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To get you started in the world of edible flowers, here are three types to enjoy:
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum): This member of the allium family is typically grown for its thin, round leaves. But the pink and lavender flowers that appear in the summer are edible too. They add a nice, mild oniony taste to meals. We like them scattered on top of soups, in salads, with party dips, mixed in butter for baked potatoes, and even added to dinner rolls. Always break up the flowers, as an entire one can be very intense and overwhelming in flavor.
Chives are hardy perennials that like well-drained soil, which is rich in organic matter. The seeds can take a while to get going, so I usually buy transplants in the herb department at my garden center. Chives, like other members of the allium family, help keep away many garden pests.
Roses (Rosa spp.):Here are some roses I spotted with blue clematis during a dog walk one day. Aren’t they gorgeous?
Roses, the Queen of Flowers, add a delicious, floral flavor to salads, honeys, vinegars, teas, desserts and baked goods. They’ve been enjoyed in the kitchen since Ancient Rome, and rosewater continues to be a vital ingredient in the Middle East. Always remove the petals from the stem and interior parts before eating. A small percentage of rose petals pulverized with sugar will make a delightful sweetener for cakes, cookies and cupcakes.
Roses can be a bit tricky to grow, requiring regular pruning, watering and fertilizing. If you’re going to eat the rose petals, don’t spray your plant with any chemicals. You can go a long way towards healthy roses by paying attention to the quality of your garden soil and allowing plenty of air circulation around plants.
It also helps to select rose varieties that thrive in your area, and don’t require a lot of extra work. This wild rose I found at a quiet beach on Bainbridge Island, Washington is a good example. You can see the rose hips developing on the plant. The hips are very high in vitamin c and are often featured in herbal tea mixes.
To keep your rose healthy, clip away any insect-eaten or diseased leaves with pruners that are cleaned with rubbing alcohol after every cut. Throw away this plant waste, and don’t compost it.
Be willing to tolerate a bit of plant imperfection so you can avoid using chemicals on your roses. This will ensure you have delicious, unsprayed rose petals to enjoy in your cooking!
Sweet Violet (Viola odorata); Johnny-jump-up (Viola tricolor); Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana): You can see an orange viola in the photo above, which I purchased as a transplant from an organic nursery. It’s sitting next to a pink geranium in the backyard, which isnot edible.
My last flower choice is actually three different types of violas. These three relatives are all edible, and have been eaten for centuries. In fact, these are some of the few flowers where you don’t need to remove the interior parts (e.g., the pistils and stamen) before eating.
In the kitchen, we freeze pretty violas and use them in ice cubes for festive drinks. The flowers also adorn our salads, and we’ve been known to decorate desserts with the violas as well. Always eat Johnny-jump-ups in moderate amounts only. They contain saponins, which can be toxic in very large amounts. Personally, I think it’s a good idea to eat all edible flowers in moderate amounts only.
Violets are perennials, which are hardy to Zone 5. Pansies and Johnny-jump-ups are annuals that can be grow from seeds or bought from transplants in garden center. Never eat flowers that have been sprayed with any chemicals. Sometimes violas will self-seed around the garden, providing edibles for several years.
All three types of violas prefer moist, well-amended soil in a partially shaded area in hot climates. These plants grow best in cool spring and fall weather, adding color and charm to empty spaces in the garden.
Above you can see violas and pansies in the forefront, with chamomile right behind it. In the very back are flowering arugula plants, near my Fiskars Rain Barrel.
You may already enjoy chamomile tea, but did you know many herbs like arugula, thyme, rosemary, oregano and basil also have edible flowers? Once you start exploring the world of edible flowers, you’ll be amazed at all the wonderful tastes you can enjoy.
Always think safety! Know what you are eating. Not all flowers are edible. Some flowers grown in garden centers and floral shops are sprayed with systemic pesticides not intended for human consumption. Grow the flowers yourself, or eat only those meant for edible purposes. Here is a good guide from the North Carolina State University.