For Your Dining Pleasure: Growing Edible Garden Flowers For Your Dining Pleasure: Growing Edible Garden Flowers

When we think of an edible garden, most likely we think of tomatoes, squash, peas and other glorious vegetables; or we may think of culinary herbs, such as thyme, oregano and rosemary. There are, however, many ornamental flowering plants that are both lovely in the flower garden and delicious at the table. The blossoms of some vegetable plants, such as squash or zucchini, are also tasty when included in the meal. Either grow your own or shop at a natural food store to lower your exposure to chemicals and pesticides.

Begin small, trying one new ornamental at a time. Once you find something tasty, you can begin to include other blossoms in a meal. Beware of experimentation. Not everything that is beautiful is edible. Many plants are not meant for the table, except in a vase. The following list of edible ornamentals, just might surprise you, as well as delight your palate:

1. Bachelor's Button
(Centaurea cyanus). The petals of this flower are the edible part. Nothing dresses up a luncheon salad like the blue, white or pink petals of the Bachelor Button. Also called corn-flower (mainly because they naturalized in corn fields), the bright blue Bachelor Button petals make a green and red salad, pop-out as a first course. Sprinkle them onto a salad, after the dressing, and right before serving.

2. Calendula (Calendula officianalis). Everyone loves yellow rice, but those little saffron petals are very pricey, and Calendula petals are a lovely alternative. Simply sprinkle the petals of this lovely orange flower into simmering white rice, and watch the rice turn a beautiful yellow. Be careful and don't overdo. Too many petals can make the taste bitter. Makes a beautiful presentation in a chicken and rice dinner.

3. Carnation (Dianthus). Otherwise known as the garden pink, this pumpkin pie scented flower is as tasty as it is sweet smelling. Whether steeped in wine, sugared, or as a cake decoration, the dainty carnation is colorful and very romantic on the dessert plate. Petals add color and flavor to salads; and they are a main component in the making of the French liqueur, Chartreuse. Cut away the white base of the flower, as it is bitter.

4. Hibiscus Flower
(Hibiscus rosasinensis). This showy edible makes a gorgeous garnish in deep rose or red. Its mildly citrus taste would be an exotic addition to roast duck or any citrus inspired meal.

5. Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). This Japanese introduction is naturalized throughout the eastern U.S. Its sweet white to pale yellow blooms are filled with a nectar that you are not soon to forget. This is the only honeysuckle that is edible, so be certain that you have the right cultivar. As a child I would spend hours plucking the little flowers and sucking out the sweet juice. Do not use other honeysuckle flowers, and do not eat the berries, as they can be toxic.

6. Lilac
(Syringa). The flavor of lilacs varies from plant to plant. Its very perfume-like, slightly bitter taste is delicious in salads. Distinctively lemony with floral pungent overtones. Lilac flowers can also be candied, using Powdered Gum Arabic, rose-water, and fine sugar. They are beautiful sprinkled on a wedding cake.

7. Nasturtium
(Tropaeolum majus). Sweet smelling and good to eat. This lovely flower can add a spicy, peppery zing to the garden salad. It is easy to grow, too, especially in pots, where you can control the soil type. It prefers a rather sterile soil, without fertilizer, and it will bloom like crazy in about 60 days. Nasturtium is a great introduction to your fall garden, interplanted with flowering kale or cabbages. In mild winter areas you can sow in fall and gather flowers all winter. Light frost tolerant.

8. Johnny Jump-Ups
(Viola tricolor). This free-seeding annual has a romantic past. Very popular in Victorian times, Johnny Jump-Up, with its lovely yellow, white and purple blooms, has a deliciously mild wintergreen flavor. It can be used as a garnish, to decorate cakes, or served with soft cheese, such as Brie and Camembert.

9. Redbud
(Cercis). Valued for its purple-red, pea-like spring blossoms and glossy heart-shaped leaves, the Eastern Redbud's flowers are also edible. Peppery and lovely in a green spinach salad, the tiny unopened buds add a festive flair to your garden luncheon.

10. Rose (Rosa) The beautiful rose, with its many varied scents from citrus to musk has long been a culinary favorite. Its flavor is reminiscent of strawberries and green apples, with sweet, subtle undertones ranging from fruit to mint to spice. All roses are edible, with the richest flavors reserved for the darker tones. Add petals to bean dishes, corn, stuffed mushrooms, or pesto sauces. They are delicious when dipped in a sweet syrup and dusted with fine granulated sugar. Rose Hips, the berry that forms after the rose is finished blooming, make a delicious and nourishing tea.

When beginning to introduce new flowering edibles to your diet, use caution. Just because something is "natural" does not make it safe. Do not eat flowers that you do not know are safe, and be especially careful with young children and pets. Do not attempt to eat flowers that have been sprayed with chemicals. Many organic food markets have safe incredible edibles to grace your table. Who knows? It may also be an excellent way to introduce delicious salads to a reluctant child.

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