All too often, gardeners make a stark division between plants that are grown for food in the garden and those that are grown as ornamentals. The line is actually far more blurred than you might imagine. By working our which flowers are edible, and selecting plant options that are both beautiful and edible, you can really make the most of the space in your polytunnel and elsewhere in your outside space.
When you look around your garden, you may be amazed by how many flowers you can actually eat. Flowers are far from simply something that looks and perhaps smells nice. Many flowers can also be healthy and delicious additions to your home grown diet. Sustainable gardeners will often try to make efforts to grow as much of their own food as possible. Growing edible flowers is one great way to identify additional edible yields, while still making sure that your garden looks good.
Almost all of the flowers that bloom in our gardens provide a valuable food source for pollinators and other beneficial insects and visiting wildlife. But the flowers in a wildlife-friendly garden can be a source of food for us too. In this article, you will find lists of some delicious edible flowers.
Which Fruits & Vegetable’s Flowers Can You Eat?
The first thing to consider is that many of the annual fruits and vegetables that we grow in our gardens primarily for other parts of the plants also provide edible flowers which can be viewed as secondary yields.
- Allium Flower Heads
The flowering heads of onions and other allium bulbs are often cut off to allow the bulbs to grow to full size. But rather than simply throwing these away, you could consider eating them. The flower heads can be used in fritters or other recipes for a mild spring-onion like taste.
- Brassica Flowering Stalks
When brassicas bolt and begin to flower, many gardens consider that their crops are over and done. But the tender young flowering stalks of kale, cabbages and other brassicas can be delicious in a stir fry or another meal.
- Asian Greens’ Flowers
The flowering shoots of Asian greens like Pak choi can also be a delicious addition to stir fries and salads.
- Pea Flowers
While, of course, you are likely to want to leave most of the delicate flowers on your pea plants to grow into pods, you can also eat some flowers along with your pea shoots for a delicate pea flavour.
- Squash Flowers
The male flowers that you remove from your squash after pollination can also serve as a secondary yield from these plants. Squash flowers are a delicacy which can be stuffed to create a range of delicious recipes.
Which Ornamental Flowers Are Edible?
Most of the edible flowers that we can grow, however, are grown predominantly as ornamental plants. Each of the ornamental flowers described below also happen to be edible. Making use of these flowers as edible plants as well as just for show is a great way to make sure that you are using your polytunnel or garden space to the fullest.
Borage is not only a good wildlife plant, it is also great in summer drinks and other recipes and provides a mild cucumber-like flavour.
Calendula petals make a great addition to summer salads,coleslaws, stir fries or pasta dishes. They have a peppery or citrus-like tang and their yellowish colour adds vibrancy to soups or gravies.
Carnations also have a peppery or clove-like taste and can be used in salads, or also in sweet dessert dishes like cheesecakes.
All chrysanthemum flowers are edible, but their flavour can vary greatly from one variety to the next. Some are sweet, some hot and peppery. You may have to try a few different ones to find flavours that you personally enjoy.
- French Marigolds
Zesty, fresh and citrusy, the petals and leaves of French (though not African) marigolds can also be delicious in salads or stir fries.
Hollyhocks have a mild, slightly sweet taste and can be used in garnishes, salad dressings or other dishes.
The leaves, stems and flowers of hostas are all edible and delicious. Stolons are great in spring stir fries,while later in the year,leaves can be used in cooked recipes and flowers can add mild-flavoured colour to salads.
In moderation, lavender flowers can be used as a mildly sweet though strong tasting addition to a range of sweet baked goods, ice creams and other recipes.
The peppery, watercress-like flavour of nasturtium flowers and leaves can be great for adding interest, colour and flavour to salads and a wide range of other dishes.
- Pansies have a mild, lettuce-like flavour that makes them a favourite flower for summer salads. The whole flower can be used and has a range of applications in savoury salads, fruit salads and other recipes.
Rose petals are often used in Middle Eastern cuisine in rose water to add concentrated rose flavour, but the petals can also be used as garnishes or additions to a range of recipes.
- Sunflowers (buds & petals as well as seeds)
While we may be more familiar with eating sunflower seeds, the petals can also be used and unopened buds on these flowering plants can be steamed like artichokes.
Like pansies, viola and violets are mild and slightly sweet and the whole flower can be used as a garnish, in salads, sandwiches or as cake decoration.
These are just some of the flowers that we usually grow in our gardens for show that can also be eaten. These can often look wonderful not only in the garden but also on the plate – and taste delicious too.
Which Weeds Have Edible Flowers?
In addition to thinking about which cultivated flowers are edible, it is also useful to look at which of the flowers that we often call weeds have flowers that can be eaten. When you learn which weed flowers are edible, you can find even more sources of forage in your garden. An added bonus – eating the weeds is one way to keep weeds down, and knowing that these plants are a source of food can make weeding a much more enjoyable activity.
Here are some weed flowers that are edible:
- Dandelion flowers
Dandelion flower buds can be fried or frittered, and the brightly coloured flowers are also often turned into wine or jellies.
A common flower found in lawns, and sometimes considered a weed, the tiny flower buds and petals of the daisy are good for more than just making daisy chains. These can also be eaten in salads and sandwiches.
- Red & white clover flowers
Clover flowers (especially red clover flowers, which are the tastiest of the edible clover flowers) can be eaten in moderation. They are used in teas,syrups and a range of desserts.
- Chickweed flowers
You can eat the leaves, stems and flowers of chickweed, all of which have a mild, crisp lettuce-like taste, not dissimilar to an iceberg lettuce. With its pretty little white flowers, it can look lovely in a salad.
- Chamomile flowers
Chamomile’s daisy-like flowers are often used to make a calming tea and have a mildly apple-like flavour.
If you look around you, you will begin to identify plenty of flowers which are edible. You will be amazed by the variety of beautiful colours and flavours that can make their way to your plate.
Do you include edible flowers in your diet? Share your tips and recipe suggestions in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.