Working on planning your spring garden? Make sure you include some delicious edible flowers! Read on for a complete guide to everything you could ever possibly want to know about growing and using flowers that are as tasty as they are beautiful!
Grab a cup of tea (I would usually say coffee, but tea sounds more garden-like) and get comfy, this is a very long guide! If you don’t have time to read it, click here to snag a free PDF version of it! You can print it out or just save it for later.
- Tips for Growing Edible Flowers and Herbs
- Easy-to-Grow Edible Flowers
- Edible Flowers You Can Grow Indoors
- Mistakes New Gardeners Make When Growing Edible Flowers and Herbs
- Different Ways to Use Edible Flowers
- Drying Edible Flowers and Herbs
Tips for Growing Edible Flowers and Herbs
You probably already know that you can grow your own herbs in your garden, but did you know that there are plenty of flowers that taste as good as they look? Let’s talk about some simple tips for choosing the right flowers to grow and actually getting them to sprout.
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Let’s start with something a little more familiar: herbs. Yeah, I know, they’re not really flowers, but many of them pair well with the edible flowers on this list, so they’re worth a quick mention. Besides, you’ll using similar techniques for both herb and flower growing. Herbs can be grown on your window sill, or outdoors in a large garden.
Think about the herbs and spices you use regularly and then determine if they would do well in the available space you have. Typical herbs for a starter garden might include oregano, basil, mint, sage, rosemary, and so on. You can buy seeds in separate packets, or just grab a variety pack. I like this one:
Depending on how much you use fresh, you might end up with leftover herbs for drying (keep reading for tips on how to do that). Cool and store in an air-tight container and use as needed. The heating process will remove some of the vitamin content, but you can still get plenty of healthy phytochemicals (plant-based nutrients) from the dried.
When using fresh herbs versus dry, dry will usually be three times stronger, so use sparingly. Store in a cool, dry place to help lengthen their shelf life.
The best way to decide which edible flowers to grow is to take the time to taste a few and decide which ones you really like. Then start to think about how to incorporate them into recipes. It doesn’t make sense to go wild with planting flowers that you either won’t like or won’t use! Some will be sweet, others spicy and pungent.
Another thing to consider is planting for different seasons, so you have a steady supply all year round. Some flowers will actually be able to stand up to the cold weather. Check which ones flower the most often, to give you a steady supply of produce. Think about colors as well. The flowers can be used for contrasting color in salads, for example, or elegant garnishes for a range of dishes, drinks and desserts.
They can be frozen in water to make ice cubes to add to clear drinks. Certain varieties can be candied and eaten as is, or added to desserts for decoration. Knowing what you will use them for can help you choose the right flowers and colors.
Soil, Sun & Shade
One of the best things about growing your own produce is the rich flavor, with no worries about harmful pesticides. There are natural ways to repel insects without dumping a chemical factory on your food.
If you have a garden, bring a soil sample to your local nursery or garden center to get it analyzed. Once you know what type of soil you have, you can discuss your best options with the experts there.
Sun versus Shade
Some plants thrive in bright sunshine, while others need a bit more shade. If you are planning a window ledge garden or a window box, check the direction the window is facing to see how much sun the plants can expect.
In your garden, check the movement of the sun and plant the ones that love sun in the brightest parts of your garden.
Drainage of Soil
All plants need water, but some need it more than others. If there are any areas where puddles tend to form, these are not well-drained. In terms of container gardens, planting them in layers with drainage pebbles, for example, can stop your herbs and plant from getting soggy and moldy. If they go moldy, they will not be edible.
Now that you have a general idea of how to grow them, let’s talk about some that are great for those just starting out!
Easy-to-Grow Edible Flowers
Here are some flowers which are perfect for beginners. When buying the seeds, always check for the Latin name to make sure you are getting an edible variety and not a potentially dangerous cousin.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
These star-shaped flowers come in pink, violet and blue, and taste slightly of cucumbers. Borage is popular in savory dishes like soups and stews. You can also freeze the flowers in water to make ice cubes to add to summertime drinks for some extra refreshment. It is an excellent dried herb to always keep on hand. It can be grown in any degree of sunlight, and pretty much any soil.
Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum morifolium, or Chrysanthemum x grandiflorum)
Mums taste the way they smell, slightly spicy and pungent. Use sparingly in salads, stir fries and rice dishes; a little usually goes a long way. Mums need lots of sunlight and do well in most soils as long as they are well-drained.
These flowers have a flavor that’s a mix between sweet and flowery. Harvest daylilies when the buds are just about to open, then use them in Asian cuisine, salads and desserts. They thrive in the sun in moist soil which is well-drained.
These can vary considerably in taste, from spicy nutmeg or ginger to citrus or peppermint. The lemon and peppermint-tasting varieties work well in ice cream, sorbet, and ice cubes. Freeze the flowers and then use the cubes to liven up your pitchers or punch bowls. Geraniums like light and well-drained soil.
Lavender isn’t just for DIY bath salt recipes! It has many uses around the home, including as parts of recipes. English lavender varieties (Lavender angustifolia) have the best flavor for recipes, which range from sweet to savory.
Lavender water, candy, sauces and dressings all have a light citrus taste with an underlying tang of rosemary and sage. Remove all the flowers from the stalk when cooking. These plants love sunlight and need well-drained soil.
Nasturtium is the most popular of all edible flowers, and has been used for centuries as a component of salads and as an ingredient similar in taste to watercress.
You can eat both the leaves and flowers. They come in a wide range of colors, so work well as a contrasting color in salads and as a garnish. This plant thrives well in both sun and light shade.
Pansies come in a range of colors and generally taste similar to grapes, which makes them perfect for garnish, salads and even cake decoration. Pansies will grow well in anything except direct sunlight. The moisture levels will vary by the type of pansy, so read the seed packet carefully.
Pinks have a delicate flavor with touch of cloves. They are popular as an addition to hot tea and cider. The flowers are also used as an attractive garnish for creamy soups, fruit salad, and cookie platters.
Pinks need a lot of sunlight and a very rich soil in order to thrive. There are different species of pinks, so be sure to read the seed packet carefully.
Growing flowers and herbs in the same pot, also referred to as container gardening, can be a fun and interesting hobby with a huge benefit for your health and wallet: delicious and nutritious ingredients for your favorite recipes. You can explore new recipes as well, once you have a steady supply of flowers and herbs.
The real question is how best to grow them. You can line everything up in little pots on your ledge or window box, or you can plant in combination.
1. Planting in Combination
Planting in combination can create attractive displays. And if you choose plants that go well together, they will make the most of the soil by not competing for the same minerals.
Planting flowers and herbs together for a particular use also means you have everything in one place when you want to create a recipe. I
t also helps with harvesting, so you make the most of what you’ve planted by regularly going around your containers in rotation to snip the top portions of the plants to use them fresh, or to dry for later use.
When planting in combination, there are several important elements to consider if your plants are to live in harmony together and thrive.
- The Right Container- Some plants will do well in small pots, others will start to crowd themselves and any other flowers or herbs they have been planted with. Follow all instructions on the seed packets.
- The Right Soil- Some herbs can grow well in any soil, while others need a richer soil. In general, good-quality potting soil should be ideal for most plants, but again, check the seed packet for specific instructions.
- The Right Moisture and Drainage- Some plants are thirstier than others and prefer wet soil. Others need a drier soil with good draining. This can be a delicate balancing act. Remember, if the herbs and flowers are too wet, they can develop mildew and will be unusable.
- The Right Light- Some plants require direct sunlight, and plenty of it. Others thrive in shade, and some also love cool, dark places. Combine ones that have a similar light requirement, and of course, be sure you place your container in the right place in your home or garden so they can thrive.
2. Useful Combinations
The following combinations will help you create tasty recipes.
Bouquet Garni Herb Garden
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Bouquet garni is used to flavor soups and stews. It is a combination of herbs wrapped in cloth and tied with a ribbon. You discard it before eating. You can grow all the herbs you need in a 20-inch pot (or larger if you wish).
Plant rosemary, thyme, sage, and small bay laurel. Harvest as needed and dry for future use if you wish.
Ice Cream Herb Garden
You can make your own delicious ice creams and sorbets using edible flowers and herbs. In a 20-inch or larger pot, plant anise hyssop, lemon verbena and rose geranium. For sorbets, try mint, thyme and lemon verbena. Note that mint will take up as much room as you give it, so plant it in a smaller pot first and then transfer to the container. This is a really fun garden to work on with your kids!
Mexican Herb Garden
If you love Mexican food, this container garden will keep you supplied with all the essentials. Get a 20-inch pot and plant cilantro, oregano and thyme. You can also add parsley, either curly or flat-leaf, which has a stronger taste.
There’s nothing more refreshing than homemade lemonade. Enhance its taste and appearance with herbs. In a 20-inch pot, plant lemon balm, lemon mint, and lemon basil.
This outdoor container garden is sure to be family favorite, and it’s another great way to get kids involved! Get a 22-inch or larger pot and place it close to a wall or a trellis. Add bush tomato plants, which will eventually start to grow upwards on the trellis. Add oregano and basil, for all the makings of your own homemade sauce for pizza and pasta.
Check this resource for other useful herbs and flower combinations that will help inspire you!
Edible Flowers You Can Grow Indoors
There are a number of edible flowers you can grow indoors, but be warned: many are toxic to pets. Since my cats and dog have a tendency to get into everything, we don’t really grow anything indoors, aside from in a grow tent that my mom uses to start the garden before it gets warm outside. We also have a family of ferals outside from front door, so I’m careful to avoid anything that can hurt them, too.
I highlighted the info about whether or not they’re safe for pets. Red text means that they are highly, orange means mild (or just for cats or dogs, but not both), and green means good to go!
- Calendula – Calendula has a peppery taste, and it’s often used in the place of more expensive saffron in Spanish dishes. It is safe for dogs but not cats.
- Chives – Chives are one of the most familiar plants. They have sort of an onion flavor, but not quite as strong. I don’t really like onions but I like chives. They are most often used to top baked potatoes, along with some sour cream. They can also be used in soups. They are mildly toxic to pets.
- Chrysanthemums- Remember, a little usually goes a very long way with mums. They need lots of sunlight, and do well in most soils as long as they are well-drained. They are highly toxic to dogs and cats.
- Hibiscus– Hibiscus comes in shades of deep purple, pink and blue. It’s a fantastic source of vitamin C. It is a common ingredient in many different varieties of herbal tea due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used for centuries as medicine as well. Look for the species Hibiscus sabdariffa to make tea, syrup and jam. It is highly toxic for pets.
- Nasturtiums –These tasty flowers come in a range of vivid colors and taste similar to watercress. They are often used as a substitute for watercress in sandwiches, salads and as garnish. You can eat both the leaves and flowers; both are rich in Vitamin C. They are easy to grow in well-drained soil near a sunny window. They can be toxic to pets.
- Pansies – We talked about pansies above, but to reiterate, they taste kind of like grapes. They make a wonderful addition to a summer fruit salad. They are mildly toxic to pets.
- Violets – Violets (Viola odorata) have mild floral taste and have been used for centuries in drinks and desserts. They are perfect for a sunny window sill garden. These plants don’t want a lot of heat; a temperate place near a sunny window will do. They are considered non-toxic for pets.
Mistakes New Gardeners Make When Growing Edible Flowers and Herbs
Many new gardeners get so excited at the prospect of growing their own edible flowers and herbs that they leap before they look. This can cost a lot of time, money and frustration. Here are some tips on common mistakes newbie gardeners make, and how to avoid them.
- Not Planning Ahead: There are thousands of things to plant. Your starting point should be simple, with one or two things you know you are going to use regularly. If those go well, you can start expanding your garden.
- Not Testing Your Soil: Remember, you can usually take a soil sample to a local nursery and have them test it for you (probably for a small fee, but you may find one that does it for free). Or, just buy a DIY soil testing kit to use at home.
- Not Reading the Instructions: Read your seed packets carefully, and be sure to keep them in a handy place to refer back to in reference to the care of your precious plants.
- Too Much or Too Little Sun: Again, reading the instructions will help you avoid this mistake! Also, take time to observe your garden at different times of the day to see which are the sunniest spots.
- Over- or Underwatering: Follow the instructions on how the plants should be watered. Too much can be as bad as too little. And if your plants get mildew, they will be unusable.
- Not Using the Right Potting Soil Combinations: A lot of people just stick dirt in a pot and assume that things will grow. However, there are different qualities of potting soil that can really help your plants thrive. In addition, you may need to add other items to the pot (such as for drainage) so your plants don’t get all soggy.
- Packing Plants in Too Tightly: Plants need enough room to grow. And some plants, like mint, will hog the space, taking up as much of the space as it can. In this case, put your mint in a separate pot and replant as needed. It is a great natural insect repellent.
- Using Pesticides: This is the last thing you want to use on your home-grown edible flowers and herbs. One of the great things about growing your own is that they will be organic, free from harmful pesticides.
- Not Fertilizing: Your harvests will usually improve if you use a good fertilizer. One all-natural solution is liquid seaweed. You can also use compost from your organic waste from your kitchen, such as coffee grounds or used tea leaves.
- Not Harvesting Enough: New gardeners get timid and worry they might be harvesting too much. In fact, taking from the top couple of inches of the plant can really make it grow and thrive. Otherwise, you will end up with tall, skinny plants with barely any leaves. Regular harvesting signals to the plant to keep growing and not go dormant at the end of a season.
Avoid these newbie mistakes and you will be proud of your regular supply of edible flowers and herbs.
Different Ways to Use Edible Flowers
Edible flowers work great in a range of recipes, from soups and stews to salads. But their vivid colors and pretty appearance can also help you create a whole new level of interest and flavor as you produce more exotic-looking dishes, or use the flowers as vibrant garnishes. Here are a few ideas for using your edible flowers.
Place a flower or two in each compartment of an ice cube tray. Add water and freeze. Add to clear drinks. Also uses fresh flowers as garnish. Depending on what flowers you choose, they can add a lemony tang, taste of cucumber, and more.
Add flowers to your popsicle containers, fill with liquid, add the stick and freeze. You can have a colorful array of sunny-looking popsicles laden with flowers and interesting tastes, such as lemon mint or lavender.
You can make your own lollipops with sugar syrup and sticks. Try to find one perfect flower per pop. You can then arrange them on a stand and dazzle people with the colors.
Candied violets have been used for centuries, both as a sweet treat and as an elegant way to decorate cakes. Create a box of your own to pass around when guests come, or give as gifts.
Clear gelatin and some sugar can be the foundation of vividly-colored jellied candies. You can also add rosewater and rose petals if you like, to make your own Turkish delight. Make a tray of it, chill well, and cut into small squares. Toss the squares in some powdered sugar to stop them sticking together.
Fresh or dried edible flowers can dress up any cake. You can also use candied flowers. Edible flowers make adorable cupcake toppers, too! You can also make frosting from the flowers, such as rose.
Make your usual sugar cookie dough. Roll it out, cut into cookies, and roll a fresh flower into the top of each cookie. Use a variety of blossoms and you will be able to create a stunning-looking cookie platter.
Garnish for Serving Platters
Garnish can really make your platters stand out, such as cheese and fruit or dessert platters.
Some liquors can be enhanced with flowers, such as adding them to a bottle of vodka. You can also create various syrups out of edible flowers to add color, flavor and consistency to cocktails and mocktails (you can use seltzer instead of alcohol in most cases).
Some edible flowers and botanicals like hibiscus and rose hip are actually the basis for most commercial herbal teas on the market, so you can have fun experimenting with different blends. The most basic herbal tea can be made with fresh or dried chamomile flowers. It is pretty, and good for the digestion.
Layer the flowers with layers of yogurt, and perhaps some granola or nuts, for a light, refreshing dessert or breakfast.
Drying Edible Flowers and Herbs
Not all edible flowers and herbs dry well, so choose ones you know will be hardy enough to survive the process, and ones you use regularly. Here are some tips on drying them.
Hang Them Upside Down
Hanging the flowers and herbs upside down on a rack in a cool, dry place will help preserve them. They should be completely dry when you start; that is, with no dew on them. You can tie them into loose bunches with some cotton thread and hang them by the thread from hooks. They will usually take four to seven days to dry completely.
Once they are dried, you can remove flowers, leaves and so on from the stems and harvest the edible parts of the plant. For flowers, cut them in half and clean out any pollen or other inedible parts.
Store your harvest in cool, dry containers. Be sure to label each one so you don’t get any surprises when you use them in cooking.
Using Your Own Oven
Set your oven to 140 degrees F. Line some cookie sheets with paper towels. Lay the herbs in a single row on the towels. Heat for about 30 minutes, then check on them and turn them over. Heat through for another 20 to 30 minutes, but do not allow them to burn, or else all their nutrients and their taste will be gone.Trim the edible parts and store in a cool, dry place.
Keep Things Dry
No matter which method you use, be sure the flowers and herbs are completely dry before storing them. Otherwise, they will develop mildew and become useless.
There is a lot more I can tell you about edible flowers, but this post is getting a little overwhelming. You’ll find about another 2,000 words worth (for over 6K total) of info in the free PDF version.