Bringing flowers in the kitchen – in a recipe, not in a vase – is a way to add a splash of flavor, as well as a feast for the eyes. Cassie Winslow loves flowers – “they are so magical and special. They’re just a wonderful part of our world” – and have been using them as an ingredient for about a decade. The edible flower trend has been blooming for several years but, for many of us, the idea of chewing on petals, instead of admiring them, is still taking a leap. Winslow’s new book, Floral Provisions, guides you through the edible flower garden. “If you love flowers, this is just another way to incorporate them into your life,” she says. Here are his tips for doing so.
Know Your Edibles
Just as you won’t be grazing old leaves instead of lettuce, some flowers are completely inedible. Blame Instagram, which hosted the edible flower trend, for promoting poisonous, even life-threatening flowers — like rhododendron — shown adorning smoothies and puddings. Edible flowers include lavender, roses, hollyhocks, pelargoniums, nasturtiums and pansies. Some look alike – jasmine is fine, but false jasmine is poisonous; you can eat the flowers of the peas, but not the sweet peas. Anyone allergic to pollen should avoid them all.
Develop your own
Winslow grows a range of edible flowers, but if you don’t have a garden, many edibles, such as pansies and violas, can be grown in planters. If you already have a vegetable garden or are growing herbs, pay attention to the flowers they produce, such as chives and mint; vegetables, like kale, produce flowers once they’ve bolted, the stage before going to seed. It’s critical, Winslow says, not to use pesticides or other chemicals on the flowers you’re growing to eat. And don’t eat cut flowers or flowers from garden center plants (or follow the advice of the Royal Horticultural Society and grow them for at least three months, to reduce the impact of any chemical residue), as they will almost certainly have been treated. If you’re picking, the usual rules apply: identify what you’re picking, don’t take too much, and be careful where you pick; avoid roadsides, areas that may have been sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, and areas frequented by animals.
Buy edible flowers
Many online vendors sell fresh and dried flowers, and some supermarkets stock them. Winslow loves farmers’ markets and health food stores, where she’s found more unusual flowers like rosemary or broccoli blossoms, saying, “There are so many different options now.” You can use the dried flowers sold as herbal tea – almost all supermarkets carry chamomile tea (just cut the tea bags) and you can find others like hibiscus, jasmine and rose.
A pinch of salt
Winslow’s Chamomile and Rose Salts are an easy way to incorporate flowers into everyday cooking. Mix 5 g of dried flowers (crushed into small flakes, but not powder) with 100 g of fine sea salt. Ideally, leave it for a week to infuse the flavor, but you can use it right away. She uses both in everyday cooking. Chamomile salt — it has a honeyed, grassy flavor, she says — goes on eggs, potatoes, and as a seasoning for chicken and pasta dishes. She keeps a jar of rose salt on her counter and it’s used “in soups, on fries, sprinkled on poached eggs, on chocolate chip cookies or chocolate ice cream.” It doesn’t quite taste like rose, she says, adding, “It’s very subtle and there’s a visual component to it that’s really lovely.” Both salts are good on the rim of a cocktail glass, she says.
keep it sweet
Another pantry staple is sugars and syrups made from edible flowers for use in baking, Winslow says. Fresh flowers can add too much moisture to salts and sugars, making them clumpy, so better suited for syrups. Her recipe for “garden party sugar” is “like nature’s confetti”, and is easy to make: mix a tablespoon of hibiscus, chamomile, lavender, rose and calendula with 200 g of sugar from cane. Use it in cakes and cookies just like you would regular sugar – Winslow recommends it for sprucing up pancakes. To make lavender syrup, which Winslow likes to drizzle over ice cream or cakes, as well as in cocktails and iced coffee, combine 200g granulated sugar, 10g lavender and 120ml filtered water over medium heat until to dissolution. Cook for another five minutes or so until thickened, then cool and strain through a sieve. She also recommends infusing honey with dried flowers.
Taste it first
Too much floral power can be overwhelming and even cloying, so it’s worth doing a taste test to check for strength – dried flowers are generally stronger than fresh, but taste can vary between growers and batches. The idea, says Winslow, isn’t to make everything taste lavender or rose (unless you want to), but to add a subtle extra dimension. For example, the first time she added chamomile salt to scrambled eggs, her husband said how good it was, but he couldn’t tell it was chamomile. “It’s not overwhelming like, ‘It’s chamomile eggs, that’s weird.’ It’s just a subtle flavor that’s different from what you’re used to.
Progress Beyond Puddings
While the flowers work particularly well in drinks and desserts, Winslow likes to add them to savory dishes. They can be baked in pizza dough and flatbread, and she makes flavored cheese crackers with three tablespoons of dried calendula and a teaspoon of rose salt. “You see these lovely little petals that are baked into the crackers, and there’s a bit of spiciness that comes with the calendula.” Calendula is also added to a Gouda cheese and bacon quiche. “Nasturtium is a bit spicy, so I like to use it in savory dishes,” she says. “It can be very good in salads or squeezed into pancakes.” Mix fresh flowers into soft cheese or butter for lovely sandwiches or to spread on toast.
Flowers all over
Some flowers veer towards more style than substance, lacking flavor but pleasing to the eye. “Why not add a little touch of beauty to everyday food?” said Winslow. “Seeing a little sprinkle of petals on something like a poached egg, or something you eat regularly, really brightens up your day.”