Edible Flowers You Can Grow

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A dozen or more glorius orange nasturtium flowers

Author: Claire McCaughey, Master Gardeners of Lanark County;

Edible flowers have long been part of the cuisines of distinct cultures. Take, for example, squash blossoms (the flowers of Cucurbita pepo). The genus Cucurbita originated in the Americas and has been an integral part of Native American and Mexican cuisines. Squash blossoms were adopted into Italian and Middle Eastern cuisines too.

Squash plants have both male and female flowers, with most of the blossoms being male. It is the male blossoms that are usually harvested for cooking. By creating a higher ratio of female to male flowers, this has the side benefit of improving fruit production.

Squash blossoms are very perishable, so they are not typically available in supermarkets, only in farmers markets or from your own garden. The flowers used are typically summer squash or zucchini, though winter squash flowers can also be used. The usual way of preparing squash blossoms is by stuffing and frying them.

Commonly Used Edible Flowers and Flower Parts

Modern cooks have become very inventive in using obscure flower parts in recipes. For instance, I recently came across a recipe that uses fennel flower pollen that I hope to try some day. The list below includes some of the best-known edible flowers and information on how they are generally used.

Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium):

This annual is one of the best-known edible flowers. The leaves, seed pods, and flowers of nasturtiums are all edible. The brilliant-coloured flowers (red, orange, and yellow) are a lovely addition to salads or as a garnish on the plate. Include them in your edible garden for an added splash of colour. Climbing and dwarf varieties are available.

Borago officinalis (Borage):

This is another annual with edible flowers and leaves. Borage flowers are an intense blue and look lovely frozen in ice cubes for drinks or as a garnish on salad. The plants grow to about 90 cm and therefore may need to be staked.

Lavandula angustifolia (formerly L. officinalis) (Lavender):

Lavender is a popular garden perennial. The purple flowers are used in teas as well as baked goods (such as lavender shortbread), jellies, and jams.

Viola sp. (Violet):

Candied violets (particularly Viola odorata) with small purple flowers are used for cake decoration, especially in France.

Rosa sp. (Rose):

Dried rose petals are used as flavouring in Middle Eastern cooking. Like violets, rose petals can also be candied for cake decoration.

Crocus sativus (Saffron crocus):

Delicate orange saffron threads are the stamens (male reproductive flower parts) of saffron crocus. These are used in rice and other dishes in Middle Eastern and Spanish cuisines. Many saffron crocus corms must be planted to harvest even a small quantity of stamens (hence the high price of saffron). I have grown it in my edible garden but have given up on harvesting the stamens. I have too few plants, and they flower late in the season, in late October or early November. This is not a plant I would recommend growing, but it is interesting to know where saffron comes from.

Calendula officinalis (Pot Marigold):

The petals of this orange or yellow daisy-like annual are edible and can be added to salads to provide colour. The plant is also known as ‘poor man’s saffron’ as the petals add colour in the same way as saffron.

Allium schoenoprasum (Chives):

The pink blossoms of chives, a perennial plant, are used to flavour vinegars as well as to garnish salads and other dishes.

Matricaria recutita (syn: M. chamomilla) (Chamomile or German Chamomile):

This annual white and yellow daisy-like flower is used to make an herbal tea.

Growing and Harvesting Edible Flowers

Most of the edible flowers mentioned above are easy to obtain and grow. Several of the annuals, such as nasturtium, borage, and calendula, will self-seed, so provide volunteers year after year.

Safe use of edible flowers requires that plants be carefully identified and cleanly grown. Never take chances if you are uncertain about identification. If you are planning to use edible flowers in your cooking, even just as a garnish, they should be grown organically.

Growing edible flowers among other edibles in the garden, such as lettuce, kale, and tomatoes, is a way to add to the beauty of your garden while also ensuring the safety of your edible flowers.

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