University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Article


EDIBLE FLOWER GARDENING

 
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
This year, when ordering your seeds from the catalogs, check out the edible flower varieties.  You can have an attractive flower garden and eat from it too, adding some excitement to your cooking, new flavors, and impressing your meal guests.

The concept of eating flowers is not new. Flower cookery has been traced back to Roman times and was especially popular in the Victorian era. Today, many restaurant chefs and innovative home cooks garnish their entrees with flower blossoms for a touch of elegance.  While salads and garnishes on plates are the most common uses, steep some in warm water to use this in recipes.  Others can be used to flavor stews, drinks, and confections.

One very important point that you need to remember is that not every flower is edible. In fact, sampling some flowers can make you very, very sick, so do your research first.  Some can eat certain flowers, others may be allergic to them.  Or a few flowers may be fine, too many may cause gastric upset or other problems.

When purchasing flower seeds, make sure the listing in the seed catalog identifies the variety as an edible flower.  The most important point is, when growing them, never use any pesticides on plants you plant to use for their flowers.

One edible flower  that everyone is familiar with is the sunflower. Choose a mammoth or giant variety. You can harvest the seeds after the petals drop, cure them, then eat them raw or oven-roasted.  There are many other possibilities for edible flowers.
 
Johnny Jump Ups are a tender perennial with tiny, pansy-like flowers in deep purple, mauve, yellow and white. Blossoms have a mild wintergreen flavor and can be used in salads, to decorate cakes, or served with soft cheese. This plant will do well in sun or shade and grows to a height of six to eight inches.

Tuberous begonias are an annual in cold climates, grown from a tuber that you overwinter indoors similar to a dahlia.  Flowers have a sour citrus taste, the petals often used in salads and as a garnish.  The stems even can be used like rhubarb.  Avoid this plant though if you have gout, kidney stones, rheumatism or similar problems, as it contains oxalic acid.

Calendula is another annual that has been widely used, growing one to two foot high with yellow to gold or orange daisy-like flowers.  This has been called “poor man’s saffron”, as it can be used similarly with a similar sharp taste.  The petals give a yellow tint to soups, pasta, rice, or herbal butters.

Nasturium is a low-growing annual, originally from Peru, which became popular during the reign of Louis XIV who grew them in the palace flower beds. Blossoms taste like watercress with a slightly sweet flavor. You have several edible varieties to choose from, most of which grow best in full sun or light shade.

Select lemon or tangerine varieties of signet marigolds. Blossoms have a citrus taste and can be used to perk up vegetables, pasta, and salads. Marigolds are easy to grow and like full sun.

Anise hyssop, an attractive perennial, bears deep lilac-colored flower spikes that bloom profusely for several months. The blossoms make attractive plate garnishes and are often used in Chinese-style dishes. The leaves can be used for a naturally sweet tea or sugar to make candies. Both flowers and leaves have a delicate anise or licorice flavor. Some people say the flavor reminds them of root beer.
 
Borage is an annual ornamental with clusters of one-half inch sky-blue flowers, which bees find particularly attractive. Borage blossoms have a light cucumber taste and can be added to salads, fruit cups, or frozen in ice cubes for cold drinks. Some add them to alcoholic beverages like white wine, or to brandy and sherry for a punch.  Plants grow two to three feet tall.

Chive can seed itself around profusely, so beware.  This herb has attractive lavender-pink blossoms that make a delicious addition to salads, egg dishes, and potatoes. Both blossoms and the slender dark green leaves (or "stems") have a subtle onion flavor. This perennial plant likes full sun and can grow to one foot.

Vegetables with edible blossoms are runner beans (garnish soups and salads) and squash (eat as a vegetable, or fill with a stuffing). The yellow flowers of broccoli add a mild spicy flavor to salads or stir fry.  Or sample the tiny flowers of arugula and herbs such as chamomile, oregano, dill, garlic chives, thyme, rosemary, mint, or savory.  Lavender flowers have many uses in cooking, such as in bread, sorbet, cookies, stews, and to flavor beef and pork.  It is elegant added to champagne or chocolate desserts.

There are many other potential flowers you may find in catalogs.  Also consider cornflower (sweet to spicy, use as a garnish), dame’s rocket (related to mustard, it adds a bitter taste to salads), impatiens and peony (both with sweet flavor when added to salads or drinks), or primrose (also called cowslip, the flowers add a sweet taste to salads). 

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