I’ve had a few conversations lately with people looking to grow edible flowers for the first time or intentionally wanting to add flowers they grow into dishes. Since edible flowers was my previous business I’m always happy to talk floral food.
If you search for edible flowers online you will find long lists of blooms that are indeed edible, there are so many to try. Having a go at growing anything is a joy for me, especially if you can eat it too and I say if you want to grow something, go for it! Gardening is about discovery, learning, experimenting and accepting that sometimes things go wrong. However, if you’re looking for a few edible flowers that are easy to grow (in pots or beds), taste delicious, look beautiful and importantly support the wildlife in our growing space then here’s a list for you…
There are so many positive things to say about the bountiful borage. This plant (also known as star flower) has, you guessed it, small star-shaped flowers that can be blue or white and sometimes pink. It can flower from as early as april through to november and the bees love it more than anything else in my garden because it replenishes its nectar every two minutes. Borage is so easy to grow that it will self seed all over the place and you will find it popping up throughout the seasons. The flavour is cool like cucumber and so it can go with sweet or savoury dishes. Just watch out for the prickly stems and leaves and you’ll be able to enjoy these beauties in so many ways.
The non-fussy calendula is another giver like it’s fellow herb above. It doesn’t need lots of care and in fact thrives in less rich soil yet it rewards with cheery daisy like flowers all summer. Calendula officinalis (common marigold) is traditionally bright orange but there are varieties of yellow, pinkish and deep orange colours too. It is sometimes used as a substitute for saffron but I think it has so many qualities of its own, like the lovely mild flavour and the fact that they don’t spoil easily if stored well in the fridge. The individual petals cook well in bread and look beautiful in rice dishes and fritatas.
Chives & garlic chives
These two bloom at different times, the chives in spring/early summer and garlic chives in later summer but they’re both fabulous and both deserve a mention. Their tiny purple and white flowers offer onion and garlic flavours respectively and they are strong, so you don’t need a lot to add a wonderful taste to your dishes. They are also a big favourite of the bees and hoverflies which means you get to share the joy. Both types of chives are perennials too, so they’ll come back every year and without much attention or care needed. Winner winner!
Is this the most well-known edible flower? I think maybe it is and for good reason. The peppery flavour with a kick of sweet from the nectar is something to be experienced every summer. There are many different varieties of nasturtiums too; some climb, some trail, some are more compact and they range from pale lemon to deep red in colour, either plain or with striking markings. They can grow in the ground or a hanging basket and you can easily propagate more by popping a stem in water which will quickly produce roots. Is there a down side to nasturtiums you ask? Sadly there is one and that is that they can become infested with black aphids but you can keep on top of them by snipping off the affected stem. Little birds and ladybirds enjoy a juicy aphid or two so another bonus for the wildlife.
Pansies & Violas
My number one favourites of all the edible flowers. These beauties are so versatile, so hardy and their little ‘faces’ are a thing of pure joy. You can grow really fancy, frilly pansies in exciting colours or the pretty and understated viola heatsease which is credited by herbalists as having various health benefits. I have used them in lollipops, salads, pancakes, drinks – you name it. For me they never fail. If I only had one pot of soil to grow in, this is what I would grow all year round. I guess I have extolled the virtues of the good old viola enough, you get it, they’re great!
This may be a bit of a curveball but stick with me. Firstly, the perennial phlox is the only type that is edible. As a plant it does grow larger and taller than the others mentioned but you can indeed still grow it in a pot. Lesser known than other edible flowers, this is one of my top ‘worth growing’ for all of the reasons already listed. They are abundant, growing in umbels at the top of their tall stem, their flavour is sweet like a sugarsnap pea and for a bloom so delicate they store surprisingly well. There are a range of colours including blue, purple, white and pink and there’s even a candy stripe one! What’s not to love?
Some others that didn’t make the list
There are many wonderful edible flowers that didn’t make my simple list but let’s give them the credit they deserve anyway. I didn’t include flowers of veg and some herbs such as courgette, peas (utterly delicious), rocket, radish, basil and rosemary because those plants aren’t necessarily ordinarily grown for their flowers but they really are tasty. Some, like roses, dahlia, tulips and peony are stunningly beautiful, making wonderful decorations for a celebration cake but need more space to grow and maintenance than others. Lastly, some flowers may well be listed as edible but they aren’t necessarily eatable – I’m looking at you zinnia, snapdragons and candytuft (oh the bitterness)! Some grow on large shrubs, some are difficult to germinate and there are many more in between which are gorgeous and great too (cornflowers, dianthus, sunflowers and tagetes). If you haven’t already, do delve into the amazing world of edible flowers, learn how to use them safely and enjoy the colour and fragrance they bring to your food!