Cape Town - Most of us pick leaves of our favourite herbs and neglect the flowers, which keen herbalists have been using for centuries. Look around your garden – you will probably find flowers that can add flavour, colour, and health-giving properties to your baking, salad dressings and suppers, while some can be dried and find their way into your medicine cupboard.
Margaret Roberts, one of South Africa’s most renowned gardeners and herbalists, is a household name, thanks to her books and articles on herbs and promotion of natural products to enhance health and well-being.
In her latest title she encourages readers to cultivate gardens of flowers that can be used to produce medicines and cosmetics as well as ingredients in the kitchen.
The sub-title sums up the contents: “Cultivating – cooking – restoring health”.
This new compilation, a sequel to her Edible and Medicinal Flowers, published 13 years ago, incorporates new flowers and recipes she has developed in the interim. The introduction describes the cultivation of plants that can be used in festivities and as medicines or cosmetics, and tips on planning, treating the soil and mulching precede a guide to propagating plants from seeds and cuttings.
The plants are listed alphabetically, followed by a history of usage. Recipes for lotions and potions precede those for culinary use, and each flower is photographed, although few recipes are illustrated.
Useful indices include a list of health complaints and the plants used to treat them, flowers listed by common and botanical names, and recipes for both medicinal and culinary purposes.
Roberts’ passion for flowers is beautifully expressed at the beginning of her book, in a praise song which ends like this: “…here is a salute to flowers, a feeling of gratitude and wonder that nature gives us so much that betters, inspires and uplifts us.”
These winter-flowering plants add colour to chilly gardens, are easy to grow and the therapeutic properties of the petals have been documented for centuries. Calendula tea is recommended to relieve, inter alia, muscle spasm, gastric disturbances and infections, and is both astringent and antiseptic. The petals are used as a natural colouring in the food industry, and home cooks can add them to drinks and jams, desserts and pancakes. Roberts recommends that these omelettes be made individually.
Half- to three-quarter cup grated cheddar cheese
Quarter cup parsley
Half-cup fresh calendula petals
Mix the cheese, parsley and petals together. Whisk the eggs well with the water and seasoning. Heat a little olive oil in a pan, add the egg mixture and leave to set for about 3 minutes, tipping the pan to spread the mixture evenly. Spread the cheese mixture over one half and leave for a minute or two. When nearly cooked, flip over the other half to cover the filling and slide onto a warmed plate. Serve with buttered toast and sprinkle with more petals if wanted. Serves 1.
Nasturtium salad vinegar
This South American summer annual is grown all over the world today, and is both a favourite herb and flower that comes in many hues. At the first sign of a sore throat, says Roberts, eat a leaf, followed by another an hour later and a third an hour after that. High in vitamin C and containing a natural antibiotic, cooks have long used them for peppery flavours, and their seeds can make a good substitute for capers. Roberts recommends this dressing as an ingredient in stir-fries as well as over salads.
Nasturtium flowers and buds
10 nasturtium seeds
2T sesame seeds
1T mustard seeds
2T runny honey
Brown grape vinegar
Pack the flowers and buds and a couple of leaves into a 750ml bottle. Add the nasturtium, sesame and mustard seeds. Dribble in the honey and top up with good-quality brown grape vinegar. Shake gently, store out of the sun and leave for about one month before using. Shake gently before using.
Rose petal cream jelly
This is one flower that needs little introduction to even the most ignorant gardener. Revered for thousands of years for their beauty, fragrance and medicinal and cosmetic properties, it was the ancient Romans who built the first hot-houses, controlling the temperature with pipes filled with hot water, to ensure rose blooms all year round. Rosewater was used by the Arabs to treat skin ailments and to make cough syrups more than a thousand years ago. Today rose oil, or attar of roses is used in aromatherapy to treat depression and anxiety, and rose hips find their way into syrups, jellies and jams. There is still time to find unsprayed rose petals to add to this summery dessert.
3T powdered gelatine
1 litre red grape juice
Half cup white sugar
1 cup dry or semi-dry red wine
2 cups fruit – strawberries, sliced peaches, youngberries
1 cup mixed rose petals
1 cup cream, whipped
Dissolve the gelatine in a little warm water. Stir the mixture into the grape juice along with the sugar and red wine. Pour into a glass bowl or 6 tall individual glasses and gently lower in the fruit and rose petals. Leave in the fridge until set. Just before serving spoon the cream on top, make a pattern with more fresh rose petals and dust liberally with icing sugar. Serves 6.
In recent years lavender flowers have been added to everything from bakes to vinegars, roasts to ice cream. Throughout history the plants have been grown for deodorising and perfuming rooms, as a remedy for skin ailments, and for their soothing effect. Not all varieties are edible – Roberts recommends her own which is called Margaret Roberts lavender.
4T soft butter
4T castor sugar
1 cup cake flour
2tsp baking powder
1 egg, beaten
2T fresh lavender flowers, stripped off their stalks
Icing sugar, sifted, for dusting
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the flour, baking powder and egg, and then the flowers. Knead until smooth, adding a little extra flour if necessary. Pat out dough gently on a floured board and cut into shapes. Transfer to a well-greased baking sheet and bake at 180 C for about 10 minutes until lightly golden and firm.
Remove and dust with icing sugar. Makes about 24. - Cape Argus