Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
June, 2011
Regional Report

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This spectacular garden geranium can be eaten!

Eat Those Flowers!

My daughter was looking carefully at a lily the other day and asked me if she could taste the nectar dripping from the center. So, I went running for the edible flower book to see if I could let her taste it.

Flowers are Fun to Taste
Lilies weren't on my poisonous list, but neither were they on the edible list I have. So, I told her no, and we set off to find suitable flowers that are edible and have tasty nectar. We spent the next hour tasting pinks, calendulas, daylilies, geraniums, Johnny-jump-ups, beans, nasturtiums, roses and bee balm.

Grow Edible Flowers in the Garden
Edible flowers are such a fun addition to cooking, and I've familiarized myself with many of the most common ones. I also make a point to grow a lot of different ones in my garden, not only for the enjoyment of viewing them, but also for the unique elegance they add to the table.

Edible Flowers Easy to Grow
Many fruits, vegetables, and herbs have edible flowers, giving them double duty in the garden. Not only do they add beauty and bounty, but also flavor and whimsy to the table. It's surprisingly easy to grow edible flowers in the home garden, but there are a few simple things to keep in mind.

Check out Sources Before Tasting
First, make sure you know what you are tasting. Check a reliable source for proper identification and to ensure the flowers are fit to eat or for garnish. This is especially important with children. I've made certain that any children coming into my garden understand that they must never sample a flower or berry that they don't know without checking with me first.

Be Aware of Toxicity
Some flowers that shouldn't be eaten may simply taste unpleasant, but others may contain chemical substances that are actually toxic to ingest. For example, foxglove is a striking flower and would add an attractive touch to the table. However, foxglove (Digitalis) provides a drug that is commonly used for heart problems and eating the flowers can have an adverse effect on the heart. Exquisitely scented lily-of-valley flowers are quite toxic if ingested. So are the berries. Don't assume that because the fruit from a plant is edible, the flower is also edible. Bean and pea flowers are perfectly edible but eggplant, tomato, potato and pepper flowers are poisonous.

Use only Pesticide-Free Flowers
Next, it's important never to use pesticides on plants from which you will harvest flowers. Even if you use a particular type of pesticide on your vegetables, don't assume that it's okay to use on flowers. Usually, a strong spray of water will get rid of any insect problems. If it doesn't, just don't eat that flower. The inner parts of many flowers are bitter, so concentrate on eating the petals.

Don't Eat Florist's Flowers
Finally, don't use flowers from a florist unless they were specifically grown for eating. You can never be sure that they don't have preservatives or insecticides on them.

Simple Culture
Most edible flowers just need well-drained soil, usually full sun, and plenty of water. You can grow edible flowers in garden beds with other plants, in raised beds, single containers, and even hanging baskets. They make great companions to vegetables as well as other flowers. Also, consider using herbs for their flowers in other places than the herb garden.

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