : Treat as Primroses. Cowslips are also increasingly rare in the wild.
Violet (Viola odorata) : Delicately flavoured small flowers can be used whole in salads.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) : Add to apples or rhubarb when cooking to sweeten the fruit. Use 4 flower heads per pound of fruit in a muslin bag for easy removal.
The flowers of lilac, elder, marrows and squashes, and fruit blossoms can all be dipped in batter and deep fried. The marrow flowers can also be stuffed with fried onion, breadcrumbs and parsley, before deep-frying in batter.
White wine or cider vinegar can be flavoured with flowers. Primrose, rose, violet, elderflower, nasturtium, lavender, rosemary and thyme can be used. Fill a jar to two-thirds full with the flowers and top it off with vinegar. Leave on a sunny windowsill for 2 weeks.
Preserves. Syrups. Crystallised blooms. Water Ices. Sweet sauces and desserts. Sandwiches and flans. Tisanes (teas).
The Salad Garden. Joy Larkcom Food For Free. Richard Mabey.
Suffolk Herbs, Monks Farm, Coggeshall Road, Kelvedon, Essex CO5 9PG, England Chiltern Seeds, Bortree Stile, Ulverston, Cumbria LA12 7PB, England.
So little interest has been shown in eating flowers that little bonafide data is available. However, there are a number of logical extrapolations available. Flowers are rich in nectar and pollen and studies have shown pollen to be nutritious with vitamins and minerals. Roses and especially rose hips, are very high in vitamin C. Dandelion blossoms are high in vitamins A and C while the leaves are loaded with iron, calcium, phosophorous and vitamin A and C. Marigolds and Nasturtium have vitamin C.
Flowers are 95 percent water so it is unlikely that they contain significant amounts of nutrition. So while blossoms add visual delight, pleasing aroma and delightful taste, one thing they do not add is calories. Limited reviews indicated that they are nearly calorie free.