We are all aware of the wonderful taste and satisfaction gained from growing home grown fruit and vegetables, but people are often surprised at the variety of flowers in their gardens that are edible too. Some flowers have a strong peppery taste and so are good for adding flavor to dishes like salads, others have a sweet taste and can be used in cakes and other sweet dishes, and some merely look beautiful and can be used as a decorative edible garnish.
Collecting and Preparing Flowers
Many of the flowers you can eat or use in cooking can be grown alongside other plants in a flower bed or integrated with vegetables in your vegetable garden. In fact many edible flowers also make good companion plants for vegetables, such as marigolds which can be used in salads and are also effective at keeping pests at bay. As with most fresh produce, the best time to pick edible flowers is first thing in the morning when the dew has just dried. Some flowers can be eaten or used whole, but others, particularly those with daisy-like heads you should use the petals only which should be removed gently. Once you have picked your flower heads and removed any petals, you can store them in a plastic bag in the fridge where they will keep fresh for a few hours. Don’t be tempted to wash the flowers as this can easily damage them. If they look like they have wilted before you want to use them, pop them into a glass of water and this should revive them.
Some Common Edible Garden Flowers
The best flowers to use on a vegetable plot are annuals because they are short-lived and so won’t interfere much with your planting or crop rotation plan. Annuals that self-seed easily are particularly desirable as you will find they will pop up year after year and you won’t have to keep buying seed. Any that appear in the wrong place can be easily transplanted. Good examples are marigolds and nasturtium.
Calendula or marigold is a hardy annual and good companion plant for the vegetable garden. Its bright orange petals can be used to decorate salads. Nasturtium is another hardy self-seeding annual. Its flowers range from yellow to deep red and add a delicious peppery flavor to salads as well as being highly decorative. Borage flowers are a particularly beautiful pale blue. I pop them in the middle of an ice cube to be added to summer cordials and other drinks. The scented geranium ‘Attar of Roses’ adds a lemony flavor when used as a base for cakes. Heartsease or viola is small enough to be eaten whole and is very decorative when used as a garnish, in salads or frozen in ice cubes. The purple and pink bracts of clary sage also make a pretty garnish.
The white petals of bellis perennis or daisy flower make a colorful garnish for soups, salads, or other savoury dishes. Most dianthus or pinks have a pleasant spicy clove-like taste and can be added to soups or cakes. The flowers of evening primrose taste very much like lettuce and so are great added to a green salad. Lavender flowers can be used in a variety of ways. They are great in bread, cakes or added to sorbets, jams and jellies. Courgette flowers are very tasty when stuffed with feta cheese, dipped in batter and quick-fried. If you have a rose that smells good, you can be pretty sure it will also taste good. Most roses have a delicate fruity flavor and so are great added to cool drinks or fruit dishes. Jasmine flowers are highly scented and are often used for scenting tea.
It is not only the petals of flowers that can readily be eaten; seeds can also be a tasty by product of growing flowers. Poppy seeds are lovely sprinkled over a fresh loaf of bread. Sunflower seeds are also tasty when added to bread and other pastries.
If you are interested in growing some of these flowers to eat, why not grow a few near your kitchen door in garden planters alongside herbs and other plants with culinary uses so they are readily accessible when you need them. But remember not all the flowers in your garden are edible, some are actually poisonous, so take care and make sure you have correctly identified an edible flower before you pick it.
Jo Poultney is one of two people behind Garden Planters. I have an RHS general certificate in horticulture.