Foraging – your ornamental garden

Danielle Lowy’s guide to finding food on your doorstep

Have you ever had a nibble of your hosta, slipped some begonia stems in your crumble or sprinkled cornflower and calendula leaves on your ice-cream? Me neither, but I’m planning to forage in my garden this summer! 

Some ornamental garden plants can be eaten, drunk as herbal teas or taken as complementary medicine. For instance honeysuckle, mallow, lavender, calendula, day lilies, mullein, vervain, chamomile, begonias, Himalayan honeysuckle, sedums, lilacs, dahlia, sunflower seeds and so many more have edible flowers, stems, roots or seeds. Even house plants have edible and healing properties: aloe vera leaves can be squeezed for the gel to heal burns and other skin conditions. 

Let’s take just one common garden plant, the common flowering currant (above). Last year I steeped a jar of flowers in apple cider vinegar for about three weeks, then strained for a delicious floral flavoured vinegar. This spring I have combined flowers with organic orange peel (no chemicals in the peel) and sugar to make a gorgeously scented, flavoured syrup for adding to gin or vodka, or to dilute as a cordial. I put a few flowers in salads as they are pretty and have a sweet lemony taste. And I’ve drunk herbal teas made from the emerging leaf buds, flowers and other foraged herbs. When you prune your flowering currant in the autumn, stick some of the twiggy prunings in compost and you’ll have some new plants to share next year.

Nasturtium, another popular summer plant, is not only easy grow, it’s packed with vitamins and minerals, has anti-viral and antibiotic properties and a delicious, peppery taste. Eat the flowers and leaves in salads or sandwiches and pickle the seeds like capers.

Many flowers and herbs make delicious herbal teas: combine relaxing lemon balm leaves, lavender flowers, rose petals and blackberry leaves for a calming night-time tisane.