Spring is rushing into Summer, and that means flowers aplenty. It’s quite amazing how many of our new acquisitions from the garden centre can be edible (and equally amazing how some of them can be really lethal…DO NOT just go grazing away).
Day Lilies (Hemerocallis sps) are a splendid addition to any salad, especially if entertaining guests. Their showy trumpet-like blooms radiate colour and have a filling, substantial texture – try stuffing them with soft cheese as you would a courgette flower. Just try not to gorge on your neighbour’s prize blooms. If you are caught doing this, it is only fair that you invite them to try your salad and your wine!
Another unlikely edible is Fuchsia, with its eye watering tropical plumage. Most of the time we suspect brightly coloured things of being poisonous – this is definitely the case in the animal world – yet Fuchsia’s blooms are harmless and quite tasty. In its native Central and South America, the fuchsia flower is pollinated by hummingbirds, who drink its honey-sweet nectar in exchange. This means it sometimes doesn’t get pollinated in other countries, (unless you happen to have a hummingbird as a pet!) So the main edible in this case is the flower with its honey sweet centre, and not the purplish berry. If you are lucky, you may get the berries. They have a mild, sweet flavour. Slightly insipid, but great if you don’t like tangy fruit.
Okay, so now for something a little closer to home. Ox Eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) is a quaint English cottage-garden perennial, a giant relative of the daisies we get in our lawns. Both its deep green spoon shaped leaves and its cheerful big round daisy flower heads are great eats. I ate this along the way as I hiked the North Downs NT (It also grows wild). It has a cleansing, invigorating flavour reminding one of yarrow and pleasant texture. The flower heads can be added to the top of a pizza and slightly wilted with cheese – great for children!
What about foliage, however? Sculptural edible greens come served up in the form of Hostas, as well as Ice Plant.
Hostas are always being attacked by slugs, deer and chickens, so go where the slugs go and try some. They are juicy, a bit bitter like lettuce and tender, the best bit being the young furled leaf shoot that comes up in Spring. Stir fry them with a bit of soy sauce. Just don’t give them to your dog – they contain saponins (as does quinoa) which dogs can’t digest. I’m sure your dog would rather steal a pizza off your table anyway.
Ice plant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) is a fleshy leaved succulent, so named for the crystalline structure on its leaves that make it look like it is covered in glittery frost. The leaves and stems are used by the Japanese to make tempura (battered) dishes. It tastes crunchy and slightly salty – really nice in a salad with fish. I did, admittedly, take my first taste of this in the ornamental gardens of Brentford Park. Which also had some delicious mulberries in it. But more about THAT later.
Last but not least, let’s not forget that queen of ornamentals, the Rose. From the wild dog rose (Rosa canina) to the showy blooms at the Chelsea Flower Show, roses (Rosa sps) are edible. Their petals can be candied or added to cakes and drinks. Once this show is over, and the rose hips come out, they can be made into jams, jellies or just squeeze out the paste and eat raw (once softened by cold weather or the freezer). They contain large amounts of Vitamin C. Don’t eat the seeds, they are very itchy!
That’s all for today, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. I will be back with more on this fascinating topic. So get growing your own decorative edibles (yes, there is a way to subtly harvest leaves and petals so it doesn’t look dodgy from the front).