I may as well be honest – there is absolutely no point in bothering to seek out black locust flowers, which are only available for a few days in the year, in very particular places and which have parts of the plant which are toxic and you need to know to avoid; especially when the ubiquitous, safe and fabulously fragrant elderflower is there for all.
Black locust flowers are not ubiquitous in the UK in fact they are not easy to find – they grow mostly in France or Italy; or in the USA in the Appalachian mountains.
The official name of the plant is Robinia Pseudoacacia (effectively ‘fake acacia’ – because it is nothing to do with Acacia tree).
You need to be careful with these flowers – the flowers themselves and the tiny stems around them are fine to eat, but the rest of the plant, including its leaves, is toxic. Equally well, make sure you don’t confuse them with yellow acacia flowers which are also toxic.
The whole point of eating them is the scent – a sort of mix between jasmine and fresh pea – and this is only detectible when the flower is just opening so you need to catch them at the beginning of their season when they are just opening.
If you can’t get black locust flowers you can try substituting with wisteria or elderflower, both of which come into flower around the same time. But the advantage of the black locust flowers is that they are crispy where the other two substitutes are not, so they add an intriguing texture. If they didn’t have this advantage, they might well fall into culinary disuse because they have many disadvantages – the toxicity of the rest of the plant, the fact that the season lasts barely a week, its delicate scent, the thorny branches which are out of easy reach.
It is possible to freeze them.
You can make a wine, or as described on Esmeralda and Rosa’s gorgeous blog, the post-war, poverty-stricken Italians in an area near Bologna, applied a needs-must imaginative approach and began to make a liqueur with these flowers, which is still made today.
For more on edible flowers go to the Saucy Dressings’ Guide to Edible Flowers
You can serve them:
- In salads – especially with mint (I think it’s something to do with the pea scent)
- As a garnish for a pea soup
- With pasta, sage (which you could fry), sugar snap peas, and lots of brown butter
- On ice cream
- Add to lemonade
- Infuse custard
- In a cake batter
- In pancakes – with a little elderflower cordial poured over. Use the nephew pancake butter which includes extra baking powder to support the extra weight of the flowers
- In fritters – with maple syrup poured over. For many years now we’ve been enjoying elderflower fritters in May, but it’s only recently that I’ve discovered that you can treat the blossoms of black locust flowers in a similar way.