I have had a garden since the age of five, that means that for seventy years I should have been eating mostly home grown ecological food for every meal every day of the year. But like many poor school food, poor cooking by a busy mother, snacks on the run during a busy business live diverted me at times from maximising eating the free health foods from the garden. And helping my father in his bakery, when around ten years old, crystalise violet flowers for decorating cakes was in hindsight not the healthiest produce to add to already heavily laden iced cakes.
When I retired in 1994 following two cancer operations I followed the surgeons advice of eating a healthy Mediterranean diet rather than experiencing a debilitating programme of radio and chemotherapy. Fortunately our holiday home was in a then self sufficient valley that ate and exported fresh produce daily and the older folks still gathered wild herbs and flowers for culinary and medicinal purposes.
For decades we had eaten Globe artichokes the flower bud of the plant and when harvesting nasturtium leaves to add zest to salads we added a few flowers for decoration and their subtle taste. Likewise rose pettles were added to salads and elderflowers were used to make a home made wine in the kitchen. Then we started to make Kombucha and added elder rosemary and thyme flowers to add interesting and beneficial tastes. When we walked the local mountains we chewed the flowering tips of rosemary stems for the energy giving oil and romanesque and cauliflowers were often eaten as vegetables.
Then within five years of living full time in Spain the village and valley lost its self sufficiency as families moved off the land to work in the construction industry in the mad Spanish bank destroying boom. So we started to grow all we could ourselves to the state of being self sufficient in vegetables, herbs, fruit, meat and beneficial edible flowers. In 2002 we visited Cuba for a month. Not to visit tourist resorts but to wander around the countryside to study the green revolution of communal allotments outside every town, village, school and factory. One day we visited the research department of the Havana Botanic Garden and were invited to lunch by the Director. Asked what we would like to eat we said give a garden speciality. This turned out to be a brightly coloured hibiscus salad and we learned that the flowers were a relaxant, cooled one down and helped to control ones blood pressure.
Returning home we researched what other beneficial flowers we already had in our garden and what others we should perhaps start to grow.
The list actively included in our diet soon grew. The following dozen are extracted from the list of forty flowers and their reasons why in ‘Living well from our Mediterranean garden’. They , and the other flowers already mentioned can all be grown on your UK allotments and within the flower garden.
Chive flowers while still fresh to add interest to salads and their anti oxidant properties.
Begonia flowers can help keep livers healthy by aiding toxin elimination.
Brocolli flowers for their vitamin and folic acid content.
Borage flowers to add to cider or cold herb infusions.
Courgettes flowers for stuffing to steam or bake.
Day lilies, going in our salad tonight, are good for ones hair and nails.
Marigold petals are an interesting addition to salads.
Passion flower infusions can be relaxing.
Rocket flowers as well as leaves add a spiciness to salads.
Sunflower seeds can be dried and chewed as a snack.
Viola flowers can relieve as an infusion hay fever and allergies.
Violets were as infusions a traditional relief for varicose veins.
Hope that these thoughts add to a new interest in what you grow. But do not spray flowers that you intend to eat with chemical insecticides.
(c) Dick Handscombe www.gardenspain.com November 2012
Article written By Dick Handscombe, Holistic gardener and author of ‘Living well from our Mediterraneran garden’.