Gardeners and foodies alike enjoy the culinary benefits of edible flowers.
Edible flowers bring another element to the garden — not only because they impart flavor and add interest to meals, but because they add beauty and color, too.
By emphasizing plate presentation, you can savor flavors and eat with your eyes.
Did you know flowers have specific flavors?
Tastes that flowers can impart include spicy, sweet, nutty, floral and minty. They can taste like anise, peppers, onions or wintergreen. They can be strong, perfumed, bitter or herbal.
Edible flowers elevate a dish. They have been used in cooking for centuries. Famous markets of the world, such as the Phool Mandi market in New Delhi, sell flowers and spices.
You can plant edible flowers in any garden. They may be mixed in existing landscapes, planted in a vegetable or herb garden, or grown in containers, such as raised beds, flowerpots and window boxes.
With any landscape, practice the nine Florida Friendly LandscapingTM principles which include: right plant, right place; water efficiently; fertilize appropriately; mulch; attract wildlife; manage yard pests responsibly; recycle; reduce stormwater runoff; and, protect the waterfront.
“Right plant, right place” is important for edible flowers, because you’ll want to find a sunny location for them to bloom.
When possible, use micro-irrigation and harvested rainwater for watering plants. Add mulch to conserve moisture and reduce weeds. Then, harvest your edible flowers and add them to recipes.
A note on foraging: use caution when looking around your yard for edible flowers and plants.
Landscape plants with edible flowers, for instance, hibiscus and orange blossoms, may be treated with pesticides and herbicides.
Use care when eating edible flowers, be sure to properly identify the plant, check for recent pesticide use and be sure to read the pesticide’s label.
Favorite edible flowers include orange blossoms, nasturtium, rose petals, pansies, Johnny jump-ups, marigold, dianthus, daylily, pineapple guava, redbud, begonia, hibiscus, sunflower petals, anise hyssop, society garlic, petunia, mango, rose geranium, roselle, snapdragons, elderberry, pineapple sage, and native Florida violets.
The flowers of common herbs are edible, too.
Try adding interesting flavors to your cooking by using the flowers of chives, basil, oregano, mint, tarragon, fennel, rosemary, borage, cilantro and dill.
Don’t forget to try the blossoms of many vegetables. Zucchini, squash, okra, young beans, pea shoots, pumpkin, mustard, broccoli and radish are edible.
Edible flowers have many culinary uses. Add them to salads, soups, drinks, ice cubes, sandwiches, tacos, pasta, bread and desserts. They’re pretty on picnic plates and side dishes, and can be used as garnishes. Some recipes include edible flowers in dog biscuits! Mix edible flowers and seeds (for example, black sesame seeds) to sprinkle color.
Some parts of the flower — for instance, the sepals and stamens — may be bitter or bland. Pollen also may be a problem for people with allergies.
Remove the leaves and pollen parts, and eat only the flower.
Grow edibles from seeds, and experiment with heirlooms and interesting varieties. Save seeds from plants like basil to grow new plants.
In general, manage yard pests responsibly in your landscape.
Scout often, look for signs of pests and problems, and learn what is normal in your garden.
Use care with pesticides and employ least toxic methods first to control pests, which include insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils.
In addition to culinary uses, some edible flowers provide wildlife benefits. For example, African blue basil is a pollinator magnet. Use it to plant an insectary or small garden that attracts our native pollinators. Grow your successful edible garden, and get more plants from seeds, cuttings and division. Share those plants with others, or transplant them in different parts of your garden.
As you can see, edible flowers bring more than just color and beauty to your garden.
Nicole Pinson is the Urban Horticulture Agent in Hillsborough County.
Published February 15, 2017