Eight Easy-To-Grow Edible Flowers

by Seasonal Wisdom on May 17, 2010

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

Rose photo copyright Isabel Gomes.

Borage is a popular edible flower, and beloved by bees.
Photo by RC Designer on Flickr
Borage, (Borago officinalis): This annual is a delicious edible flower, which 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.

Calendula officinalis has been a popular edible flowers since the Middle Ages.
Photo by Isabel Gomes

Calendula (Calendula officinalis): Also known as pot marigold, this annual edible flower 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. Try my Calendula-Orange Muffins.

Chamomile is an edible flower often used for teas.
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 edible flowers with a cup of boiled water for 3 minutes covered. Strain and serve. Use caution if you have allergies to the Compositae family.

Tear apart a chive flower before using. Otherwise, this edible flower may be too strong.
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. This edible flower 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.

A little bit of lavender goes a long way. Otherwise this edible flower can taste a bit soapy.
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 edible flowers 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.

Nasturium is an edible flower that comes in several different colors.
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.  Try this Butternut Squash Soup with Nasturtiums.

Even the Ancient Romans enjoyed roses as an edible flower.
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. Try Victoria’s Frozen Semifreddo with Pansies. You don’t even need an ice cream maker.

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 edible 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.

Also try our May Wine with Sweet Woodruff for a traditional spring treat. Beware, it packs a mean punch!

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

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Southern Lady May 17, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Thanks for the great information. Carla

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Chef Tess May 17, 2010 at 8:56 pm

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

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Seasonal Wisdom May 17, 2010 at 9:22 pm

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

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Stevie from GardenTherapy.ca May 19, 2010 at 3:44 pm

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.

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Seasonal Wisdom May 19, 2010 at 4:38 pm

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…
Teresa

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"Daffodil Planter" Charlotte Germane May 19, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Fun flower facts! Thank you!

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Seasonal Wisdom May 19, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Thanks, Charlotte. Glad you could drop by. Teresa

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Judi July 24, 2010 at 3:45 pm

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 http://www.livingonless.org 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!

Reply

Seasonal Wisdom July 27, 2010 at 2:21 am

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

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Susan Potts March 28, 2012 at 9:16 pm

I do believe I just found my new favorite Blog. I love edible flowers. I starting eating them about 10 years ago. Another tasty flower is that of the zucchini squash plant. Other squash flowers are edible as well, but the zucchini flowers are plentiful.
Susan

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Seasonal Wisdom April 16, 2012 at 10:07 am

Thanks for your nice words, Susan. I love stuffed zucchini flowers too. Always pick the “male” flowers, so you don’t eat the future zucchini. Cheers! Teresa

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Mil July 31, 2012 at 10:14 am

Hi Teresa,
I just started growing borage from seed. I love the flowers on my salads.

I’ll have to give the nasturtium another chance. They grow like “weeds” (although I like many weeds) in my yard, and so I treat them as such. Your post has convinced me to treat them as a resource instead!

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Seasonal Wisdom July 31, 2012 at 10:24 am

Thanks so much for dropping a line, Mil.

Good luck with your garden. Borage is typically easy to grow from seed, so I hope you have lots of luck with yours. Delighted to hear that nasturtium will now hit your dinner plate too. I adore their peppery, spicy taste. Enjoy your garden-fresh meals, and hope to see you again. Teresa

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jennifer gamble July 16, 2013 at 11:24 am

almost too pretty to eat ….. almost !!

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Seasonal Wisdom July 16, 2013 at 11:27 am

Thanks, Jennifer. That’s the nice thing about edible flowers, they are ornamental AND edible. Just always be careful to make sure what you’re eating is edible. Enjoy!

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