Are edible flowers really worth eating?

Petals may just be more than pretty decorations.

Edible flowers

‘Edible flowers’ have been appearing with increasing frequency on restaurant dishes of late.

The likes of Lyle’s, Fera at Claridge's, Spring, Petersham Nurseries and The Ivy are big name examples of foreign restaurants using petals to populate their plates more often than not to stunning effect.

If anything, this is a sign that food trends are cyclical though it must also be due to the current enthusiasm for seasonal produce and foraging.

Are petals really more than pretty decorations?

Any chef will tell you that everything in a dish should be integral to the eating experience.

“If they enhance the dish I think they can lend so much to cooking,” says Skye Gyngell, the chef patron at Spring restaurant and former chef behind the celebrated restaurant at Petersham Nurseries. “Something like borage is so beautiful, and adds a real cucumber taste, which goes really well with fish, crab, lobster”.

Clearly the look of a dish should never be more important than the taste.

James Lowe of Lyle’s in London puts in nicely when he says: “I consider using flowers for appearance a very slippery slope”.

The time of year is important, thinks Lowe. Like all ingredients, he says, flowers are seasonal, and would be out of place in winter.

“Their use fits nicely with spring and summer, because food in these months should be light, exciting and vital.”

Moreover, “a seasonal menu reflects what’s around so if I’m serving a pea dish and there are wild peas around, why wouldn’t I put them on the plate?”

Whilst dreaded violas and busy Lizzies are a no-go, and fruit blossom, such as pear, can be borderline, herbal flowers from coriander, wild garlic and alliums pack a real punch, lavender and elderflower can be pleasingly floral, and things like borage, nasturtium and pea flowers enhance existing characteristics, cucumber, pepper and sweet grassy notes respectively.

Some of these are flowers you can grow at home, others you’ll need to keep an eye out for in hedgerows and fields nearby, and a number of specialist farm grocers cultivate flowers for chefs and public alike.

Gyngell mentioned that at Spring they’re using things like blossom flowers “which we are blending up and creating a sugar syrup which we use for our homemade ice creams”, which is no doubt gorgeous.

If that sounds a bit technical, then consider which flowers and flavours can be added as a simply picked, but genuinely useful garnish to a salad, side dish, main course or dessert.

For example, wild garlic flowers are blooming right now and are full of flavour.

If you spy some nearby, you should definitely take advantage of them.

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