25 May 7 EDIBLE FLOWERS — AND WHY YOU SHOULD EAT THEM
I have a dream of devoting a large part of my garden to edible flowers. With the amount of entertaining we do, the thought of adding this surprising ingredient to so many of my dishes and drinks just makes me swoon. From salads to cocktails, nothing speaks of sophistication and organic goodness as much as edible flowers do — so come on, buy some transplants or start some seeds! You’re about ready to kick things up, mama. (New to edible flower gardening? Check out our primer here!)
Nasturtiums. One of the easiest edible flowers to grow, nasturtiums thrive in full sun and well-drained soil. Their 5-petaled blooms come in shades of red, orange and yellow, and the rounded leaves have a white starburst pattern. While the flowers, leaves, and stems are all edible, the seeds can be toxic. Grow it from a nursery transplant or start yours from seed, and get ready to enjoy its slightly spicy flavor and dose of vitamin C. I love adding nasturtium flowers to salads and open-faced sandwiches, and pressing them into the sides of goat cheese balls for an unusual appetizer.
Pansies. Pansies are another easy-to-grow edible flower, preferring full to part sun, regular watering, and well-drained soil. The grassy, “green” and mild flavor of the charming pansy makes it an easy one to use in many recipes, from garnishing cocktails, desserts, and salads, to baking in shortbread cookies. High in vitamin C, tannins, carotenoids, and saponins (among other nutrients), pansies have long be heralded by herbalists for their anti-inflammatory properties.
Honeysuckle. There isn’t a southern kid alive who doesn’t remember summers picking honeysuckle flowers to savor the tiny bit of nectar hidden inside. This sprawling vine with buttery white flowers and stems that can grow up to 80 feet long — so while it does have invasive qualities, it sure is pretty and tasty! Full to part sun, regular water, and good drainage are preferred, but honeysuckle will almost grow anywhere, honestly. But here’s the thing – there are over 100 types of honeysuckle, and most have both edible and toxic parts, so to be on the safe side, avoid the berries and know what kind of honeysuckle you’re dealing with. Unsurprisingly, it has a sweet honey flavor and is prized for jelly-making and memory-making — an unbeatable combination.
Squash blossoms. I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t tried this one yet, but by golly, this is going to be the year. You know the blossoms on your squash plant? You can eat them. But only pick the male blooms for eating, because the female blooms are the ones that become the fruit. Simply grow your squash plants like you normally would — full sun, regular water — and when they bloom, cut them off at the base. Bake them in frittatas, quarter them into salads, stuff with ricotta cheese and bake, or dip them in batter and fry. High in calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C, squash blossoms are the bomb.
Chive blossoms. Chives are valued in the kitchen for many recipes, but the chive flower is often overlooked. This small purple flower lends a delicate onion flavor to soups, cream sauces, potato and egg dishes, salads and goat cheese appetizers. High in vitamins A and C, it’s healthy as well as daintily pretty. Grow chives in full to part sun, with regular water and good soil drainage.
Hibiscus. Large, tropical hibiscus flowers come in hues of red, yellow, white, orange or peach, and grow up to 6” in diameter! So what can you do with these large lovelies? Way more than simply make tea! Try hibiscus flowers in punches or agua frescas, in dessert sauces, in marinades (mmmm in lamb and beef dishes), or even baked in a pavlova. Boasting impressive levels of vitamins A and C, grow hibiscus in a full sun location and give it consistent water with good drainage to add a little cranberry-citrus flavor to your next recipe.
Sunflowers. Sunflowers are so simple to grow that they remain a childhood favorite. Their large seeds sprout quickly, and sunny flowerheads appear in record time, provided they are planted in a sunny spot and given good drainage. The sunflower is the tastiest when it’s in the bud stage, and the taste is similar to an artichoke. Once it’s bloomed, the taste shifts to bittersweet. Steam or boil in water for a few minutes, then serve with melted butter — delicious! Oh, and you’ll get a dose of sapogenins, betaine, carotenoids, and sunflower acid.
About the Author:
Jenny Peterson is a landscape designer and urban farmer living in Austin, Texas. She comes from a family of gardeners and her gardens include drought-tolerant plants, herbs, veggies, and a wildflower pollinator garden. As a breast cancer survivor, Jenny specializes in gardens that heal from the inside out.