Growing Edible Flowers in Your Garden

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By Charlie Nardozzi

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 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-fires. 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.

Eating Flowers

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 taste as 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 -- 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.

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.

A Few Tasty Tree and Shrub Flowers

Yes, even trees and shrubs produce edible flowers. Here are a few of the best.

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 converts them into starch.

Flowers should be picked and placed in a shaded basket without crushing. Most blossoms should be harvested at or near 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.

About Charlie Nardozzi
Thumb of 2020-06-04/Trish/0723fdCharlie Nardozzi is an award winning, nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners through radio, television, talks, tours, on-line, and the printed page. Charlie delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. He's the author of 6 books, has three radio shows in New England and a TV show. He leads Garden Tours around the world and consults with organizations and companies about gardening programs. See more about him at Gardening With Charlie.