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Yes, you can eat your greens, blues, reds and yellows in the garden!
Alex Drane from Nurtured in Norfolk tells us about edible flowers, and they are easier to grow from seed than you may imagine, and yes they do look as good as they taste!
Nasturtiums are a great edible flower to grow from seed and are one that we are all familiar with. At Nurtured in Norfolk, they soak the seed for 24hours before sowing to increase the success rate. They grow them all year round under cover in heated greenhouses, although in the garden it would be best to sow them after the last frost usually in late May. Cover the seed with compost keep them well watered and keep an eye on them as they are very popular with aphids and caterpillars.
Nasturtiums have a peppery taste, similar to that of watercress, though the flowers are slightly milder in flavour.
Nasturtiums work well in a variety of savoury preparations. The flowers will add a spicy touch to salads and try them combined with cream cheese or butter in canapés, or in a cheese and tomato sandwich. Flowers can also be used to garnish steaks or casseroles. These vibrant flowers have a strong peppery taste which makes them ideal for all sorts of garnishes, salads and pasta dishes.
Alyssum have tiny flowers that can be eaten along with the leaves they have a pungent flavour, that emit a honey-like fragrance. They can be added to salad, frozen in ice cubes, folded into omelettes, and added to cold summer soups. Sweet Alyssum when paired with fruit makes a fun edible garnish to dress up snack or desert trays. Alyssum has powerful health benefits, providing several essential nutrients to the body. Alyssum is known to prevent several kidney diseases, it also acts as a natural diuretic and helps to prevent an excessive retention of water in the body.
The seed can be grown indoors or sown direct into drills made in the garden soil, we sow ours direct into plug trays and then pot them up into 1 litre pots of good multipurpose compost. It is important to cover the seed and vermiculite is very good for this as it holds moisture around the seed and does not block it from growing. Alyssum is a great edging plant and will keep flowering well into autumn.
Violas are one of the best sellers and come in a varied number of colours offering a velvety-textured slightly sweet flavour similar to wintergreen. Violas are slightly smaller than Pansy flowers and are produced in greater numbers.
Violas can be grown from seed in a similar way to indoor sowing of Alyssum although we grow so many that we buy our plants in as plugs and grow them on. The key with growing plants from weed is to ensure that the compost is of a fine grade with no lumps, and that you use clean pots and water with tap water to avoid fungal spores that may be in the water.
Violas can be cooked down with sugar to make syrups and jams and make a great addition to cakes, savoury dishes and floating atop of hot and cold beverages. Violas are used as a natural remedy to treat headaches, body pain, coughs and colds.
Cornflowers are sometimes grown as wild flowers or can be grown in wildlife friendly gardens, again we grow the plants from seed that is sown in winter so that the plants are large enough to flower all through the summer. Sow the seed indoors in a sheltered place and water well. Cornflowers are easy to grow if sown direct into the soils and will set viable seed that will come up year after year.
They have a very mild aroma of pepper and a flavour that has a hint of sweet spice. Cornflowers are best used fresh for culinary purposes as an edible garnish as they are only lightly fragrant with minimal flavour. They are ideal for mixing with other flowers to make attractive confetti for sprinkling over salads, omelettes, and pasta dishes.
The tea can also be good for improving digestion, and the herb’s high antioxidant content aids in detoxifying the liver. Cornflowers are also thought to stimulate the appetite when taken as a tea.
Borage is easy to grow from seeds or from root cuttings, the seedlings taste like cucumber and are very tasty if you can’t wait until the flowers appear. Borage seed should be soaked before sowing just for a few hours. Sow on the surface of the compost and cover the tray with black plastic to aid germination, in a warm position the seeds will germinate in 10 days and the strong seedlings will soon have the characteristic large furry leaves. The blue flower offers a mild herbal cucumber flavour and aroma. Their texture is slightly chewy and succulent.
Borage will grow anywhere even on our compost heap which is usually quite large. Borage flowers can be added to fruit and green salads or used as an edible garnish on cakes, cold soups, ice cream and delicate pastries. Borage has very high levels of calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, B and C Vitamins, and beta carotene.
All these plants are easy to grow from seed and will give you some exciting new twists to summer salads as well as the opportunity to develop some more challenging culinary ideas.
‘The tasty world of edible flowers’ reaches the library on 5th May 2019