Flowers in your garden are at their most prolific at this time of year and some of the flowers are not just pretty to look at … but are also good to eat.

The colours and textures that flowers bring to your garden can be enjoyed at the table if you open your kitchen and your awareness to edible flowers.

Not all flowers are edible, but those listed at the end of this article can be used as garnishes or palate-pleasing ingredients. It’s best to pick from your own flowers as florist-trade flowers may have been grown using pesticides.

Cooking and garnishing food with flowers is back in vogue once again and is the new rage in haute cuisine. This practice can be traced back to Roman times, as well as to the Chinese, Middle Eastern and Indian cultures. Edible flowers were especially popular in the Victorian era during Queen Victoria’s reign.

The secret to success, when using edible flowers, is to keep the dish simple. Do not add too many other flavours that will overpower the delicate taste of the flower.

Zucchini and other types of squash provide edible blossoms as well as the fruit/ vegetable. The zucchini plant is a prolific producer and if you have too many of these squash blossoms, nip the blossoms in the bud (so to speak) and try frying the flowers in batter, tempura-style or lightly sauté them.

You can also cut the squash blossoms into thin strips and toss them in with hot pasta. Some people find that the long-stemmed male flowers are more flavourful and they are certainly more abundant.

Another favourite edible flower is the nasturtium blossom that is used to garnish cold summer soups. They have a peppery flavour and go great with chilled carrot or cucumber soup. The peppery taste is also an exotic addition to any summer salad.

Pick edible flowers just before you’re ready to use them. They will not have wilted, and their flavour will be at its most intense. If needed, they can be kept in the refrigerator for about a day if loosely wrapped in damp paper towels.

Some ways to enjoy edible flowers:

  • Garnish fruit salad, sorbet or finger sandwiches with sage, rose, violet or pansy blossom.
  • Mix rose petals from your own garden (not store-bought roses), mint flowers or pansy blossoms into cake batter or cookie dough.
  • Toss blossoms from nasturtiums, basil or mustard plants with your favourite salad greens.
  • Freeze flower petals or small blossoms in ice cubes and enjoy them in cold drinks or float them in a bowl of party punch. Pansy or viola blossoms work especially well for this.

Some edible flowers look better than they taste. Chrysanthemum petals, for example, are a beautiful garnish and quite safe to eat, but they won’t win any contest in the flavour department.

With sunflower and dianthus the petal tips can be used to colour a huge range of foods but the base of the petals, where they attach to the blossom’s centre, often taste bitter. Use only the tips of these flower petals.

Candied flowers are an ideal way to use edible flowers and are perfect for cake decorating.

To make candied flowers, pick violets, pansies or nasturtium blossoms leaving a short stem attached to the blossom; rinse and pat dry. In a bowl, beat an egg white until frothy, then mix in two tablespoons (30 grams) of superfine (not confectioners’) sugar. Hold the blossom by the stem as you paint the mixture on both sides of the petals. Let them dry on a baking sheet in the refrigerator. When ready to use, snip off the stem as you set each blossom in place on the cake.

Not every flower is edible; some can be toxic. Also, be sure to pick flowers that have been grown organically, preferably in your own home garden. To be safe, stick to the following list of plants:

Basil, bee balm, calendula petals, chive, dianthus petal tips, lavender, nasturtiums, pansies, roses (grown without pesticides), sage (herb type), scented geraniums, signet marigold, squash blossoms, sunflower tips and violets.

For a touch of elegance at your next garden party, introduce entrées or salads with edible flower blossoms.