Sandy’s Garden ... Edible Fuchsias

Yes, ‘fuchsia’ is the correct spelling of a word which is often wrongly spelled ‘fuschia’.

For the plant was named in honour of the German botanist Leonhart Fuchs (1501–1566). Fuchsia triphylla, the first known species of the genus, was found on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean island group, the Greater Antilles, at the end of the seventeenth century by Charles Plumier, a French monk and enthusiastic botanist. Little did he suspect that, 300 years later, more than 100 different species of Fuchsia would be recognised, most of them native to South America, with the balance coming from Central America, Tahiti and New Zealand. However, the fuchsias which grace so many gardens throughout much of the world nowadays are almost always cultivars, for plant breeders, both professional and amateur, have found the genus amenable to cross-fertilisation and are producing ever-growing numbers of new cultivars every year to whet the appetites of horticulturists for ever-more attractive variants of these deservedly-popular plants.

While the vast majority of gardeners grow them for their decorative, brightly-coloured flowers with their distinctive teardrop shape and pendent habit … not to mention their willingness to bloom throughout the summer and into the autumn … only a small number realise that the flowers and fruit of all fuchsia species and cultivars are edible. As one might expect, some varieties are tastier than others … there are reports from the United States of deer eating entire plants of one species while entirely ignoring plants of a different species growing alongside … but the seed suppliers, Thompson & Morgan write, on their website, “The stunning colours and graceful shape of fuchsias make them ideal as a green or fruit salad garnish. They look very decorative if crystallised or inserted into jelly. The berries are also edible and useful for making jams.” I must caution that Thompson & Morgan also advise that, “Individuals consuming the flowers, plants, or derivatives do so entirely at their own risk. Thompson & Morgan always recommends following good hygiene practices,” this latter caveat referring to the need to be careful lest the plants have been sprayed with systemic pesticides which might lead to possibly harmful chemicals being ingested. This suggests that it would be best eat only carefully-washed, home-grown fuchsias which the gardener has not prayed with systemic pesticides. There’s no point in unnecessarily risking an upset tummy.

I have only limited personal experience of eating fuchsias, having enjoyed small quantities of the flowers in salads and having, on one occasion, eaten fuchsia scones: but I read that the berries of Fuchsia splendens … a species originally from Central America … are among the best-tasting. The flavour is said to be reminiscent of citrus and pepper, and it can be made into jam. ‘Cornucopia II : a source book of edible plants’ by Stephen Facciola, first published by Kampong Publications in 1998, endorses the recommendation of Fuchsia splendens as a good edible species, saying that, “the fruits are eaten raw or made into preserves, having a pleasant lemon-like flavour with no noticeable after taste.” The author further writes that the berries of Fuchsia excorticata, “are eaten raw, or may be used in pies, tarts, cakes, desserts, and dessert sauces. They have a unique flavour and like rose hips, should be combined with potato flour or corn starch to temper the slight astringency.”

Unfortunately I suspect, gentle reader, that local garden centres are unlikely to have examples of either of these species for sale. However, the flowers of two widely-available cultivars, ‘Voodoo’ and ‘Dollar Princess’, make a beautiful, if bitter, garnish to salads. But remember – just add a few flowers as a garnish. Don’t be tempted to make a meal of them!