They’ve been part of our takeaway orders for generations. We explore the history of Chinese/Australian takeaway classics, including the dim sim, lemon chicken and sweet & sour pork.
For thousands of years, flowers have been used by cultures around the world in traditional cooking such as the use of rosewater in the Middle East, squash flowers in Italy and saffron in India. Now you will find the petals of edible flowers adorning the plates of high-end restaurants, but you can easily grow your own at home.
Grow edible flowers as you would ornamental flowers but avoid all chemical pest control and avoid animal manure 4 months prior to harvesting. The idea is you don’t want to ingest anything that might be bad for you! Instead, manually pick off pests and promote beneficial insects by growing a diversity of flowers. You’ll have to accept some pest damage as part of the organic growing experience, but if you take care you should produce far more than you’ll lose.
Sun is essential. Building a flower takes a lot of energy, and all a plant’s energy comes from the sun. So most flowering plants need a full-sun site – where sunlight falls 6 to 8 hours a day all through the growing season.
Good soil – not too sandy, not too sticky, with enough organic matter to make it drain well and be invited to plant roots – is essential for successful flower gardening, just as it is for vegetables. After all, vegetables like squash and tomatoes are formed from flowers.
Remember flowers are more delicate than vegetables so it is more difficult to wash them sufficiently. If you don’t have much garden space, choose plants that can be grown in containers such as pansies, geraniums and
Picking and preparing
Pick your flowers just as they’ve fully opened and done this in the morning after the dew has dried. Lotus can be eaten whole but many other flowers need to be prepared. For pollen-heavy flowers, the first step will be removing the stamens and pistil. Next, brush any excess pollen from the petals, cut away the green parts and pluck the petals. For other flowers simply snip or pull off the petals, ensuring the white or non-coloured portion is removed because this will be bitter. To protect delicate petals from bruising, avoid using salad spinners or pouring running water over flowers. A gentle bath of salted water will get rid of tiny insects that seem difficult to remove.
Place your flowers on a damp cloth in a sealed container in the fridge. It’s best to use them within a few hours. If you need to store them longer you could also place them in a small vase.
You can also dry some flowers – like the butterfly blue pea – and store them in jars, just make sure to check the perishability of the varietal you’re drying.
Flowers themselves are most often used as a garnish for desserts and drinks, adding colour and fragrance to a variety of dishes. Some, like the Nasturtium, are used in sweet pancakes, while the lotus is eaten from root to tip. The roots used like potatoes, while the seeds are turned into a paste and used in a similar way to jam.