Edible Flowers & Ravioli
Growing beautiful edible flowers in our climate can be a rather intimidating endeavor. I used to have the impression that they required cooler temperatures and a hella lot of attention to thrive and bloom all year round. I mean, some of them take five months to put out just one flower and then call it a day shortly after. (Here’s looking at you, stunning, gigantic, total-bee-magnet sunflowers.)
Fortunately, I’ve since been introduced to flowers that are surprisingly easy to care for, beneficial to the garden – especially one that grows vegetable and fruit – and increase the diversity of phytonutrients in our diet.
Blue butterfly pea
This is a fast-growing climber that loves basking in our hot sun. The plant is so hardy, it does not need much else apart from a regular watering. It grows well even in poor soil and can actually help improve soil fertility. As a member of the legume family, the plant has root nodules that contain rhizobium, a fungus that converts atmospheric nitrogen into usable nitrates for your soil.
To encourage bushing, we give our vines a light prune every month. Their leaves and vines are perfect for the practice of chop and drop mulching around the garden.
They are very easy to start from seeds. All you have to do is soak them overnight in room temperature water before sowing in a pot or in the ground. Seeds should sprout within 5-10 days.
Their flowers come in many shades of blue, white, purple, and sometimes even a mix of two colours. There are also some pretty multi-petal varieties which remind me of roses. Pluck flowers often so that the vine does not go into seed production phase too soon. In fact, the more you pluck, the more flowers it produces. Pick your flowers in the mornings and always remember to leave some for the butterflies.
You can use them fresh as garnish when you’re feeling fancy or dry them out in the sun for use at a later date. Simply steep dried flowers in hot water to drink as tea or use as a natural food dye.
My only gripe is that the plant can be prone to becoming infested with spider mites, which live on the underside of leaves and feed by piercing leaf tissue and sucking up the plant fluids. To address this, keep plants sufficiently watered as water stress makes them more susceptible to infestations, and cut off affected parts of the plants and discard in trash – not the compost pile.
I found this plant growing wild on Coney Island and observed a lot of bees really having a good time with the flowers, so decided to pick off a dried seed head. (Is that illegal?) “Are you sure you want to grow this? It looks pretty invasive,” Scott said, not a fan.
In the spirit of compromise, I scattered the seeds in a random pot instead of putting them in the ground. Then we totally forgot about them and went away on a holiday. When we returned a couple of weeks later, we were warmly greeted by a massive bush and its pretty flowers.
The flowers are edible raw, while young leaves – popular in South Africa and India – should be eaten cooked. In many places, it is seen as a famine food. The plant is also used in folk medicine to treat cuts, swelling, high blood pressure, jaundice, and diabetes. Some research shows it having potential against colon cancer. Eat your weeds, guys!
Also known as Chinese Honeysuckle, this climbing shrub can be found in tropical forests of Asia as well as parts of Africa. It is not a fussy plant, enjoying both full sun and partial shade, and can thrive in most soils.
The vine produces clusters of fragrant flowers that are used extensively in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Flowers have no distinct flavour but can be mixed into salads to add colour, while young shoots can be eaten raw or steamed. The entire plant is used medicinally to treat many ailments, from coughs and toothaches to rheumatism and intestinal parasites. Seeds must be used with caution and in small dose as they have purgative properties and can cause nausea.
Flowers bloom one after another and change colour with age – a clever technique to attract more pollinators. The flower is white when it first opens at dusk, attracting hawk moths with long tongues for pollination. Over the next couple of days, it gradually turns pink and finally red, to attract birds and bees.
I love having these guys around the garden because of the large, eye-catching flowers they put out. They can be easily purchased from nurseries as young plants.
My mum likes keeping hers in a pot so that she can carry it around the house with her. She puts it out front while she works in the garden and hangs it from a hook in our backyard when she does her Japanese homework in the afternoons.
We recently transplanted ours to a sunny corner of our vegetable patch, in hopes that it grows into a medium-sized shrub with many beautiful flowers in the months to come. To encourage re-bloom, remove old flowers before they form seed heads. Plants also tends to bloom on new growth, so prune them back by one third after a flush of bloom is finished to encourage fresh growth.
The flowers have a cranberry-like flavour and are often made into teas. They can also be chopped and added into salads and desserts for a tangy spunk. The only caveat, they’re so pretty I usually can’t bear to eat them.
Not only are they a cheerful addition to the garden, they make great companion plants to many vegetables. They enhance the growth of basil, kale, squash; and repel pests when grown with tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
I am always envious when I hear about marigolds self-seeding in other people’s gardens because that never happens in ours. Whether we use seeds purchased from nurseries or saved from dried flower heads, the germination rate has been very poor. It really is a numbers game for us when it comes to growing marigolds. We’ll seed a tray of say, 20. And if a fifth of them make it out to the garden eventually, that’s great success by our standards.
Once established, caring for marigolds is simple. They need little attention other than watering, and have very few pest or disease problems. They prefer being in full sun as their dense foliage becomes susceptible to fungal diseases like powdery mildew when they are in the shade. As the blooms die back, pick off spent blooms. Deadheading will focus the plant’s energy on flower production rather than seed production.
Marigolds are eaten as petals or leaves, raw or blanched, fresh or dry, sweet or savory. To prepare: Pull entire petals from the stem, and as you hold them firmly in your hand, with scissors cut off the white (or pale greenish) “heels,” as this could give a bitter taste if not removed. (I usually skip this last step.)
If you’re pressed for time, the easiest way to incorporate edible flowers into your diet is by using them as garnish or infusing them into teas. But if you’re feeling a little extra and/or woke up feeling like some kind of kitchen goddess, you really should have a go at making edible flower pasta. Who cares if you’ve never made pasta from scratch before?! Throw some edible flowers and herbs into the mix to make the process more complica– I mean, fun! Then *plot twist* make ravioli with your pasta sheets because you love a challenge.
Edible flower pasta is made by laminating flowers or herbs between two pieces of dough. It is an easy step that creates the most beautiful pasta, but that’s not all, the flowers and herbs can add flavour too.
Choose flowers and herbs that are thin and soft, so that they flatten easily when rolled. Woody herbs like rosemary are a no-no. Basil is probably the easiest herb to use as it’s thin and its flavour pairs well with most Italian dishes. You can also use leafy greens like spinach, rockets, or microgreens. (Can't wait to try this again with laksa and turmeric leaves!)
Note: I’m not a fancy kitchen gadgets kinda girl, so my techniques and tools may come across as… primitive. But they get the job done! If you have a pasta machine or ravioli press, this whole exercise will probably take half the time and effort.
Note: Dough can be made 1 day ahead; store tightly wrapped and chilled. Highly recommend doing this if you’re the sort to get easily overwhelmed and stressed in the kitchen.
Note: I filled my ravioli with pesto which I made a few days ahead. Doing this definitely helped me avert a meltdown.
Note: This is super fun to do with a couple of friends! Or your mum! Or whoever is home.
Making pasta dough
Ingredients (makes 30 parcels, feeds 5)
3 large eggs, beaten
2 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Some edible flowers and herbs
1. Sift flour onto the table into a mound and sprinkle salt. Using your hands make a well in the centre, like a little volcano.
2. Pour eggs and olive oil into the centre. Using a fork, mix until a paste is formed. Then start bringing in a bit of flour from around the edge a little at a time until all is combined.
3. Knead it into a ball using your hands, adding more flour along the way if your dough is too sticky or a few drops of water if it is too dry.
4. Work the dough for 10 minutes until it is smooth to touch and elastic. Cover dough with a damp towel and leave to rest for at least 20 minutes. (If you try to roll it straight away it will tear and not roll out smoothly.)
5. Cut your ball of dough into half. Leave the rest of your dough covered while you’re working so it doesn’t dry out.
6. Flour your work surface and rolling pin. Roll your first ball of dough out into a large thin sheet. Get it as thin as humanly possible. Like, paper thin. Like, you should be able to read the newspaper through it kind of thin.
7. Space flowers and herbs out over half of the pasta sheet and then fold the other half of dough over and press together. (If your dough feels dry, lightly pat some water onto the side with no flowers/herbs before folding over.)
8. Get rolling again. The herbs and flowers will tear and stretch with the pressure of being rolled, creating some really pretty patterns. Repeat steps 6-8 with second ball of dough.
9. Once dough is rolled out super thin, it is ready to be cut or shaped into any pasta you wish. Go for pappardelle if you’re close to losing your cool; ravioli if the situation is under control.
Filling (I used pesto with EXTRA cheese)
1. Cut dough into circles.
2. Add filling and brush edges with some water. Seal using a fork to decorate the edges.
3. Eat them fresh or make them up to a week ahead and store them in the freezer.
Cook your ravioli parcels like how you would regular pasta – boil in a pot of water with olive oil and some salt. I was too exhausted to make a sauce so just sautéd some vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, cherry tomatoes) with Italian spice and chilli flakes.