One of the main objections people have to planting edible gardens is that they think that a garden planted with just useful plants won’t be a pretty sight. Well, I think it’s perfectly possible to plant a beautiful garden filled with solely green edibles, utilizing the different shades of green and texture and leaf shape, but many edibles are colourful and in no way inferior to ornamentals. And then, of course, there are edible flowers.
We have edible flowers scattered throughout both our forest garden and our allotment. Most of them self-seed happily, add a splash of colour, provide nectar for bees and/or attract beneficial insects. Last year I also had a large container by the back door, planted with edible flowers. It was exactly 2 m from the kitchen which made it easy to just pop out and pick a few flowers to add to a salad or a plate of canapés.
Technically, any flower that is not poisonous is edible but not every edible flower is good to eat. Bellow are some of our favourites, how we grow them and how we eat them. In the next few days I will also share some recipes using edible flowers.
Johnny-jumps-ups (Viola tricolor) left
The flowers of Johnny-jumps-ups are a charming combination of violet, white and yellow, never exactly the same in two plants. They can be sown in spring or in fall to overwinter and flower early the next year. And after that they will just merrily pop up throughout your garden.
The taste is fairly neutral but the pretty flowers can be used for decorating tarts or other desserts, either candied or au naturel.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) right
The classic variety is bright orange (I even read that its bright color will improve your eyesight if you stare at it long enough) but there are also other shades: from cream yellow to pinkish. I particularly like the variety “Indian Prince” (above) with dark centers.
Calendula petals were also called “poor man’s saffron” but the taste is less striking than that name would suggest. Petals can be used in flower butter, rice dishes or mixed into cake/muffin batter. Calendula is also powerfully medicinal and often used for all kinds of skin conditions.
Borage (Borago officinalis) right
A hardy annual that will perpetuate itself by self-seeding. The plants can get pretty big – up to about 60 cm. Like many blue flowered plants, borage is an excellent source of nectar for bees. Both the leaves and the flowers have a faint cucumber flavour, but the leaves are somewhat hairy which makes them less pleasant to eat.Unsurprisingly, the flowers go well with cucumber, for example in cold cucumber soup. They can also be used as garnish for fruit salads.
Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) left
Now, here’s a plant that earns its keep! All the parts are edible: leaves, seed pods and flowers and medicinal too – a tincture made from nasturtiums boosts the immune system. There are climbing varieties (useful when you want to cover an ugly fence) but also compact varieties great for growing in pots. I like the cultivars with variegated leaves such as “Alaska” and use both the leaves and flowers in salads. The whole plant (the flowers too) has a peppery taste – definitely one of the strongest tasting flowers. The whole flowers can be filled with cream cheese or chopped and mixed in potato mash.
Rocket (Eruca sativa) left
This beloved salad plant grows very fast and bolts even faster as soon as the weather warms up. No need to pull it out immediately, enjoy the flowers instead. Those too have a cress flavour, though less strong. Use as a garnish for (pasta) salads, in omelettes or in tomato soup.
Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus) right
This staple of the cottage garden is a biennial, meaning it will flower in its second year. But if left in the ground the plant will often flower again in its third year. There are varieties in all shades of pink, white and red, single or double.
The petals have a faint cloves aroma. The bottom part of the petals is bitter and should be removed, though I don’t always bother. The flowers are good in both savory and sweet dishes, in salads, cakes, syrup, pudding or flower butter.
Shungiku ot Japanese chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum japonicum) right
This annual tolerates low temperatures and can be sown early in the season. Both leaves and flowers are edible and the plant also makes a pretty and long lasting cut flower.
The petals are somewhat bitter and are best used in savory dishes: salads, soups or stir-fries.