Are you looking for some summertime fun? If so, growing edible flowers is a fun way to enhance your landscape while producing appetizing ingredients for foods and beverages. They also add a colorful finishing touch to your dinner plate as a garnish. Flowers can be candied, stuffed as a side dish, sautéed, stir-fried, or added to bread, soups, sauces, desserts, or salads. Additionally, they can be used to infuse oils, vinegar, or marinades, blended into butter, steeped for teas, added to punch, or frozen in ice cubes. Their beauty, color, fragrance, taste, and mouthfeel make them pleasing to the eye and nose, as well as the palate.
Some of the common edible flowers include bee balm, calendula, daylily, pansy, viola, lavender, marigold, nasturtium, pinks, rose, and sunflower. Flowers of vegetables and herbs, such as squash, scarlet runner beans, and chives, are also edible. Several shrubs and trees also produce edible flowers. Common lilac shrubs produce scented, purple flowers in mid- to late spring. Rose of Sharon is another shrub that produces red, white, pink, or violet flowers in late summer, which can be used as a showy garnish or as a stuffed hors d'oeuvres. Redbud trees also produce deep pink or white flowers in the spring. Redbud flowers add a crunch and a sweet flavor to fresh peas or other vegetables (Table 1).
|Plant||Type1||Flower Color||Flower Flavor||Cultural Requirements|
|Basil (Ocimum basillicum)||A||white to lavender||sweet and savory, hints of mint, anise and pepper||sun, moderately moist soil, damaged by heat stress|
|Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)||P||purple||minty sage and oregano||sun or part shade, moist soil|
|Calendula (Calendula officinalis)||A1||yellow, orange||citrus and tarragon, may be slightly bitter||sun, moist soil|
|Chicory (Cichorium intybus)||P||blue||mildly bitter, like endive||sun or part shade, moist soil|
|China Pinks (Dianthus chinensis)||P||White, pink, red, purple||spicy, clove-like, white part of petal is bitter||light shade, moderately moist soil, low heat tolerance|
|Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)||P||lavender||delicate onion, garlic||sun, moderately moist soil, divide plants every 3 to 4 years|
|Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum spp.)||P||many colors||floral, herbal, tangy to bitter or peppery||sun, moderately moist soil|
|Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)||P||yellow||slightly bitter, like endive or radicchio||sun, tolerates a wide range of soil moisture|
|Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)||P||many colors||like asparagus and zucchini||sun, moderately moist soil|
|Elderberry (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis)||P||creamy white||herbal, slightly floral with subtle pear, with lychee and tropical notes||sun, moist soil|
|Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)||A1||yellow, pink, salmon, orange, red||citrus, rose||sun to part shade, consistently moist soil|
|Lavender (Lavendula spp.)||P||lavender, white||floral with hints of mint and rosemary||sun, well-drained soil, drought-resistant once established|
|Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)||P||white, lavender||sweet, floral-like||sun, moderately moist soil|
|Marigold (Tagetes erecta)||A||cream, yellow, orange||mildly citrusy and spicy||sun, heat and drought tolerant|
|Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)||A||cream, salmon, gold, orange||peppery like radish and watercress||light shade or sun, can suffer from heat summer heat stress|
|Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana)||A||multi-colored||grassy, wintergreen||sun to part shade, favor cool spring and fall temperatures, moderately moist soil|
|Redbud (Cercis canadensis)||P||lavender, pink, white||green bean-like with a slight sour aftertaste||sun to part shade, well-drained soil|
|Rose (Rosa spp.)||P||many colors||strawberry, green apple, with fruity to mint or spice notes||sun, well-drained soil|
|Red clover (Trifolium pratense)||P||pink||sweet, bean-like||sun, moderately moist soil|
|Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)||P||white, pink, lavender||lettuce-like||sun to part shade, moist, well-drained soil|
|Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus)||A||orange-red||mild, bean-like||sun, moderately moist soil,grown on a trellis or fence|
|Squash (Cucurbita spp.)||A||yellowish-orange||sweet, squash-like||sun, favor warm temperatures, well-drained soil|
|Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)||A||yellow, bronze, red-brown||bittersweet, nutty bud stage like an artichoke||sun, well-drained soil, giant sunflowers may require support|
|Viola (Viola spp.)||A4||multi-colored||mildly sweet, slightly wintergreen or minty||sun to part shade, do not tolerate summer heat|
Edible flowers can be harvested in places other than the garden or the home landscape. There are several plants found in natural habitats that produce edible flowers, such as elderberry. Elderberry umbels (i.e., flower clusters) can be dipped in batter and fried as a tasty fritter or individual flowers can be used to make a delightful beverage. Chicory, which is common in fields and pastures, can be used fresh in salads. These flowers can also be used with oranges to make a unique jelly. Flowers from several "weedy" plants are also considered edible. Freshly harvested dandelion flowers can be added to batter for pancakes in the spring. For another treat, steep dried red clover petals in boiling water for a cup of tea, and also serve biscuits with clover petals in them. Other uses for wildflowers and plants can be found in the book, Wild Edibles of Missouri, published by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Also, recipes and ideas for using edible flowers as ingredients in food and beverages are available online.
Before consuming any flowers, make sure to identify and carefully research the plant. Use flowers known to be safe for consumption. Some plants have naturally-occurring toxins. For example, tuberous begonia, sorrel, and purslane flowers contain oxalis acid and may cause skin irritations or discomfort if ingested. Glycosides, which are found in foxglove and lily-of-the-valley may also cause nausea, vomiting, or chest discomfort. Pollen present on flowers may also cause allergic reactions. For those sensitive to edible flowers, other adverse reactions associated with ingesting flowers include burning sensations, dizziness, stomach cramping, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, or hallucinations. Beware that children may be more susceptible to adverse effects of eating flowers and consult a doctor if you have allergies, asthma, or hay fever.
To reduce the risk of using unsafe flowers, grow the plants organically and protect them from exposure to chemical drift from lawns or gardens. Avoid flowers growing along roadsides as they may be sprayed with herbicide. Small amounts of particulates from car emissions can also occur on plants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which have been linked to certain types of cancer.
To use edible flowers, harvest them at the desired stage of maturity for their intended use. Buds, open flowers, or individual petals are best harvested in the early morning when temperatures are cool. Remove large flower parts that may still contain pollen. If flowers are to be used immediately, rinse them gently with water to remove pests or unwanted debris. If flowers are harvested for later use, place the cut stem ends in water or enclose the flowers in plastic bags and refrigerate them. Wait to rinse the flowers until just before use. To preserve edible flowers, tie them in bundles and hang them in a warm, dry, dust-free area. Another easy preservation method is to candy the flowers by dipping or painting them with an egg white solution with superfine granulated sugar. Next, place the painted flowers on waxed paper to dry before sealing them in containers for cold storage.