Adding edible landscaping to your garden doesn't mean giving up flowers, to the contrary, it's a great opportunity to add flowers to your diet. You may not realize it, but you do eat flowers already—broccoli heads are flower buds, as are cauliflowers. An artichoke is one monster flower bud, chamomile tea is flowers, and saffron is flower stamens.
Edible flowers are a fun way to add beauty, flavor, and nutrition to many meals and snacks. What could be more lovely than to go out to your back yard to “shop,” bring your produce in and store it as a pretty bouquet on your kitchen counter or window sill?
Edible flowers are usually eaten fresh as a garnish. They're fun sprinkled as petals or whole small flowers on a green salad or to decorate cakes and cupcakes. (Not all flowers are edible, so don't eat what you don't know.)
Violets and pansies
The edible flower season begins with violets and pansies, which have a lilting fragrance. Violets grow wild in beautiful colors ranging from deep purple to white. A favorite Victorian garnish was candied violets, made by tediously painting each teeny weeny petal with egg white, then extra-fine sugar. Luckily, the naked blossoms and leaves are delicious in spring salads, as are their cousins, pansies and violas.
Another fantastic spring flower is chive blossoms, violet or white. It’s a tiny roman candle of a flower that creates a miniature fireworks display in your garden. Chives have a green-oniony punch, so use them in savories only. Try blending or processing the separated flowerets of ten young flowers with four ounces of butter or cream cheese for a pretty cracker spread. Add other herbs, a spritz of lemon, citrus zest, etc. as your imagination takes you. Garnish with more sprinkled flowerets.
Nasturtium - twisted nose
A favorite edible flower of summer is the nasturtium. It's got a peppery zing and beautiful edible leaves, too. There is a wonderful variety from which to choose: you can grow it in a bush form or types that will trail or climb from its roots. They're quite happy in a large pot. The colors range from cream to orange to pink to deep red and maroon and there's even a type with leaves striated like green marble. Even the seed pods can be pickled like capers.
Borage - a medieval fave
Also blooming in summer is borage, a kind of creeping, hairy, medieval plant with a disarmingly pretty blue star-shaped flower with a cucumber flavor. The leaves are flavored and edible, too, but that bristly hair is too weird for me!
Large and luscious
Squash flowers are large and lily-like, and these are one of the few flowers eaten cooked. They have a nice, delicate squash flavor and a juicy, pleasantly chewy texture. Take the base off, including the chunky pistil. Then just dip these frowzy orange-yellow blossoms in beaten egg (with salt and pepper and herbs, if you like), and simply fry them in a little butter. If you want to play with your food, you can stuff them first with anything from pilaf to chicken mousse to cooked vegetables, then saute in butter, with or without a dip in egg first. They're great for breakfast, or an appetizer, or a light meal, with bread and a salad.
Day lilies are eaten in the bud stage, and they can also be cooked, traditionally used in stir-fries, tempura or in hot and sour soup. The raw flower petals can be sliced and added to salads and soups, or, like squash flowers, the
whole flower can be stuffed and sauteed. Taste these first because different varieties have different flavors. Both the common
wild version and cultivated versions are edible. NOTE: most other ornamental garden lilies are NOT edible, these are the type that flower at the end of a tall, leaf-bearing stem.
All herb blossoms are edible, and fennel pollen is said to be a secret flavoring ingredient of Tuscan cooks for fish, poultry and pork, according to the great Faith Willinger. (I haven't tried this yet, but I will, later in the summer!) Rose petals, the flowers of arugula, kale, green beans, mustard, marigolds, and calendula are great, too.
So have fun eating flowers, but, don't experiment without knowledge—common toxic flowers are: sweet peas, lily of the valley, buttercups, daffodils, narcissus and others. Luckily, there are plenty of flowers to try that are delicious and great for you!