When I first got into growing my own food, I moved further away from the idea of planting flowers. To be honest, I was never exactly a flower gardener to begin with, but with growing plants for food as my purpose, I began to scoff at flower gardens, occasionally releasing even guffaws or ha-ha-ha-s. However, once I got over myself a bit, I started learning how useful flowers are, even in a food garden.
First of all, it should be noted just how many food plants have flowers: From vegetables to herbs and grasses to fruits and nuts, the edible plant world is full of flowers. Secondly, the more variety of flowers there are in a garden, the better for attracting the birds and the bees, the better for giving them fodder for all the livelong year and, in turn, the better for the overall health of the garden.
Lastly, many of these flowers are perfectly edible, downright delicious and just as beautiful to behold on a plate. Here are some commonly found edible flowers and great additions to edible gardens.
Calendula was introduced to me as an oil for the skin rather than a food, but I’ve since learned it works well on both accounts. A type of marigold, this is an easy-growing flower with simple yellow blossoms that brighten up the garden beds, as well as work as a pest deterrent. As for humans, it helps sore throats, inflamed gums and ulcers. Calendula can be consumed as a tea, added to salads or, most famously, substituted for saffron. It is often referred to as “the poor man’s saffron.”
Dandelions have a bad rap as being a weed, but nothing could be further from the truth. Dandelions are edible from the root to the flower and have loads of useful nutrients, including a mega-dose of beta-carotene. The flowers in particular are noted as being delicious battered and fried or sautéed whole. They can also be tossed into salads, along with the dandelion greens, or baked into bread. Check out this OGP recipe for Spring Salad with edible flowers and dandelion greens.
Hibiscus is something I have in abundance in my garden. The leaves are absolutely delicious in salads and come in lots of varieties, from cranberry hibiscus, to okra, to rosa de Jamaica. The flowers are also edible, and throughout Central America, rosa de Jamaica is beloved as a tea. Otherwise, the flowers can be pickled, cooked, baked or eaten raw. They are tart with hints of citrus. Try this OGP recipe for Hibiscus Cherry Cooler.
Roses are pain to grow, but a rose is a rose is a rose. People love them, especially those who don’t grow them and don’t have to deal with the thorns. Whatever the case, roses have an absolutely delectable and unique flavor. They are quite common in Turkey for candies, tea and hookah tobacco, and they are eaten the world over. Usually, they are used in sweets or sugary drinks as they have perfume smell and flavor. Taste-test these Cardamom Rose Cupcakes.
Lavender is a superstar in the scent scene, but it is also starting to make a splash in the dietary world. Related to mint (as is basil), it is no wonder. The issue with eating lavender is that, because of its strong scent, it must be used sparingly to be enjoyed. Nevertheless, it is noted for helping with insomnia, anxiety, depression and fatigue, so it’s not a horrible thing to add to a dish. Like roses, it fits very well into desserts, but it can also be a taste surprise in savory dishes. How about Lavender Coconut Ice Cream?
Violets are so recognizable, they’ve got their own crayon. Some people even name their children after them. The sweet-smelling flowers are useful in and out of the kitchen. They’ve long been used for anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antiseptic purposes, as well as a cure for a whole slew of medical ailments, from whooping cough, to acne, to scurvy. With cooking, they do well in salads, sweets and teas. They are good help for headache relief. Snack on these Candied Violets.
And, the list goes on. Of course, there are all the teas, namely jasmine and mint, which come up time and again. There are commonly utilized vegetable versions, like squash blossoms. Just check out this massive list of flowers you could be eating. What’s more is that, as I’ve learned, whether edible or not, many flowers have a laundry list of medicinal values, which means they are without a doubt a useful part of any food garden. So, I guess I am a flower gardener now.
Image source: Dwight Sipler/Wikimedia