CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

Delicious dahlias delight the senses

PUBLISHED: 16:04 02 August 2016 | UPDATED: 16:04 02 August 2016

Dahlias are one of the nation's favourite flowers with thousands of different varieties including cactus, semi-cactus, pompom, single, decorative, collarette, show, anemone and peony

Dahlias are one of the nation's favourite flowers with thousands of different varieties including cactus, semi-cactus, pompom, single, decorative, collarette, show, anemone and peony


If you want to grow something edible in the garden, but also provide an impressive floral display, consider growing dahlias, suggests Simon Akeroyd

With beautiful colours like this, it's not hard to see why the dahlia is one of the nation's favourite flowersWith beautiful colours like this, it's not hard to see why the dahlia is one of the nation's favourite flowers

Dahlias are usually associated with an exuberant floral summer display in the herbaceous or cut flower border, with showy flower heads lasting from mid-summer until the first autumnal frosts. However, for some gardeners dahlias also deserve a place in the kitchen garden, as their underground tubers can be cooked and eaten in much the same way as the humble spud.

In fact they taste yum, or should I say yam as this is one of the common names given to this gourmet delight. To be fair, there are mixed opinions as to the culinary virtues of cooking dahlia tubers ranging from ‘unpalatable’ to ‘delicious’, but this is probably due to the huge range of varieties available, and the fact that they have been bred for their flowering qualities as opposed to their use in the kitchen. Dahlias can be used as a substitute for most potato recipes, and can be boiled, baked, roasted or even made into chips and crisps. In fact, if you live in an area susceptible to the dreaded potato blight, then this could be a useful alternative.

Dahlias originate from Mexico with their edible tubers being a popular staple diet of the Aztecs. They were originally introduced to the West as a culinary crop by a Swedish botanist called Anders Dahl (hence the name dahlia) in the 18th century. It was thought it could even supersede the potato, which had been introduced a century or so earlier, possibly by Sir Walter Raleigh. However, this didn’t happen, but instead the dahlia developed as one of the nation’s favourite flowers with thousands of different varieties including the bizarrely-named categories of flower heads such as cactus, semi-cactus, pompom , single, decorative, collarette, show, anemone and peony. In a way, dahlias have had the reverse fortunes to both runner beans and tomatoes which were introduced to this country as ornamental plants, and of course are now two of our most popular culinary crops.

How to grow dahlias

Regularly deadheading your dahlias will guarantee they continue to flower throughout the seasonRegularly deadheading your dahlias will guarantee they continue to flower throughout the season

We’re very lucky at Greenway gardens as the weather is so mild the tubers can be kept in the ground all-year-round. In fact they continue to pack a colourful punch in the garden right up until after Christmas.

In cooler climates where there is a risk of frost killing the tubers, plants should be gently lifted out of the ground in mid-autumn when the foliage starts to die back and blacken. Stems should be cut back to a few centimetres above the tuber. Hang the plants upside down for a few days to remove any excess moisture that can cause the plants to rot. Then place them in trays of sand with just their crowns above the surface. Store them in a dry, cool place such as a cellar, garage or shed. Once the risk of frost is over they can be planted outdoors again. If you don’t want to go to the effort of lifting tubers each year, then you can try planting them a few centimetres deeper than usual, and covering them with a thick layer of mulch in late autumn.

After planting dahlias, they should be kept well-watered. They’ll also need staking with bamboo and string to ensure the huge flower heads don’t snap under their weight. Regularly deadheading the plants will guarantee they continue to flower throughout the season.

If you intend to cook the tubers, they should be harvested in autumn by gently digging the plant up with a fork taking care not to damage the tubers. Don’t remove all the tubers for cooking, but instead just harvest the plumpest, saving about two-thirds of the remainder to be planted back in the ground in spring to produce another crop the following year. So, whether you want to grow dahlias in the garden for their ornamental qualities or their versatile, culinary flavours, it is always worth giving over some space in the garden to this impressive group of plants.

Simon Akeroyd, gardens manager for the National TrustSimon Akeroyd, gardens manager for the National Trust

Avoid eating dahlia tubers bought directly from garden centres or online, as they may have been treated with insecticides and other chemicals. Instead grow them in the garden for at least a year.

Devonshire dahlia dish

Dahlias are very starchy, like potatoes, but slightly more watery. Flavour and consistency varies enormously according to variety, so it’s worth experimenting. Their tubers can be cooked as an alternative in dishes to potatoes or sweet potato.

1) Harvest about 12 plump dahlia tubers from the garden in mid-autumn

2) Scrub off the dirt and then peel as you would a potato

3) Grate or finely dice the dahlia tubers into a bowl. Squeeze them in a dishcloth to remove excess moisture

4) Finely chop an onion or shallot and mix it with the grated dahlia tuber. For a milder flavour use spring onions

5) Add two eggs and 6 tbps of flour to the dahlia and onion mixture and stir well

6) Mould the mixture with your hands into small oval cakes about 12mm thick and 8cm wide

7) Fry in olive oil until lightly brown. Serve with rashers of good Devonshire sweet cure bacon, apple purée made with a slightly sharp Devon Apple such as Tom Putt. A dollop of Devon clotted cream contrasts nicely with the salty bacon. If you want to jazz it up a bit you can always add chilli flakes to the cake mixture to suit personal taste.

Simon Akeroyd is gardens manager for the National Trust, working for the English Riviera portfolio. Gardens include Agatha Christie’s Greenway, Coleton Fishacre, Compton Castle and Bradley Manor . Simon has written a book called RHS Vegetables for Gourmet Gardeners featuring a range of usual and quirky vegetables worth trying out in both the garden and the kitchen.


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Devon Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Devon Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Devon Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Food & Drink

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

SU CARROLL breaks bread with charismatic Devon restaurateur Edmond Davari as he embarks on a new venture

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

We hooked up with RACHAEL JOWITT, head roaster for leading South West coffee roastery, Voyager Coffee, to hear how the business is developing

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

From pale ale and real cider to craft beer, Devon is home to a number of real ale breweries and CAMRA award-winners, meaning a good pub is never far away – we pick 16 places to go in Devon to find the best pint

Read more
Friday, November 16, 2018

Devon Life’s readers and followers have been voting for their favourite food & drink stars and we can now reveal our winners who were honoured at our glamorous ceremony at Sandy Park on November 15

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Public Houses are a cornerstone of life here in Britain, dating back as far as the Roman invasion in 43 AD. Devon is no different and its humble establishments are steeped in history and nostalgia. We’ve taken a look at 11 of the county’s most historical pubs

Read more
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A traditional Christmas pudding recipe, served with clotted cream and a brandy Crème Anglaise with a dash of cognac

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

Whether you have strawberry or raspberry jam on your scones, or prefer Earl Grey to English breakfast tea, we’ve found 12 of the best tearooms that Devon has to offer

Read more
Monday, October 22, 2018

We’ve spoken to award-winning chef Michael Caines MBE to find out more about Lympstone Manor’s wine celebration evenings and when their new vineyard will produce its first bottle of wine

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Sunday lunch is an enduring British institution that’s incredibly important to get right. We’ve chosen 12 places in Devon that will guarantee sublime stuffing, mouth-watering meats and Yorkshire pudding perfection.

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

As the winter begins to close in, there’s nowhere better to take refuge than one of Devon’s many cosy pubs. Here are 9 you should look for when needing to escape the nippy British weather

Read more
Thursday, October 4, 2018

Check out Michael Caines’ column in the latest issue of Devon Life where you can read more about what this recipe will be perfect with

Read more
Wednesday, October 3, 2018

We reveal the winner of Devon’s Tea Room / Coffee Shop of the Year. Sponsored by Radio Exe

Read more
Wednesday, October 3, 2018

We reveal the winner of Devon’s Best Sunday Roast. Sponsored by

Read more
Wednesday, October 3, 2018

We reveal the winner of the Pub of the Year award. Sponsored by WBW Solicitors

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search