Which Edible Flowers Should You Grow?
Since ancient times, edible flowers have been used to flavor dishes. Here are 10 useful (and delicious) edible flowers to up your culinary game.
The plant of many names — bee balm, Oswego tea, wild bergamot or its botanical designation Monarda didyma — is a wildflower of many qualities as well. A rugged perennial for USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 9, bee balm features whorled flowers in hues of lavender, scarlet or pink. It’s a member of the mint family so you know it’s durable. Bee balm also has minty tasting flower petals, and the leaves and flowers can be dried and used in potpourri or a calming tea. Bee balm is just one of the many pollinator-friendly plants you can grow.
Plus, check out these genius gardening hacks you’ll be glad to know:
Calendula officinalis is a forgotten annual from the daisy family. Also called pot marigold — although it’s unrelated to the common marigold (Tagetes spp.) — calendula commonly features bright orange or yellow flowers throughout the season, yet flourishes in the cooler temperatures of spring and fall. Calendula has served culinary purposes for centuries. Petals from the daisy-like flowers are used as a garnish, cut up and sprinkled on salads or dried and used to season soups. In fact, calendula is known as “the poor man’s saffron” because it can step in for costly saffron in soups and rice dishes. Discover other wildflowers that will do well in your garden.
One of the most well-known edible flowers is the chive, at least for those who fancy a big baked potato with sour cream. In that case, it’s the stems that are chopped up and used to add a mild onion flavor. They’re also commonly added to potato salad, pasta salad and various dips. The pretty lavender, purple or pink chive flowers, meanwhile, serve as a garnish, tossed in salad or to flavor a unique-tasting vinegar. The chive (Allium schoenoprasum) belongs to the onion family along with garlic and leeks. Its reported health benefits include lowering blood pressure, along with glucose and cholesterol levels. Chive makes a great container plant.
You’ve got to love a plant that is exceptionally versatile. Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) grows in sun or shade, responds equally well to pampering or neglect and can fill various landscaping roles from background plant to erosion control. It’s also versatile in the culinary department. Boil the tubers like potatoes and use the colorful flowers (which last just a day but are quickly followed by reinforcements) in fritters and stir-fries, or as a garnish. In addition, daylily flower buds can be sauteed or deep fried. Daylily is a perennial in Zones 3 through 9. Learn about other highly resilient plants.
Imagine the fun you can have with hibiscus at your next backyard shindig. It’s a beautiful plant with big, bold, trumpet-shape blooms that your guests are sure to admire. Now imagine their surprise when they see you clip off a flower petal and place it in a glass of iced tea to add a citrus flavor. Hibiscus flower petals can also be used in fruit salads, as a garnish or dried. They can also be used to brew hibiscus tea. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is a sun-loving perennial in Zones 9 through 11. Elsewhere, this tender tropical can be taken indoors before temperatures drop below 50 F. Keep the plant well-watered and fertilized. Hibiscus makes an excellent container plant.
This cheerful annual comes in a range of flower colors from bright red, orange and gold to warm tones of yellow, white and pink. Amiable and easy-growing garden plants, nasturtiums usually have sprawling habits that make them suitable as a seasonal groundcover wherever there’s plenty of sunlight. The colorful flowers, which have a slightly peppery taste akin to watercress, make eye-popping additions to salads. The good news is, they’re plentiful in summer, so harvesting regularly is not an issue. Learn more about nasturtiums and other garden annuals.
Pansies (Viola spp.) are a staple in spring and fall, preferring the cooler temperatures of those seasons. With an assortment of bright colors, pansies delight from a distance. And because they come with interesting “faces” reminiscent of Yosemite Sam, they’re also fun to look at up close as a garnish! But pansies can be used for more than that. Add them to summer cocktails, fruit salads and desserts. For a real showstopper use these annuals to decorate a cake, or top off cream-cheese-covered crackers with the bright petals.
The beauty and fragrance of roses should be more than enough on their own. Then there’s the matter of taste. Rose petals lend a subtle, fruity flavor to a variety of dishes, from soups and salads, to jams and jellies, to ice cream and other desserts. Some people freeze the petals in ice cubes and float them in punch. Roses are easier to grow than you might expect if given a sunny spot with good drainage and ample moisture and nutrients.
“Thanks a mint” is an old-time expression that’s kind of gone out of favor — maybe because mint went out of favor. Too aggressive, some gardeners would say. But if you contain your mint plant in a sunken nursery pot, it won’t show its aggressive side. Or keep it in an above-ground pot. Then you can harvest the leaves or the flowers and use them to flavor salads or summer drinks, such as ice tea and lemonade. Mint is a perennial in Zones 3 or 4 through 8 or 9, depending on the species.
Go ahead, harvest some of those zucchini blossoms! With this highly productive vining vegetable, you already know there will be plenty of zucchini to spare. The bright yellow flowers are highly decorative and can be used as a garnish. With a delicate, slightly sweet taste, the blossoms can be eaten raw in a salad, pan-fried or even stuffed with a soft cheese and honey. Lots of options — and lots of blossoms, thankfully! Learn more about growing zucchini and other easy vegetables.
A Final Word About Edible Flowers
Always make sure you positively identify a flower so you know whether it’s safe to eat. Do not eat flowers that have been treated with pesticides or any other substance, including flowers from a florist. To learn more about which flowers are edible, download this free publication from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension: Choosing and using edible flowers.