Floral Foods: Enjoy the Beauty and Flavor of Edible Flowers

Article written by Saturday6' blogger Teresa O'Connor from Seasonal Wisdom

You probably grow certain flowers for their appearance, and perhaps even for their fragrance, so why not for their taste too? Edible flowers are a great addition to your landscape, and they are so diverse that there is one for every style of garden.

A few safety tips first. Always know what you are growing; not every flower is edible, of course. Also, never eat flowers that have been sprayed, including those from commercial nurseries that were grown for ornamental purposes. These nursery plants often have been sprayed with systemic pesticides not meant for human consumption. Growing your own edible flowers ensures you have a safe supply.

Easy from seed: Many edible flowers are easy to grow directly from seeds sown into the soil. Three popular edible flowers to try are pot marigolds, borage and German chamomile. All three are annuals, but they will often reseed the following (Calendula) year.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) likes the cooler temperatures of spring and fall, but will often grow well in summer if you keep deadheading the flowers. Try the colorful orange and yellow petals in everything from homemade biscuits to casseroles. In earlier times, this flower was considered the poor man's saffron. Calendula was often thrown into the medieval cooking pot, and its common name is pot marigold.

Borage (Borago officinalis) has a long tap root that makes it difficult to transplant, so sow the seeds where you want them. The star-shaped borage flowers can be frozen in ice cubes and floated in drinks. They have a slight cucumber taste and work well in dips and chilled soups.

German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) grows 6 to 24 inches tall, and can become a nuisance plant in some areas. So check before you plant it. This is the most popular type of edible chamomile. The flowers have a sweet apple scent and are renowned for calming teas.

Fragrant and fabulous: Other edible flowers are easier started from plants, such as roses, scented geraniums and lavenders.

Roses (Rosa spp.) are the queen of the garden. The hardy perennials thrive in rich, well-amended soil in a sunny spot. A couple inches of fine wood chips around your bushes will smother weeds, save water and even reduce diseases. Overwintering fungal disease spores can splash up on plant stems, but mulch mitigates this. Try a few unsprayed rose petals on top of cakes or toss in salads. They have a floral taste.

Scented geraniums (Pelargonium) are winter hardy in Zones 10 to 11, but many Northern gardeners grow them as annuals in the summer and bring them indoors before the first frost of the winter. These plants like rich, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Pinching the stems helps the sprawling plant keep its shape. Flavors and fragrances range from apple and rose to lemon. The leaves and flowers are edible and are delicious in teas, desserts and baked goods.

Lavenders (Lavandula) grow in a neat shrub shape. They thrive in very well-drained, slightly alkaline soil. Don't overwater this plant, and avoid growing it in areas with lots of humidity. Remember a little bit of lavender goes a long way in the kitchen. Too much can taste a little soapy. Use some lavender petals in tea, or on cupcakes and other baked goods. It also tastes good mixed with rosemary and rubbed on chicken.

Herb flowers: Don't forget about the flowers from herb plants, such as rosemary, thyme, basil, mint and sage. These flowers have a milder taste than the leaves, and can be used in culinary dishes from soups to salads.

Once you get started with edible flowers, you'll find it's easy to incorporate these blossoms into your meals. Whether it is mint flowers for your iced tea or rose petals on your baked goods, your garden can feed you in more ways than you may think!