Growing Edible Flowers in Your Garden
While gardeners love flowers for their beauty outdoors in the garden and indoors in a vase, few raise them to eat. That’s a shame because many flowers are edible and bring lively flavors, colors, and textures to salads, soups, casseroles, and other dishes. Eating flowers is not as exotic as it sounds. The use of flowers as a food dates back to the Stone Age with archeological evidence that early man ate flowers such as roses.
Of course, flowers have been used to make teas for centuries, but flower buds and petals also have been used from China to Morocco to Ecuador in soups, pies, and stir-fries. Rose flowers, dried day lily buds, and chrysanthemum petals are a few of the flowers that our ancestors used in cooking. In fact, many of the flowers we grow today were originally chosen for the garden based upon their attributes of aroma and flavor, not their beauty.
Some flowers are high in nutrition as well. Roses’especially rose hips are very high in vitamin C, marigolds and nasturtiums also contain vitamin C, and dandelion blossoms contain vitamins A and C.
Any flower that isn’t poisonous or causes reactions such as allergies is considered edible. However, just because a flower is edible doesn’t necessarily mean it tastes good. Since looks have as much to do with a taste like the actual flavor, beautiful flowers tend to be the ones selected to eat. But before you go munching through the flower garden and window box, there are a few criteria you should keep in mind.
- Be sure to positively identify a flower before eating it. Some flowers have look-alikes that aren’t edible.
- Don’t eat flowers if you have asthma, allergies, or hay fever.
- Only eat flowers that have been grown organically and have no pesticide residue.
- Collect flowers for eating in the cooler parts of the day — the preferably early morning after the dew has evaporated — or later afternoon.
- Choose flowers that are at their peak, avoiding those that are not fully open or are starting to wilt.
Some Great Edible Annual Flowers
Here’s a table of common edible, annual flowers that are easy to grow and tasty to eat. Included are a number of herbs and vegetables that have edible flowers as well as leaves and fruits.
- Calendula/pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) comes in yellow, gold or orange flowers that have a tangy and peppery taste.
- Garland chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum coronarium) produces mild-favored, yellow to white flowers.
- African marigold (Tagetes erecta) has white, gold, yellow or red flowers with a strong pungent flavor.
- Signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia) features white, gold, yellow or red colored flowers with a citrus flavor.
- Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) has white to red colored flowers with watercress and peppery flavor.
- Pansy/viola (Viola) has violet, white, pink, yellow or multi-colored flowers that have a sweet flavor.
- Petunia (Petunia hybrida) is a summer-blooming flower that comes in a wide range of colors and has a mild flavor.
- Garden salvia (Salvia officinalis) features blue, purple, white or pink colored flowers with a slightly musky flavor.
- Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) has scarlet-colored flowers with a sage flavor with pineapple undertones.
- Radish (Raphanus sativus) has yellow, spicy-hot flowers.
- Snapdragon (Antirrhinum) features spring and fall flowering plants in a wide range of colors with a bland to a bitter flavor.
- Scented geraniums (Pelargonium) has white, red, pink or purple-colored flowers with an apple, lemon, or other flavor depending on the variety.
- Scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) has bright orange to scarlet colored flowers with a mild, raw bean flavor.
- Squash (Cucurbita) has yellow to orange colored flavors with a mild, raw squash flavor.
- Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) features white, yellow, orange or burgundy colored flowers. Unopened buds taste like a mild artichoke. Flower petals are bittersweet.
- Tuberous begonias (Begonia x tuberhybrida) have white, pink, yellow, red, orange or multi-colored flowers with a citrus flavor.
Some Good Tasting Perennial Flowers
Flowers of these perennials and herbs offer a broad range of flavors and mature at different times throughout the summer.
- Baby’s breath (Gypsophila) has white or pink colored flowers with a mild, slightly sweet flavor.
- Bee balm (Monarda didyma) features red, pink, white or lavender colored flowers with a tea-like flavor that’s stronger than the leaves.
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) have white, lavender or purple colored flowers with a strong onion flavor.
- Dianthus/Pinks (Dianthus) have pink, white and red colored flowers with a spicy, clove-like flavor.
- Daylily (Hemerocallis) comes in a wide range of flower colors with a slight asparagus or summer squash-like taste.
- Borage (Borago officinalis) has blue, purple to lavender colored flowers with a cucumber-like flavor.
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has yellow, slightly bitter flowers.
- Red clover (Trifolium pretense) has sweet tasting, pink or red colored flowers.
- Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) come in a wide range of colors with a bland to a slightly bitter flavor.
- Tulips (Tulipa) come in a wide range of colors except for blue and have a mild, slightly sweet flavor.
- Violet (Viola odorata) has violet, pink or white colored flowers with a sweet to slightly sour flavor.
A Few Tasty Tree and Shrub Flowers
Yes, even trees and shrubs produce edible flowers. Here are a few of the best.
- Apple (Malus) has white to pink colored flowers with a floral to slightly sour taste.
- Elderberry (Sambucus) has white, sweet tasting flowers.
- Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) has orange, red or purplish red colored flowers with cranberry and citrus overtones that are slightly acidic.
- Linden (Tilia) has white to yellow colored flowers with a honey-like flavor.
- Lilac (Syringa) has fragrant white, pink, purple or lilac-colored flowers with a slightly bitter, lemony flavor.
- Honeysuckle (Lonicera) features white, yellow, pink or red honey flavored flowers.
- Plum (Prunus) pink to white colored flowers with a mild flavor like flower nectar.
- Rose (Rosa) has white, pink, yellow, red or orange with a highly perfumed, sweet to a bitter flavor.
Some Flowers to Avoid
While eating flowers is fun and flavorful, be careful. There are a number of poisonous plants containing substances that can cause symptoms such as upset stomachs, rashes, and headaches. And even edible flowers should be eaten in moderation. You can have too much of a good thing.
Some common landscape and flowering plants that you should avoid eating the blooms include clematis, hydrangea, sweet peas, azalea, daffodils, Daphne, lily-of-the-valley, fox-glove, bleeding hearts, rhododendron, wisteria, oleander, lupine, hyacinth, four-o’clock, calla lily, and castor bean. This is by no means an exhaustive list of non-edible flowers and you should thoroughly research any flower before munching away.
How to Gather Edible Flowers
Like any fruit or vegetable, when and how you harvest can influence the quality of the food. Harvesting should occur early or late in the day when the blossoms are coolest. Sugars and volatile oils — the basis for aroma and flavor — are highest before heat and photosynthesis convert them into starch.
Flowers should be picked and placed in a shaded basket without crushing. Most blossoms should be harvested at or near the opening. Cull blemished blossoms. Gently clean off any dirt or bugs and store clean blossoms in a hard container in the refrigerator to prevent crushing.
Before using, gently wash the flowers and remove the stamens and styles (insides of the flower) before eating. Flower pollen can detract from the flavor and some people are allergic to it.
Not all parts of all flowers are edible. While flowers such as violas, violets, scarlet runner beans, honeysuckle, and clover are entirely edible, for some flowers, such as rose, calendula, tulip, chrysanthemum, yucca, and lavender, only the petals are edible. Pluck the petals of these flowers for use in salads and cooking. For most flowers, except violas and pansies, the sepals (parts below the petals) are not tasty and should be removed before eating. Some flowers such as roses, dianthus, English daisies, signet marigolds, and chrysanthemums have a bitter white portion at the base of the petals where it was attached to the flower that should be removed.
With a little effort, you can harvest beautiful, delicious flowers as you pick other herbs and vegetables to dazzle your friends and family at dinner time.
Saving Flower Seeds for Replanting
Saving seeds can be economical since a single flower can generate dozens or even hundreds of seeds. Although the procedure is simple, there are a few techniques that will improve your chances of being a successful seed saver.
Tools and Materials
- plant markers
- paper bags
- rubber bands
1. Choose the best plants. There’s always some variability in a planting of the same variety — some plants will have stronger stems or a more pleasing color or fragrance. Use plant markers to help you remember which seeds to save since the flowers will have faded by the time you harvest the seeds.
2. Observe seed formation. Most flower seeds are borne in pods or capsules. The ideal time for gathering seeds varies from crop to crop, but in general, you want to let the seeds dry on the plant as long as possible. Observe plants frequently and watch as seeds develop and ripen.
3. Use paper bags to collect seeds. Shake the seed head over a paper bag to collect the seeds, or snip the entire dried seed head drop it into a labeled paper bag.
4. Separate seeds from the chaff. Some seeds fall freely from the seed heads or pods; others need to be rubbed to loosen them. Remove non-seed material.
5. Store seeds in a tightly sealed container. Good choices include small glass jars (baby food jars are handy) or film canisters. Keep them in a cool place — in the refrigerator if there’s room. You can store several different types of seeds in separate, labeled envelopes in the same jar.
Decorate envelopes, insert seeds, seal tightly, then give as gifts.
Include plant details and cultural information on the storage jars and envelopes, including plant name and variety, planting depth, and sun/shade preferences.