Sarah Raven's guide to growing edible flowers
- Credit: Photography © Jonathan Buckley
The gardening expert loves to fill her plot with edible blooms - here she unveils just some of her favourites
Q: The nation seems to have taken solace in gardening over a year of lockdown. Have you found even more peace being outside over the course of the year? And what is it, do you think, about gardening, that’s resonated so much with people?
Sarah: I’ve long loved gardening, particularly for production so I can harvest something to bring inside. Picking anything, whether flowers, vegetables, salads or herbs, is easy and instantly rewarding. It ties you to the place, on that day and in that season, which is just what more of us want and need.
We are living in anxious times, but for any of us lucky enough to have outside space, the Corona-cloud has had this mindful lining.
Q: Have you seen spikes in the sales of certain plants over the last year? Is there anything that’s been in especially hot demand?
Sarah: Gardens have become a sanctuary for many to escape and discover – a trend that I don’t think will be going anywhere anytime too soon. Growing plants from seed gives a sense of progress as they develop, and this provides a sense of hope and achievement that many of us are longing for. Home grown edibles are going to be the focus for lots of new gardeners this year for similar reasons.
We’ve seen more interest this year in richer, bolder colours, especially in dahlias, chrysanths and other cut flowers - we all need some colour in our lives right now.
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Q: Why should we be growing edible flowers?
Sarah: Scattering flowers over your food is a good way to add colour and I've always been a sucker for marigolds, violas, primroses and nasturtiums for this decorative reason alone. The more I learn about eating flowers, the more I realise there may be other, less fanciful reasons for doing this.
Many common wildflowers such as bird’s-foot trefoil, lesser knapweed, field scabious, common sorrel and yarrow have long tap roots that grow into deeper layers of the soil than grasses, thus making different and additional minerals available through their flowers and leaves.
Q: Which edible flower varieties would you recommend for first timers to try?
Sarah: I would recommend our All Year Edible Flower Seed Collection. Within this collection are seeds for viola tricolour 'heart’s ease’ which will grow from winter through to spring, calendula officinalis 'Indian Prince' which will produce throughout the spring months and borago officialis (borage) which will take you right through the summer. Each of these are very easy to grow and flower better the more you pick them. They will transform your salads and make your vegetable garden look wonderful all year round.
Q: What are some of the more unusual flowering plants gardeners might not have considered as edible?
Sarah: Lavender is often used in cakes and desserts, so we are relatively accustomed to seeing it in food already, but it also makes for a stunning splash of purple on any summery dish.
I also believe that borage just doesn’t get the attention it deserves as an edible flower. This delightful blue flower makes for a lovely decoration in Pimms and other summer drinks. I like to freeze it in ice cubes to give even a simple glass of water a touch of colour. You can wilt the leaves for a sauce for pasta and stuffing for ravioli. Plus, it’s brilliant for pollinators.
Rose petals are also an incredibly versatile edible flower. I love to see rose petals used on cakes and as decoration on desserts, but they can also be used in Middle Eastern dishes or in smoothies to evolve the flavours.
Q: What are your favourite edible flowers – how would you describe their flavour and what would you do with them?
Sarah: My absolute favourite edible flower is heart’s ease (viola tricolor). I love using its delicate petals of purple, cream and yellow to decorate salads and puddings.
I also really like primroses – they are great additions to salads or rice. One of my favourite recipes is a wonderful Persian jewelled rice salad with pistachios, dried cranberries and apricots, scattered all over with the exotic and delicious-looking gold-laced primulas.
For August, September and October, nasturtiums are my favourite. They taste the strongest of all edible flowers and the entire plant is delicious.
Q: Do you have any tips for preserving edible flowers from the patch?
Sarah: The most common mistake with edible flowers is thinking that you can take too much from it. The reality is, most edible flowers will grow better the more you pick them, so don’t be afraid to make use of them over the spring and summer.
You can pick bunches of lavender and hang them up from an old clothes airer to dry before using them and this will extend their life slightly after being picked.
My top tip would be to sow and pick the flowers at the right time of year for their variation. If you do this, you’ll have a year-round supply of fresh edible flowers to cook with at any time.
You can find more advice about growing edible flowers at sarahraven.com