You might not be in the mood (just yet) for the idea of a summer salad but trust us, it won’t be long before you’re turning away from a warming winter soup and thinking about nutritious green leaves and shoots piled high on your lunch plate.
And since the days are now getting longer and it’s only a matter of days before the clocks spring forward – and we all get a little extra spring in our step – then now is the time to expand your growing horizons and think about what else you could grow and plant to liven up the salad days of the coming Spring and Summer months.
Edible flowers have been enjoying such a renaissance it’s unusual to sit down for a fine dining experience in a fancy restaurant and not find a flower head or bud on your plate which is not just there for aesthetic purposes and decoration – you can eat it!
One of the simplest edible flowers to grow – especially if you are new to the idea of eating flowers – the humble but very robust nasturtium whose bright, velvety-textured flowers will raise the humblest of a green salad to new culinary heights.
The good news about nasturtiums is that not only can you eat the flowers and the leaves but also they are easy-peasy to grow and care for. And since they smell good too, you can keep a few back to put in a vase on the table to lift your spirits.
Nasturtiums grow both easily and rapidly and actually prefer poorer soils and can even survive partial shade so you don’t even have to be super green-fingered to get your first edible flower growing success. Start growing your seeds indoors, four to six weeks before the last likely frost of Spring and then plant out in moist, well-drained soil in full sun if you can. This is the one time when you don’t want to use fertilizer since the plant prefers poorer soils and enriching the ground or compost in the pot will actually produce fewer blooms.
As the plants grow, remove any fading or dead flowers to keep growth vigorous and if you are growing nasturtiums in containers, you will need to cut them back from time to time through the long growing season. As well as looking pretty on the plate, nasturtiums enhance salads and other savoury dishes by bringing a peppery taste to the palate.
Sometimes known as ‘poor man’s capers’ the seedpods of nasturtiums look just like the flower buds of the caper plant (Capparis spinosa) and when pickled, taste remarkably similar but come at a fraction of the price. You can also eat the flower buds of wild garlic – whose growing season is just around the corner – which will lend a mild garlic flavour to savoury dishes.
Here’s a quick A-Z of edible flowers to get you thinking about what you want to grow and if you’re thinking of growing from seed.
Agastache, Broad beans, Borage, Calendula, Chamomile, Chives, Cornflowers, Courgettes, Daisies, Dinathus, French Marigold, Lavendar ,Mallow, Mexican Tarragon, Nasturtiums, Peas, Polyanthus, Primulas, Radishes, Runner Beans, Sunflower, Sweet William, Sweet Rocket, Violas
But it’s not just salads that benefit from the addition of an edible flower twist, you can also add flowers to cakes and bakes and oils and vinegars and teas and tisanes.