Edible Flowers in the Backyard Garden
Let there be flowers...
Edible flowers can turn any meal into something intriguing and magical. They provide vibrant colours that cannot be found in the produce department, but like veggies, they are filled with minerals and vitamins. In the vegetable garden, they attract pollinators, deter aphids and other pests, and add a magical, colourful quality to the landscape.
Before I go on, I must say this: not all flowers are edible! There are many lists online of the ones you can and cannot eat; I recommend this one, but a general search will provide a lot of information! Also, not all edible flower plants you buy at nurseries are safe to eat! Most nurseries use synthetic fertilizers and sometimes pesticides on flowering plants and unless they are specifically sold as food plants, I wouldn’t buy them to eat.
The best way to guarantee that the edible flowers you eat are safe is to grow your own from seed or buy from someone who does. There are so many amazing small scale seed companies out there and an incredibly diverse variety of edible flowers. I'm always looking at seed catalogs and websites searching for unique varieties and colours of edible flowers. This year I ordered some from Floret Flowers and am now being rewarded with an incredible palette of colours. I also save seed from plants I come across in my work as an edible landscaper and oftentimes friends and clients will share seed with me. It can be incredibly rewarding to take a plant from seed to seed. To watch a plant sprout and grow and bloom and set seed again is completely magical and being able to eat some of this magic along the way feels like a powerful act. It's something that connects you to the earth in a flavor-filled way.
In the edible landscape, we incorporate edible flowers in amongst vegetables, herbs, and fruit. Tucking species such as calendula or violas at the base of other plants and along the edges of raised beds maximizes space and increases the variety and yield of your harvests. Often when planting in the garden, I leave some space between veg crops and will plant edible flowering plants. This provides so many incredible benefits in the garden. Bees and pollinators of all kinds will come to the blossoms and these garden helpers not only feed on blooms but help to control unwanted pest and keep the garden ecosystem healthy. They also provide shade for small seedlings when transitioning the crops surrounding the flowers. Cornflower is an excellent example of this, the whimsical easy to grow edible flower provides dappled light to tender late spring planted vegetables. I'm growing several varieties of cornflower (aka bachelor's button) including blue boy, classic romantic and classic magic.
Another easy way to ensure that you will have edible blooms in the garden is to allow some of your vegetables go to seed. Many vegetables, when left to flower, have beautiful, decorative edible blossoms. Mustard greens, radish, turnip, kale, collards, arugula, leeks, and many more all produce blooms that can be added to meals and drinks. Allowing plants to flower and live their full life cycle feeds more than just humans, they also feed so many birds, bees, butterflies, and beetles. You can feel good about eating flowers that have already fed a variety of pollinators. I don't harvest all the flowers all at once but pick daily, leaving some for the pollinators and also leave some for seed (plants that are left to self-seed oftentimes produce the healthiest baby plants which you can pot up or move around in the cooler months). With certain varieties the more you pick, the more they grow! Pick in the morning or evening but avoid the hottest time of the day to help keep them fresh.
Herbs like rosemary, thyme, mint, sage also have edible flowers. Don't use too many or they will overpower a meal, but sprinkle a few onto a salad or in a mocktail and they add rich floral flavors.
When bringing the flowers from the garden into the kitchen, there are a few things to consider when adding to a dish: some flowers are sweet, others are savory. It can be enticing to put every flower you grow and pick onto every meal, however certain flavour profiles can collide and make for an off-putting meal. For example there a many different, beautiful perennial and annual allium flowers out there, and although they have a sweetness to them they also taste like onions. Might not be the best addition to ice cream or lemonade but are excellent with eggs, grains or salads.
Here is a quick list of my favorite sweet & savory edible flowers:
Sweet: Rose, Dianthus, Violas, Cornflower, Calendula (favorite varieties are bronze beauty, strawberry blonde, and solar flare), Borage (I grow a white variety that is so beautiful)
Savory: Alliums (leeks, onion chives, garlic chives, and so many more), Radish, Kale, Cilantro, Peas, Runner Beans, Arugula, Chicory, Nasturtium
Growing edible flowers in your garden provides so many benefits in the landscape and in the kitchen. They offer a connection to the natural world and brighten a garden no matter the size. Small children love to look at flowers filled with bees and find joy and excitement in picking and eating the flowers too. I highly recommend starting your seeds today!
Photos by Kelly Brown Photography
About the Blogger:
Solara Goldwynn and her husband Tayler Krawczyk own Hatchet & Seed, an edible landscaping business in Victoria BC. Solara's passions are growing beautiful edible ecosystems, sharing her excitement for plants with others, and chasing her daughter around the garden.