CORVALLIS, Ore. – Pop some flowers in among the beans and lettuce and you’ll have two times the chance for an edible harvest.
“Edible flowers look great in the garden and on the plate,” said Brooke Edmunds, horticulturist for the Oregon State University Extension Service. “Some especially pretty and tasty ones are the blue blossoms of borage, classic roses and chamomile with its little, white flowers.”
Others on her list include annuals such as happy orange or yellow flowering calendula, marigold or nasturtium; the distinctive faces of Johnny jump up or pansy; and traditional blue bachelor button. All of these are easy to start by seed indoors right now or directly seeded into the ground when the soil warms up in May. Follow the directions on the back of the seed packet and you’ll be golden. Don’t forget to thin the little seedlings, Edmunds said. Otherwise, they’ll compete each other out of existence.
Herbs can’t possibly be left off the list, so mull over chive, basil, fennel, oregano, lavender and rosemary flowers, all of which do double duty with flower power and foliage flavor. Perennials such as pineapple sage and daylily do us a kindness in the kitchen as well, and don’t forget to use vegetable flowers like snap peas, broccoli, squash, chives and scarlet runner beans in dishes along with their more traditional edible parts.
Make sure the blossoms you plant are the blossoms you can eat, Edmunds said. Not all flowers are safe to consume, so always identify the plant first and verify that they’re okay to put in your mouth or mix into your recipes. The OSU Master Gardeners are a great source for help with plant identification. It’s also a good idea to try any new plant in small amounts.
Deciding where to plant edible flowers needn’t be a conundrum. You can sprinkle them about, line a bed or path, even add an entire row in the vegetable plot.
“There is no right way to incorporate flowers into a home garden,” Edmunds said. “Just remember the general rule to group plants by water needs to avoid overwatering or underwatering.”
Designing with edible flowers has more than culinary rewards, she noted.
“Adding edible flowers to the garden is going to increase the diversity of plants,” she said. “This in turn will attract a diverse insect population, including beneficial insects such as pollinators or those that keep pest insects in check.”
Although edible flowers don’t need strictly organic conditions, Edmunds recommends using only pesticides labeled for edibles and then reading the label carefully.
When you buy plants from a nursery, be sure you don’t purchase any that have been treated with inappropriate pesticides. Some plants, like ornamental peppers, which can be confused with edible varieties, will usually clearly state they’re not meant for consumption. Otherwise query nursery employees. If they don’t know, pass on the plant.
Also avoid eating flowers from florists – like roses – because they’re not being sold as food and it’s hard to know whether they’ve been treated with chemicals, Edmunds said. If you get them locally from a farm stand or a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), you can ask.
In your garden, harvest flowers at their peak. Treat them like cut flowers and place the ends in water to preserve freshness. Keeping them cool can also help, Edmunds said. Commercial companies will package and refrigerate cut, edible flowers.
You’ve got them grown, cut and chilled. Now what? Here are a few of Edmunds’ suggestions:
- Nasturtium adds a peppery flavor and bright orange, red and white colors to salads.
- Borage has a mild cucumber flavor. Freeze in ice cubes and add a pop of blue to lemonade or summer cocktails.
- Use roses to flavor pastry cream, add it to a tart shell and top with raspberries.
- Candied flowers are good for topping cupcakes and desserts.
- Strawberry-lavender milkshakes are amazing.