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Edible Flowers

Using edible flowers in cooking is becoming increasingly popular. Dan McGeorge, Head Chef at Rothay Manor, Ambleside, Cumbria offers food for thought on how to embrace the edible flower trend

Dan McGeorgeDan McGeorge

Summer is the perfect time to include edible flowers in your offer, from drinks and cocktails to food dishes, both sweet and savoury.

Using flowers in cuisine can be dated back to ancient times when they were commonly used within dishes in China, India and Italy. In ancient Chinese times, flowers were used not only for their colours and flavour, but were believed to promote health and physical beauty.

As tastes and cultures have evolved, so has the use of plants within food. In modern dishes, flowers are used to enhance all manner of foods. Perhaps the two most popular edible flowers nowadays are elderflower – which is often integrated into gin drinks and cocktails – and lavender, best known for its sweet taste, which is used with sugar in cakes and other baked goods.

SeedlingsRothay Manor is passionate about using local produce, which drove us to planting our very own kitchen garden within the hotel’s grounds.

The kitchen garden grows a multitude of flowers that are used seasonally throughout the menu. The wide range of flowers and herbs grown at Rothay Manor includes:

  • Viola
  • Chive
  • Sage 
  • Nasturtium
  • Borage 
  • Lavender
  • Marigold. 

Summer delights

During June, Rothay Manor’s offer included a trout dish complete with violas: Chalk Steam Trout with Asparagus, Jersey Royals, Cured Yolk and Radish. Violas are primarily a fantastic flower for enhancing the colour of a dish. They have quite a neutral taste so are predominantly used with desserts, however, we find that they also work very well in savoury dishes.

Nasturtium is another easy flower to use in dishes as it has a nice bold, peppery flavour. At this time of year there is also an abundance of wild garlic flowers, which can be used to spice up any dish, especially a simple salad.

Dish with flowersAlthough mostly used for their appearance, edible flowers are not just used as garnish; they can also add great notes and depths to butters, oils and cordials.

Rothay Manor’s top tips for choosing the right flowers:

  • Ensure you have knowledge of the flowers you are working with. If you are in any doubt as to the type of flower you have picked, do not eat it. Many edible flowers have toxic look-a-likes
  • Pick the flowers from known gardens on a dry morning, this will ensure the best quality. Do not eat from florists, nurseries or botanical gardens as they may have been sprayed with pesticides
  • Do not refrigerate or freeze as you will lose colour intensity and flavour 
  • Use immediately for best results 
  • Only use petals for best results 
  • Good flowers to use for first timers are: borages, which have a mild cucumber-like taste, or calendulas, which have big orange flower heads and are sure to brighten up any dish.

Top tips for growing your own:

  • Many herbs that are used in everyday cooking – such as spearmint, dill and rosemary – come from plants that also flower later in the season. These flowers can be used in dishes and have the same taste as the younger herb 
  • Start planting in January as many seeds will take a while to bloom, however you can plant as late as March for edible flowers the same year
  • Some plants – such as nasturtium, borage and sunflowers – will seed themselves year after year around the garden enabling you to enjoy them for years to come with minimum work.

Top flowers and how to use them:

  • Many herbs that are used in everyday cooking – such as spearmint, dill and rosemary – come from plants that also flower later in the season. These flowers can be used in dishes and have the same taste as the younger herb
  • Start planting in January as many seeds will take a while to bloom, however you can plant as late as March for edible flowers the same year 
  • Some plants – such as nasturtium, borage and sunflowers – will seed themselves year after year around the garden enabling you to enjoy them for years to come with minimum work.

 

French marigoldsFrench marigoldsFrench marigolds have a citrus taste, ideal for complementing a stir-fry recipe or adding a refreshing flavour to a salad.

LavenderLavenderLavender is a sweet flower commonly used in cakes, biscuits and ice cream.

NasturtiumsNasturtiumsNasturtiums give a peppery taste and work well within meat dishes or curries.

SunflowersSunflowersSunflowers have a nuttier taste that works in both sweet and savoury food.

ViolasViolasViolas are more subtle and work best as garnish or decoration.

Rothay Manor is located in Ambleside in the Lake District. The hotel offers a range of special interest holidays including walking and painting. Chef Dan’s Tasting Menu comprises seven courses, many of which include edible flowers. www.rothaymanor.co.uk.

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