Edible flowers have crept their way back onto our plates with good reason. They’ve been used for centuries to add flavour and decoration to dishes as well as for medicinal purposes. Ermentrude from The Magic Roundabout had it right and it’s good to see the revival of this charming tradition.

A serious word of warning before we go on, accurate identification of the flowers you are planning to eat is vital. If you are in any doubt whatsoever, don’t eat them.

It is advisable to grow your own edible flowers from seed so that you know exactly what you’re eating and that they are clean and free of pests.

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If you have bought plants from a shop it’s wise to leave them at least three months before you eat the flowers as this should be long enough to reduce the risk of possible pesticide residues.

Choose young flowers and buds that are growing out of a fox or dog’s pee range and eat them the day that you pick them. Watch out for bees and make sure that they are clean of smaller insects by dipping them in a bowl of cold salty water and drying gently. Picking on a dry morning means they will be at their strongest colour and flavour. If you have a bounty, dry or freeze them and use in infusions and cooking.

Mostly it’s the petals that are used so discard all else, including the bitter heel at the base of petals. Smaller flowers that grow in umbels like dill and fennel can be cut off and used whole.

What’s cooking?

Alpine pinks (Dianthus) – clove-like flavours, good for making flavoured sugar for cakes as well as oils and vinegars

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Bergamot (Monarda didyma) – strong spicy scent, common for tea but also complements savoury dishes

Chrysanthemum – petals flavour and colour creamy soups, fish chowder and egg dishes in the same way

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Daisy (Bellis perennis) – a pretty summery garnish for salads and cakes

Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) – typical in making cordials and wine but flowers can be dipped in a light batter and deep fried

Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) – an impressive garnish

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Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) – commonly used to flavour sugar, honey or vinegar, can be used in cakes and biscuits and sprigs lend a good flavour and scent to roast pork, lamb and chicken

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) – peppery taste that goes well in salads and pasta dishes using the whole flower, leaves, and buds

Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) – peppery taste used in soups, stews and puddings. Petals can be dried, pickled or added to oil or butter

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Primrose (Primula vulgaris) – pretty decoration when crystallized or fresh for cakes and a beautiful addition to summer drinks when frozen in ice cubes

Rose – Eat fresh or crystallize for drinks, sugar and icing cakes

Scented geraniums (Pelagonium) – flowers can be crystallized or frozen in ice cubes for drinks

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Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – blanch whole buds and serve with garlic butter and add petals to stir fries and salads

Sweet violet (Viola odorata) – delicate flavour for sweet and savoury dishes

From the herb garden

Herb flowers like basil, chives, lavender, mint, rosemary and thyme give a subtler flavour to food than the leaves. By adding sprigs of edible herb flowers like basil or marjoram to oils and butters the delicate flavours can be appreciated for longer.

Borage (Borago offincinalis) – fresh cucumber flavour for cakes, salads and added to drinks in ice cubes

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Clover (Trifolium pratense) – striking garnish for fresh salads

Courgette flowers – best eaten stuffed, lightly battered and fried

Garden pea (Pisum sativum) – flowers and young shoots are wonderful in salads

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Allotmenteer’s Nasturtium and Runner Bean Omelette

50g/2oz young runner beans

2 eggs

30ml/2 tbsp milk

2 nasturtium seeds, crushed

4 nasturtium petals and a few extra for garnish

15ml/ ½ oz butter

Salt and pepper

Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Finely slice the beans and boil lightly until cooked but crisp. Beat the eggs with the milk before adding the nasturtium seeds and petals. Season lightly and melt the butter in a small frying pan over a gentle heaty. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and sprinkle the beans over it. Cook until the omelette just sets, sprinkle with parmesan and garnish with extra nasturtium petals.

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Smallholder’s Summer Salad

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Salad leaves

Bergamot leaves (about 5)

Nasturtium leaves (about 5)

Borage, viola, nasturtium, rose, calendula and monarda flower heads Olive oil

White wine vinegar

Seasoning

This is a salad that will be different each time you make it. Choose some different young and fresh cut and come again salad leaves, wash and dry them. Tear them into a salad bowl and add the bergamot and nasturtium leaves. Mix the olive oil and vinegar together to make a dressing and season to taste. Add some dressing to the leaves and toss. Lightly pull apart and add all of the flowerheads but the borage flowers which go in whole. Once the flowers are added gently toss the salad, turning it over rather than mixing it around to keep the flowers intact. Garnish with a few rose and nasturtium petals.

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Light Flowery Dip

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225g/8oz cottage cheese

1 clove garlic, crushed

¼ tsp caraway seeds

65g/2oz yoghurt

½ a cup of mixed edible flowers, torn into small pieces

Salt

Borage flowers

Push the cottage cheese through a sieve and add the remaining ingredients. Chill for two hours and dress with the borage flowers. Perfect with cucumber and carrot batons, toasted flatbreads and as the centrepiece to a salad.

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Peachy Hollyhock Salad

2 peaches or nectarines

2 hollyhock flowers

2 springs of mint (even better if in flower)

Halve the fruit, remove the stones and slice. Arrange the slices on a serving plate. Take the stigma out from the centre of the hollyhock flowers and remove the green parts. Brush off any excess pollen on the petals and arrange the petals around the peach or nectarine slices. Garnish with sprigs of mint.

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Fruity and Flowery Goat’s Cheese

200g/7oz granulated sugar

100ml/ 3½ fl oz water

10 heads of lavender flowers, washed

1 lemon - zest and juice

8 ripe plums, halved and stoned

150g/ 5oz mild goat’s cheese

Loaf of brioche, thickly sliced

Put the sugar, water, lavender heads, lemon zest and juice into a pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes before leaving to cool for 5 minutes. Arrange the plums in individual bowls and drizzle with the syrup. Toast the brioche, spread with the goat’s cheese and serve with the plums.

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This article first appeared in Smallholder magazine. For more info and advice on smallholding and allotmenteering subscribe to the magazine here, call 01778 392011, email subscriptions@warnersgroup.co.uk or buy a copy from your newsagent.