Instantly making a meal look more impressive, a simple flower can add depth and taste to your dish. Edible flowers have been used for years in cooking and food decorating, with some of the earliest recipes tracing back to 3000 B.C when the Chinese were the first to experiment.
Today, many restaurants are using flowers to enhance dishes with new flavours and unusual textures. One of the leading ‘floral experimenters’ is Ventnor Botanic Garden where Head Gardener Chris Kidd and edulis chef, Brad Roe make a formidable combination.
Ventnor Botanic Garden has an unparalleled collection of plants on the Isle of Wight and regularly utilise these into the restaurant menu. Some flowers are well known in high-end cuisine, and are becoming more widely used elsewhere too, such as the flowers of borage, coriander, nasturtium, pansy and fennel. The Garden has an even wider range of plants that can be used, and it is Chris’ job to introduce these to the restaurant. Having worked as a professional horticulturist for over 30 years, both home and abroad in celebrated botanic gardens, Chris has been here for the last 18 years and is currently the curator. Here, he has developed the collections extensively and tutored the gardeners to have the plant knowledge to recommend flowers that would otherwise be overlooked.
The restaurant, edulis regularly adds the flowers and buds of Daylilies, Hemerocallis, to dishes. These are brightly coloured and highly tasty, the buds in particular are like an upmarket caper, with a unique fresh pea-pod flavour and crisp texture. In contrast, in May and June the chefs use the petals of Cistus as edible confetti on dishes. They have developed a layered approach with root vegetables sliced into micro thins and layered with petals to make translucent slices, something totally unique. The Garden has recently introduced evening cuisine sessions with guests travelling the world through Ventnor Botanical Garden to meet the amazing and sometimes strange plants, that will later grace their plate.
Other places where you will more likely find flowers on your plate than in a vase include The Seaview Hotel, Three Buoys, The Royal and Heima.
If you fancy having a go yourself and brightening up your dinner parties, take some advice from local foraging fan, Vanessa Bilton.
“Spring has sprung and hints of summer are in the air, the Island is starting to look and smell beautiful. I myself am new to foraging flowers for the dinner table but with such an abundance all around us, it seems rude not to!
The Island is covered with elder trees and if there’s one scent that is the epitome of an English summer, then it has to be the heady, fragrant scent of elderflowers. Their bountiful blossoms can be used for many things from elderflower cordial to elderflower jelly to name but two.
One of my absolute favourites and one that carpets the Island in April in great swathes, is wild garlic. Most people use the leaves but the flowers are equally delicious and can be used as a garnish or to replace chives in many recipes.
With a little knowledge you can turn an ordinary side salad into a very pretty dinner party addition. A scattering of yellow or orange marigold petals, fire-red nasturtiums or white or lilac borage petals, on top of any crisp lettuce of your choice makes such a pretty and inviting plate of food.
I’ve actually seen borage used on lots of occasions due to its fresh cucumber-y flavour. Sprinkled over strawberries or Pavlova, floated on cocktails or frozen in ice cubes and popped into drinks.
There are many, many flowers that are edible, roses, violets, primroses and dandelions to list a few but with any foraging, you must always check before you eat. Happy foraging.