Edible flowers, with their vibrant colors and fetching shapes, are not only attractive to pollinators such as bees and birds. For us, there is a special pleasure and almost intimacy about eating a flower, tuning in to a plant’s life cycle at its most seductive moment.
We grow edible flowers year-round at HomeFarm. All are easy to grow and look as beautiful in the garden as they do on the plate.
Harvest Note: Pick flowers in the morning on a dry day once the petals have opened. Flowers are very delicate and need careful handling.
Snip the blooms with small scissors, taking care not to touch the flower face. Place in a single layer in your harvest basket or tray.
Once back in the kitchen, check for bugs and use right away or store in a cool place.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Lightly minty with a note of licorice, this perennial’s leaves and striking purple flowers can be harvested over a long growing time. Trim the flower heads and leaves to use fresh or dried in a tisane (herb tea), or separate the tiny flowers from the main stem to scatter over the top of a fruit salad or garnish a summer cucumber soup.
Anise hyssop really shines in sweets; the leaves and flowers can be infused into custards for créme anglaise or ice cream, cooked with sugar to make a simple syrup for flavoring lemonade, or cooked with fruit for syrups, sauces, and jams.
Borage (Borago officinialis)
Borage, also known as starflower, is a familiar annual herb with furry leaves and small, star-shaped blossoms in the most delectable shade of blue. With a taste reminiscent of cucumber, borage flowers are excellent tossed into salads and make a beautiful garnish for cold potato, pea, or cucumber soups.
They are also attractive floated on cordials and cocktails, such as Pimm’s Cup or gin and tonics. If you have time and want to impress, freeze the flowers in ice cubes.
Add a few borage flowers to lemonade, and it will turn pink from the acid of the citrus, a delightful trick for a child’s party!
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Also called “pot marigolds,” this easy-to-grow annual is strongly flavored: use only the golden- to orange-hued petals. The flowers range from spicy to bitter, tangy to peppery, and can be used to color and flavor salads, butter, eggs, pasta, and rice dishes, much like saffron but with a lighter touch.
The petals can be dried and stored for winter, and make for an especially colorful addition to leek and potato or butternut squash soups.
Chive Blossoms (Allium schoenoprasum)
The smallest member of the onion family, the common chive is a hardy perennial that happily comes back each year in the garden, offering early blooms in the spring. The purple pompom flower heads are made up of individual florets that can be pulled apart and scattered on a potato salad, mixed into an herb butter, or used as a garnish on any dish where the flavor is warranted — like creamy soups, deviled eggs, or salads.
The blossom heads can also be used to infuse vinegar, making a gorgeous blush-colored chive-flavored vinegar in just a few days.
Cornflower (Centaurea cynaus)
Also known as Bachelor’s Buttons, the cornflower is a tall, slender plant with blossoms resembling tiny carnations with pointed petals. The petals of traditional blue cornflowers look beautiful in a green salad, but its vivid shades of crimson, pink, and purple are nearly as eye-catching. They have a slightly spicy, clove-like flavor with a subtle sweetness.
Cornflowers have varied uses — providing a colorful element in vibrant summer salads, adding appeal to soft cheeses, or for making natural food coloring for icings. They are often crystallized or used fresh as decoration for cakes and desserts.
Dianthus (Dianthus caryophyllus)
Dianthus are the miniature member of the carnation family with a light clove-like or nutmeg scent. To use the surprisingly sweet petals, cut them away from the bitter white base of the flower. The bright red and pink petals can then be added to fruit salads or used as an elegant garnish for desserts.
Carnation petals are one of secret ingredients that have been used to make Chartreuse, a French liqueur, since the 17th century.
Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor)
This plant produces masses of small yellow, white, and purple blooms that make wonderfully dainty decorations for cakes, puddings, and other desserts. These edible flowers are among the first of spring, and their fresh, faintly wintergreen flavor is good in mixed green salads or winter citrus compotes.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
One of the tastiest of all edible flowers, nasturtium blossoms are boldly colored in gorgeous shades of sunshine, red, peach, and pink.
The pungent-flavored blossoms and green lily pad-shaped leaves have a sweet, peppery flavor akin to watercress and are said to have exceptional antioxidant qualities. Whole blossoms can be stuffed with herbed goat cheese, sliced thinly and added to quesadillas, or chopped with shallots to make a compound butter.
You can also pickle the fat green seed pods that appear in late summer and use them as you would capers. Both the flowers and leaves can be served as a tangy salad on their own, or as part of a mixed salad.