Edible Landscaping - Growing Edible Flowers in Your Garden

By Charlie Nardozzi, May 1, 2010

Select nasturtium varieties, such as 'Empress of India', that have flowers growing above the foliage. The flowers, leaves, and stems add a spicy taste to salads.

Daylily flowers and buds are edible. Eat them raw in salads or sautee the flower buds in an Asian stir-fry.

Tulips are not only beautiful, the petals are edible as well. They have a slightly sweet flavor.

Rose petals have a sweet taste. Remove the petals from their bitter base and avoid eating petals from sprayed bushes.

Violas and pansies are perfect cool-season edible flowers. In many areas they will survive the winter and flower again in spring.

While gardeners love flowers for their beauty outdoors in the garden and indoors in a vase, few grow them for eating. That's a shame because many flowers are edible in addition to bringing 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 archaeological evidence that early man ate flowers such as roses.

Of course flowers have been used for centuries for making teas, but flower buds and petals also have been used — from China to Morocco to Ecuador — in soups, pies, and stir-fries. Rose flowers, dried daylily 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 that doesn't cause a negative reaction is considered edible. However, just because a flower is edible doesn't necessarily mean it tastes good. 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 so they have no pesticide residue.
  • Collect flowers for eating in the cooler parts of the day — preferably early morning after the dew has evaporated — or late afternoon.
  • Choose flowers that are at their peak, avoiding those that are not fully open or are starting to wilt.

Edible Annual Flowers

Here's a listing of some common edible, annual flowers that are easy to grow as well as tasty. Included are a number of herbs and vegetables that have edible flowers in addition to other edible parts.

  • Calendula/pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) comes in yellow, gold, or orange flowers with a tangy, peppery taste.
  • Garland chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum coronarium) produces mild-favored, flowers in shades of yellow to white.
  • African marigold (Tagetes erecta) has white, gold, yellow, or red flowers with a strongly pungent flavor.
  • Signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia) features white, gold, yellow, or red flowers with a citrus flavor.
  • Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) has flowers in shades of white to red, with a watercress and peppery flavor.
  • Pansy/viola (Viola spp.) has violet, white, pink, yellow, or multi-colored flowers with a sweet flavor.
  • Petunia (Petunia hybrida) has a wide range of colors and a mild flavor.
  • Garden salvia (Salvia officinalis) features blue, purple, white, or pink flowers with a slightly musky flavor.
  • Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) has scarlet flowers with a sage flavor with pineapple undertones.
  • Radish (Raphanus sativus) has yellow, spicy-hot flowers.
  • Snapdragon (Antirrhinum spp.) has a wide range of colors with a bland to bitter flavor.
  • Scented geranium (Pelargonium spp.) has white, red, pink, or purple flowers with flavors such as apple or lemon, depending on the variety.
  • Scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) has bright orange to scarlet flowers with a mild, raw bean flavor.
  • Squash (Cucurbita spp.) has yellow to orange flowers with a mild, raw squash flavor.
  • Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) features white, yellow, orange, or burgundy 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.

Edible Perennial Flowers

Flowers of these perennials and herbs offer a broad range of flavors.

  • Baby's breath (Gypsophila sp.) has white or pink flowers with a mild, slightly sweet flavor.
  • Bee balm (Monarda didyma) features red, pink, white, or lavender flowers with a tea-like flavor that's stronger than the leaves.
  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) have white, lavender, or purple flowers with a strong onion flavor.
  • Dianthus/Pinks (Dianthus) have pink, white, and red flowers with a spicy, clove-like flavor.
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) comes in a wide range of flower colors with a slight asparagus or summer squash-like taste.
  • Borage (Borago officinalis) has blue, purple, and lavender flowers with a cucumber-like flavor.
  • Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) have yellow, slightly bitter flowers.
  • Red clover (Trifolium pretense) has sweet-tasting, pink or red flowers.
  • Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) come in a wide range of colors with a bland to slightly bitter flavor.
  • Tulips (Tulipa spp.) come in a wide range of colors and have a mild, slightly sweet flavor.
  • Violets (Viola odorata) have violet, pink, and white flowers with a sweet to slightly sour flavor.

Tree and Shrub Flowers

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

  • Apple (Malus spp.) has white to pink flowers with a floral to slightly sour taste.
  • Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) has sweet, white flowers.
  • Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) has orange, red, or purplish red flowers with cranberry and citrus overtones.
  • Linden (Tilia spp.) has white to yellow flowers with a honey-like flavor.
  • Lilac (Syringa spp.) has fragrant white, pink, purple, or lilac flowers with a slightly bitter, lemony flavor.
  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) features white, yellow, pink, or red flowers with a honey-like flavor.
  • Plum (Prunus spp.) has pink to white flowers with a mild flavor, like flower nectar.
  • Rose (Rosa spp.) has white, pink, yellow, red, or orange flowers with a highly perfumed, sweet to bitter flavor.

Some Flowers to Avoid

While exploring different ways of using edible flowers, 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 include: clematis, hydrangeas, sweet peas, azaleas, daffodils, daphne, lily-of-the-valley, foxgloves, bleeding hearts, rhododendrons, wisteria, oleander, lupines, hyacinths, four-o'clocks, calla lilies, and castor beans. This is by no means an exhaustive list of non-edible flowers so 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. Harvest early or late in the day when the blossoms are cool. Sugars and volatile oils — the basis for aroma and flavor — are highest before heat and photosynthesis converts them into starch.

Pick flowers and place them in a shaded basket without crushing them. 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 (reproductive parts inside 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, some flowers have only edible petals. These include roses, calendulas, tulips, chrysanthemums, yucca, and lavender. 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. In addition, some flowers, such as roses, dianthus, English daisies, signet marigolds, and chrysanthemums, have a bitter white portion at the base of the petals where they attach to the flower that should be removed.

With a little effort, you can harvest beautiful, delicious flowers to dazzle your friends and family at mealtimes.

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