Monday, May 17, 2010

Eight Easy-To-Grow Edible Flowers

Wake up your taste buds with these eight flavorful flowers that taste as good as they look.

Photo by RC Designer on Flickr
Borage, (Borago officinalis): This annual grows 2 to 4 feet tall with purplish blue, star-shaped flowers that "make the mind glad," according to renowned 16-century herbalist John Gerarde. Sow seeds in a sunny spot after the last frost, or earlier in warm climates. Borage tolerates most soil types and usually reseeds itself. Transplanting isn't recommended due to the taproot.

Borage adds a cucumber taste to salads, dips and cold soups. Freeze flowers in ice cubes to float in decorative drinks. In large amounts, borage may have a diuretic effect.

Photo by Isabel Gomes
Calendula (Calendula officinalis): Also known as pot marigold, this annual was a favorite in medieval cooking pots. Calendula grows up to 20 inches tall, with attractive pale yellow to deep orange flowers. Sow seeds in a sunny spot in well-drained soil. Provide afternoon shade in hot temperatures. In colder climates, start indoors. This easy-to-grow plant self-sows freely.

Sometimes called "poor man's saffron," calendula has a slightly bitter taste. Petals add color to scrambled eggs, cheeses, poultry and rice. Try chopped leaves and petals in soups, salads and stews. Use caution if you have allergies to ragweed, asters and other members of the Compositae family.

Photo by Eran Finkle on Flickr
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita):  This annual has tiny daisy-like flowers immortalized in "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," when Mrs. Rabbit brewed a calming tea for her son Peter. Easily grown from seeds sown in spring, chamomile grows 1 to 2 feet tall in full sun. It prefers neutral to slightly acidic soil with good drainage. Chamomile reseeds easily, and can be invasive in some regions.

Chamomile's sweet apple flavor and fragrance make a delicious tea. Steep a teaspoon of fresh flowers with a cup of boiled water for 3 minutes covered. Strain and serve. Use caution if you have allergies to the Compositae family.

Photo by Isabel Gomes
Chive (Allium schoenoprasum): This perennial grows 8 to 20 inches tall, with pink and lavender flowers that have flavored meals for centuries. It prefers full sun and moist, well-drained soil, high in organic matter. Planting rooted clumps is the easiest way to propagate chives. Seeds germinate slowly and require darkness, constant moisture and temperatures of 60°F to 70°F. Grows in Zones 3 to 9. Divide plants every couple years. Chives grow well in sunny windows.

Break apart chive florets to add mild onion flavor to dinner rolls, casseroles, eggs, potatoes and herb butters.

Photo by Isabel Gomes
Lavender (Lavendula spp): Lavender flowers were enjoyed by Queen Elizabeth I, who reportedly sipped the blossoms in her tea. This perennial requires dry, somewhat fertile soil with good drainage. It grows in Zones 5 to 9, and prefers neutral or slightly akaline soil in full sun.

Not all lavenders have the same culinary qualities. The most popular are Lavendula angustifolia and Lavendula x intermedia  'Provence.' Lavender's floral taste combines well with rosemary and thyme in chicken and lamb marinades. Add a teaspoon to sugar cookie and cake recipes. A little lavender goes a long way; too much tastes soapy.

Photo by Isabel Gomes
Nasturium (Tropaeolum majus): This annual has cheerful cuplike flowers that Thomas Jefferson used to spice salads at Monticello. Available in diverse cultivars, including climbing and bushy types, nasturtium comes in a kaleidoscope of colors, including orange, pink and yellow. Sow seeds in spring in colder climates; earlier in warmer zones. Nasturtium prefers light, sandy soils in full sun, with partial shade in hot temperatures. It flowers best in less fertile soils.

Flowers and leaves add peppery taste to salads, herb vinegars, sandwiches and even pizzas. Immature pods can be pickled and used as capers.

Photo by Isabel Gomes
Rose (Rosa spp.): Eating roses back to the ancient Romans. Roses grow best in rich, well-drained soil with full sun and good air circulation. These plants prefer regular pruning, watering and fertilizing. The older varieties, such as Rosa rugosa and Rosa gallica, are considered the best tasting roses.

Petals add a floral flavor to jellies, honey, vinegars and salads. For rose sugar, mince one part petals with two parts sugar and leave covered for a month. Strain and use for baking cookies, cakes and sweet breads. Rose hips make a delicious tea high in vitamin C.

Sweet Violet (Viola odorata); Johnny-jump-up (Viola tricolor); Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana): These three violas are old-fashioned culinary favorites that bloom best in cool weather, and prefer rich, moist, well-drained soil. Partially shaded locations are preferred in hot climates.

Sweet violets are perennials with aromatic purple or white flowers. Typically hardy to Zone 5, violets are usually propagated by dividing clumps. Johnny-jump-ups and pansies are annuals easily found as transplants in garden centers. Johnny-jump-ups have saponins, which can be toxic in large amounts.

These pretty flowers add sweet, perfumed or wintergreen flavor to salads, fruit and vegetables. Float flowers in punch, or candy the petals for elegant cakes and cookies.

Three Important Tips:

Not all flowers are safe to eat. Know what you are eating or check a good reference if you aren't sure a particular plant is edible. Sometimes only a portion of a plant can be eaten. Rhubarb stems are edible, for example, but not the flowers, leaves or roots. When in doubt, be cautious.

Many garden centers, nurseries and florists treat flowers with systemic pesticides not labeled for food crops. Consume only flowers grown specifically for culinary purposes. Growing your own edible flowers is the best way to ensure a fresh, healthy supply.

Introduce flowers into your diet gradually. If you have allergies, try one species at a time. Eat only the petals on most edible flowers (Violets, pansies and Johnny-jump-ups are an exception.) Just before eating, remove interior flower parts such as the pistils and stamen. These can taste bitter and the pollen may cause allergic reactions in susceptible people.

Portions of this article appeared in Gardening How-To Magazine online and print.

Learn More:
Edible Flowers Chart from About.Com
Tips from What's Cooking America


  1. Thanks for the great information. Carla

  2. Absolutely love that this article brought me to you! Thanks for being so willing to share your wonderful knowledge!

  3. Hi ladies: Thanks for stopping by. Appreciated your comments, Carla. And I agree with you, Chef Tess. I'm glad my article in Gardening How-To helped you find me too. All best, Teresa

  4. I love the slight cucumber flavour to borage. It looks great and tastes wonderful in a tall glass of water during the heat of summer.

  5. Thanks, Stevie. I love borage too. In the earlier times, borage was said to give you courage. So, keep that in mind this summer when you're drinking your borage-water. ;)

    Enjoy your start to summer...

  6. Thanks, Charlotte. Glad you could drop by. Teresa

  7. Hello! i live in Boise, too. I am particularly interested in your posts on edible flowers and container gardening. Although I live on 1/2 acre, I don't have the time for a large garden so I like keeping things in containers-no weeding! Out front however, I have a flower garden and I am trying to go xeriscape or at least native plants.

    Fun blog-I'm a blogger too! trying to find my voice. I just started a blog (I mean JUST) at about what my mother taught me about frugal living on less. There is not much there yet but I would be so glad if you would take a peak.

    We should meet. I know that there is a Boise bloggers meetup group which I have been meaning to look into. Have you ever attended one of their meetups?

    Looking forward to hearing from you!! Great blog!

  8. Hi Judi: Thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed visiting your blog, and I think anything focusing on "frugal living" is probably a good thing right now. Good luck!

    Have never been to the Boise blogger meetup, but I hope to make it one day. All the best, Teresa