Valentine’s Day is approaching and, we might start thinking about a romantic home made dinner to surprise our partner. It is important food tastes good but you should also please the eye!

Flowers delight our senses in so many ways – sight, smell, touch – it’s not surprising that for centuries, cultures around the world have brightened their recipes by adding flowers. It is important to proceed with caution though, because not every flower is edible.

Do not eat flowers unless you are sure that they have been grown without pesticides and chemicals.

A great place to start is with flowers from your own garden. Pick your flowers at a cool time of the day; morning is often best. Remove the pistils and stamen, and be sure to wash petals carefully. Also make sure there are no insects stuck inside your flowers.

Here are some flowers you can safely add to your dishes:

  • Alliums: Chives, leeks and garlic are all delicious in green salads, potato and pasta salads and dips. Remove the central stem from the flower cluster to release the separate florets.
  • Carnations or clove pink: steep in wine or use as cake decoration. To use the surprisingly sweet petals in desserts, cut them away from the bitter white base of the flower.
  • Nasturtiums: blossoms have a peppery flavour like watercress. All colours and varieties are tasty in salads or as garnishes. Leaves can be eaten, too.
  • Marigolds: their blossoms have a citrus taste.
  • Gladiolus: flowers (anthers removed) taste vaguely like lettuce but make lovely receptacles for sweet or savoury spreads or mousses. Toss individual petals in salads.
  • Hibiscus: cranberry-like flavour with citrus overtones. Use slightly acidic petals sparingly in salads or as garnish.
  • Lilac: the flavour of lilacs varies from plant to plant. Very perfume-y, slightly bitter. Has a distinct lemony taste with floral, pungent overtones. Great in salads.
  • Roses: flavour reminiscent of strawberries and green apples. Sweet, with subtle undertones ranging from fruit to mint to spice. All roses are edible, with the flavour being more pronounced in the darker varieties. Miniature varieties can garnish ice cream and desserts, or larger petals can be sprinkled on desserts or salads. Freeze them in ice cubes and float them in punches. Petals can be used in syrups, jellies, perfumed butters and sweet spreads.
  • Pansies and Johnny jump-ups (wild Pansy): these flowers have a wintergreen flavour and are pretty on cakes and other desserts. Take your drinks to the next level: freeze edible Johnny jump-up flowers in an ice cube tray and add to your favourite beverage.
  • Anise hyssop: if you like anise, this is the edible flower for you. Separate the florets and add them to sweet or savoury dishes. Or use the full flowers to garnish a cheese plate.
  • Scarlet runner beans: mix these bright-red flowers into salads, or in with steamed veggies.
  • Borage also known as starflower: this fuzzy-leaved herb has sky-blue flowers with a light cucumber taste. Add to fruit salads, green salads or freeze in ice cubes for cold drinks.
  • Bee balm (Monarda): this member of the mint family has minty-tasting flowers. Colours range from bright red to purple and pink.
  • Chamomile: english chamomile has small, daisy-like flowers with an apple-like flavour. If you’re allergic to ragweed, you might want to avoid chamomile.
  • Daylily: their buds and flowers taste a bit like asparagus. They can be used as a garnish, or can be stuffed or made into fritters. Good in stir-fry, too.
  • Mint: like Bee balm, all flowers of the mint family are edible and have a pleasant taste. Try lemon balm or spearmint in iced tea.
  • Squash blossoms. Use these as you would Daylilies.

Note that even petal parts of edible flowers that are close to the base can have a bitter unpleasant taste. It is better to cut them off especially if used to decorate dessert.

When using flowers follow recipes carefully or, if you are improvising, introduce these petals to your diet in small amounts so that you can check your body’s reaction. If you have allergies, you should proceed with extra caution; you may want to check with your doctor first. 

This Valentine’s Day, have fun decorating your dishes and table with flowers. Add colour to your food and don’t be afraid of trying new flavours! 

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