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Planting Edible Flowers for Gardeners and Cooks of all Ages.

Updated: Mar 23, 2019

A few years ago we decided to only plant edible flowers and plants. As new parents we didn't want to worry if our little one was curiously munching on salad greens or brightly colored eye catching blossoms. We loved that he wanted to be apart of every dirt filled-colorful-watering-planting-to-harvesting event, yet we also wanted peace of mind, choosing simple gems we knew the bees and butterflies would benefit from, yet also be completely safe for our toddler. As it turns out, although planting this way did require some explicit forethought, it did not leave our garden lacking for color, charm, or variety.

It also sparked a fresh view of cooking with flowers. Before, aside from a candied violet here or there, I had left the culinary part of gardening to standard fruit and veg. It turns out that there are a gorgeous variety of flower petals we can toss in our dishes, adding texture, taste, and fanciful beauty. That our desserts not only can be florally flavored yet decorated with less icing and more magic with a tiny bouquet of happy and joyful Johnny jump-ups. Creating an edible garden simply frees your possibilities, not only in hands on discovery with children, yet also in livening up all sorts of kitchen creations with color and flavor.

Below we share our some our favorite edible flowers, with a few of our favorite floral recipe links!

Borage, our favorite fuzzy-leaved herb, has dear sky-blue start like flowers with a light cucumber taste and is lovely in fruit salads, green salads or frozen in ice cubes for cold drinks, such as a refreshing Sparkling Borage Cocktail, link here.

Bee balm, a member of the mint family, has sweet little minty-tasting flowers, with colors range from bright red to purple and pink. All members of the mint family are edible, lemon balm is also delicious in iced tea. For bee balm jelly and bread recipes link here, for our favorite sweet and savory fresh mint recipes, link here.

Nasturtium blossoms are perhaps the most popular edible garden flower, with a peppery flavor like watercress are best, simply as is, tossed in summer's bountiful salads.

Chives, leeks and garlic flowers are delicious in green salads, potato and pasta salads and dips. To release the separate florets simply remove the central stem from the flower cluster. Pickled chive blossoms can be added to martinis, bloody Marys and bagels (with lox and cream cheese, here is an easy pickled chive blossoms and vinegar (link here), a recipe for pickled chives and asparagus (link here).

Marigolds, choose the signet marigolds, such as Lemon Gem and Tangerine Gem, and their blossoms have a punchy citrusy taste, for marigold custard, cocktails, and cheesecake recipes link here.

Calendula is a prolific edible flower that's easy to grow from seed right in the garden. Simply separate the petals from the center of the flower and sprinkle onto sweet or savory dishes with colors ranging from pure yellow to orange and red. They do not have much of a taste, and are more for whimsical eye candy than flavor. You can also remove the spent flowers and the plants will bloom continuously from early summer into late fall. For a mild and yummy Calendula Corn Muffin recipe, link here. For other about the home Calendula uses link here.

Chamomile has small, daisy-like flowers with an apple-y flavor, as a sweet garnish or dried for a tea. However, if you're allergic to ragweed, you will likely be sensitive to chamomile and might want to avoid it. For recipes from Chamomile Spritzers to Chamomile Caramelized Honey Macarons link here.

Pansies and Johnny jump-ups may be the happiest and most jovial of the lot. One of my friends used to say, "as tough as a pansy," and the thing is pansies are tough, hearty little bloom where planted flowers indeed. They have a wintergreen flavor and are pretty on cakes and other desserts. You can glaze them with warmed jelly for a jeweled look or take your drinks to the next level by freezing them in an ice cube tray for your favorite beverage. For a vibrant and nourishing Purple Pansy and Kale Salad link here, for Pansy Cookies, perfect for a summer picnic or fairy tea, link here.

Anise Hysope, if you like anise, this is the edible flower for you. For everything from Anise Hysope Whoopie Pies, to Gazpacho, to Jam, link here. They are also sweet sprinkled on top of both savory and sweet dishes, and placed as an edible flavorful garnish on cheese plates.

Violet's flavor is subtle, with a hint of sweetness, but visually they turn the simplest dish into a celebration with their stunning color. You can make a cordial, sugar, salad, vinegar, and perhaps most popular - candy them for a crunchy sweet floral garnish ... turning the simplest little tea cake into a fairy cake on the spot. For how to make candied violets for sweet garnishes (link here), violet cordial (link here), violet vinegar and how to use it (link here), violet jelly for a burst of spring (link here), and of course they are wonderful as is tossed in to brighten really any dish.

Scarlet runner beans have bright-red flowers perfect pop of color as is mixed into salads, or in with steamed veggies.

Last, but not least, squash blossoms, are delicious, stuffed with cheese, lightly breaded and fried, used inside a quesadilla, on top of a pizza, or thrown into stir fries. I plant extra squash just because I love the veg and their tender, mild, nutty, gorgeous tasting flowers. Stuffed Squash Blossoms (link here), Squash Blossom Pizza (link here), Thai Squash Blossom Stir Fry (link here).

However, as with eating any plant, please be sure to know that you have identified it correctly, either in growing from seeds clearly labeled as such or taking a moment at the garden store to ensure that you are picking up the right variety and to ask about any insecticides, fungicides, or herbicides they may have used (for this purpose, I like starting from seed.) Some everyday flowers can be poisonous, so please either stick to the ones listed above, which is by no means a complete list, yet they are trusted good eats, or be sure to do your own research.

Illustration by Emily Hughes, from her children's book, The Little Gardener

I used to think the below poem was about gardening, yet really maybe, it's about how we live

Under a sky the color of pea soup she is looking at her work growing away there actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans as things grow in the real world, slowly enough. If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water, if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food, if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars, if the praying mantis comes and the lady bugs and the bees, then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

- from the poem The Seven of Pentacles by Marge Piercy

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