Eats Shoots and Leaves

Image of bees on lavender plants

You’d have to be colour blind not to notice the current fashion for edible flowers and micro greens. They appear in almost every posh restaurant and glossy magazine photo-shoot. And they are very enticing: the bright colours of the flowers and the tiny, delicate but sometimes pungent shoots.

Many of the flowers are available at various times of year in the average-sized garden: primroses and violets, nasturtiums, roses and lavender, pot marigolds, elderflowers, courgette flowers and herb blossoms: chives, mint, thyme, rosemary and rocket.

Image of rose petals stripped from the flowers

This is by no means an exhaustive list but they’re the ones I feel safe eating without acquiring a degree in plant biology. Check out this RHS site for more but if in doubt, leave it out is my mantra. And I’d never eat flowers I hadn’t grown myself or if I wasn’t sure they’d come from a pesticide-free source.

Image of chive flowers

A few ideas: I like to pick apart chive flowers (they’re a bit inedible in a clump) and scatter them on my potato salads. Stuffed courgette flowers are delicious – just remember to pick out the bitter stamens. Elderflowers, of course, make a great cordial and that’s a key ingredient in these elderflower and buttermilk pannacottas.

Image of elderflower and buttermilk pannacotta

Lavender makes a good ice cream, especially when sweetened with honey, although one of the best and most subtle ice creams I ever made was flavoured by infusing fresh fig leaves in the custard. And I sometimes freeze borage flowers in ice cubes to throw into a summer Pimm’s – very pretty and they don’t go soggy and limp half as fast.

Image of borage flower ice cubes

Micro greens can be trickier to source. While it’s possible to buy them they’re quite expensive and have a very short shelf life, so I’m experimenting with growing my own this year. This is still a work in progress so no pictures yet but for the price of a few packets of seeds and with a sunny windowsill at your disposal, you can grow your own edible garnishes. It’s no harder than the mustard and cress you may have grown on blotting paper as a child. Does anyone use blotting paper any more? I’m probably showing my age.

I’m growing mizuna, amaranth and mustard and also pea shoots: you can just nick some off your pea plants if you have some in the veg plot but if not, or if you don’t want to sacrifice future peas, check out these tips from Golightly Gardens. You might also like to look at this summery recipe, combining peas and pea shoots, from the James Kitchen. And the prize for the prettiest recipe so far probably has to go to a pistachio and rosewater cake from the Waitrose website.

Images of pistachios and rose

I made it as a dessert when we had friends round the other day. The gluten-free cake, made with ground pistachios and almonds and polenta flour, is drenched in a lemon and rosewater syrup and scattered with crystallised rose petals. The petals are a bit of a faff and I suspect mine didn’t turn out quite right, but even so they did look rather lovely and our guests voted the cake a big success.

Image of pistachio and rosewater cake

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