Are you looking for something different to try in your garden this year? Why not plant some edible flowers? Edible flowers aren't a new idea. Their history dates back to the Roman era. However, they are enjoying an increase in popularity with restaurants and home cooks wanting to offer something different at mealtime. In addition to adding interesting flavors, flowers add color appeal to food.
One of the most popular and best-known edible flowers is nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus). Blossoms have a sweet, spicy flavor similar to watercress. Nasturtiums are an easy plant to grow as well. They thrive in poor soil, sun or light shade and look wonderful in beds or hanging baskets. Many have a mounded growth form, but trailing varieties are available as well. They come in shades of yellow, orange, and red.
Signet Marigolds (Tagetes signata) are another popular edible flower. They have a lemon-verbena scent which is different from the common marigold. They like full sun and produce a mound of lacy foliage covered with blossoms. Even if you don't enjoy eating the flowers, you won't be disappointed with this flower choice in your garden. Orange and yellow flowered varieties are available. Popular varieties are Lemon Gem or Tangerine Gem.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are common plants in many herb gardens, but very few people have enjoyed their blossoms. Separate the florets and enjoy the mild, onion flavor in a variety of dishes. This perennial grows to be a foot tall and does best in full sun. It spreads quite readily so you will have more to enjoy as well as some to share.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is another edible choice that makes a wonderful addition to the flower garden. Besides being edible, with a saffron-like flavor, the flower is mildew resistant and excellent used as a cutting flower. It grows best in full sun and flowers best in cool weather. The plant grows 1 1/2 feet tall. Flower colors are available in yellow and orange.
Borage (Borago officinalis) flowers have a cucumber-like flavor. The sky blue flowers add a different color to salads or fruit cups. Blossoms can also be candied or frozen in ice cubes. It self-sows in the garden and is excellent for attracting bees. The plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall and does well in full sun.
Johnny Jump-ups (Viola tricolor) have a wintergreen taste. They make excellent garnishes and can also be candied. Johnny Jump-ups make excellent additions to the flower garden. Plants resemble miniature pansies, grow 6 to 8 inches tall, and perform in sun or shade. They can also be used very attractively in containers.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is a tender perennial that will also bloom the first summer from seed. As the name implies, it has an anise flavor and both flowers and foliage are edible. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall in full sun. The deep lilac colored flower spikes bloom for several months. This plant is used in teas and sweet and sour marinades, as well as Chinese-style dishes.
In addition to the above plants, runner bean, squash, oregano, dill, thyme, and savory also have edible flowers. A word of warning, use only the suggestions listed above or those found in a specialty book on edible flowers and plants. Not all flowers are edible and great care should be taken in identifying edible flower varieties.
This article originally appeared in the March 25, 1992 issue, p. 36.