When planning your vegetable garden, don’t forget to consider edible flowers. They’re not only attractive garnishes for salads and plate designs (or “plating” as chefs say) but they add an element of beauty to the garden. And they have practical benefits — like attracting pollinators — even before they’re harvested.
My grandmother was the first to feed us flowers, namely petunias of which she’d put one on the plate with our salad (she’d also put one behind her ear when her hair was pulled back but that’s another story).
We’ve been adding nasturtium blossoms to salads for years; in fact creating whole salads with nothing but their blossoms when we had an abundance. At first we considered them only as decoration. Later we learned to savor their petals, popping them into our mouths straight from the plant as we walked around the garden, enjoying their spicy, sometimes peppery flavor. Nasturtiums are easy to grow and make a great companion plant. Their trailing, leaf heavy vines serve to smother weeds. Their also thought to repel aphids and other pests.
There are dozens and dozens of edible flowers and one important rule to remember about them. Those that aren’t edible can be dangerous, even fatal. In that, they’re like wild mushrooms. It’s important to know which ones are safe and which ones are not. Scroll down on this web page from Colorado State University Extension for a list of edible and non- edible flowers. The second thing to remember –again, like mushrooms — is that a flower that’s safely eaten by you might cause an allergic reaction in someone else. When trying a new edible flower for the first time, consume only a tiny piece and wait at least an hour for a reaction. When feeding flowers to your friends and loved ones make sure they’re commonly eaten, like nasturtiums or petunias, and even then be sure to ask them about their sensitivity to allergies. Always err on the side of caution.
I’d also recommend that you grow your edibles from heirloom seed and that you never eat flowers from gardens in which pesticides or herbicides are sprayed. But you already knew that. Growing flowers is easy, if not easier, than growing most vegetables.
That said, edible flowers are a wonderful addition and not just to salads. One of our favorites is the velvety blue, star-shaped borage blossom. They’re also a favorite of bees so be careful when you pick them. Borage blossoms have a slight cucumber taste, as do their edible leaves, which makes them great in salads, floated on gazpacho and other cold soups or — plug your ears, grandma — on top a gin and tonic. A buddy used to put one in each compartment of an ice cube tray after filling (see illustration at the link above) and viola!: beautiful blossoms in his special summer cooler (use your own recipe).
Everyone knows that summer squash blossoms are delicious battered and fried and that chive blossoms make an already attractive piece of grilled fish more so. Calendula or pot marigold blossoms make a colorful addition to soups and rice and just a few lavender blossoms (very few, their flavor is strong) stirred into cupcake batter or homemade ice cream makes for a great summer treat. Here’s a quintet of rather sophisticated recipes using edible flowers. Let them seed your imagination.