by Petra Page-Mann of Naples, NY
We’ve been savoring the first forsythia blossoms in the Finger Lakes (yes, they’re edible!) And they inspired me to share our favorite edible flowers with you. (There are a lot!) Edible flowers are the best of all worlds, nourishing us in so many ways with their beauty, well beyond calories.
Easy to grow in any soil, any container and even limited sun, calendula is beautiful, edible and medicinal. Pluck the petals from the center calyx to toss in salad and strew across cakes! They have a mild marigold scent and flavor, which is heavenly.
We’re especially fond of our Remembrance Mix, (picture on left) which we selected in collaboration with Remembrance Farm just outside Ithaca, to bring more beauty and abundance to their signature edible flower salad mixes.
All calendula is both edible and medicinal, but if you’re wanting to make the most potent healing salves, grow Resina. Named for her medicinal resins so abundant her flowers and stems are sticky, she’s not as lovely to eat, but your skin will know all the difference.
Bachelor Button, also called Corn Flower (for their prevalence in eastern European grain fields, where they are native), is also easy to grow. Three to four feet high, Bachelor Buttons petals are light, vibrant confetti with virtually no distinct flavor, fully beautifying everything around them. They also thrive in poor soil and drought, so they are better than most for container gardens. The more you harvest the more they’ll blossom! And they’re covered in pollinators, from butterflies to native bees, from mid-summer through frost.
Polka Dots is our classic mix. And Burgundy Beauties is my favorite! We’ve been selecting it for years and her spectrum of mauve, raspberry, rose and lavender is sincerely extraordinary.
Also easy to grow in any soil, any container and even limited sun, borage shares edible star-shaped blossoms as well as young leaves, both with a hint of cucumber. Eighty percent of her blooms are deep azure blue and the balance are shell pink. The abundance of bees, butterflies and native pollinators attracted to borage don’t seem to have a preference and neither do we!
Nasturtium (or Nasties, as my Brit friends call them!) are also impressively easy to grow with very little care, fertility, water, and even sun, though the more sun they receive, the more they will blossom. Both young foliage and flowers have a bright pepper flavor and distinct succulence that we love on salads as well as seared green beans, blended into aioli and, well, everywhere. We also pickle their young green seed pods for our favorite homegrown capers.
It was only a few years back that I learned sunflowers are edible! And I’ve never looked back. All sunflower petals are edible, across their myriad colors, shapes, and sizes, and try them all! You’ll find subtle differences but I suspect you’ll be tossing them on all your salads this summer, just like us.
Evening Colors is a gorgeous rainbow of autumnal hues, (picture above) exceptionally tall and hummingbirds visit her blossoms, as well.
Dwarf sunflowers like Sonja (3′) and Soraya (4-5′) are ideal for growing cut flowers as well as abundant petals to harvest.
Though I’ve loved snapdragons since before I could fully arrange sentences, I was 35 years old when I finally learned they are edible. Across their wide spectrum of colors, shapes, and sizes, some varieties are sweeter than others but tossed in a salad, I’ve found I have no experience other than joy.
Yes, dahlias were domesticated in montane Mexico as a food crop! Both their tubers and petals are edible (so much more to share!) and the two varieties we’ve found that are genuinely delectable are Fern Cliff, like floral butterhead lettuce, and Star’s Favorite, like floral, grassy asparagus.
We make the most outrageous salads of just their petals all August and September!
Hyacinth & Other Pole Beans
We first saw hyacinth bean climbing 20+ feet in the gorgeous gardens of Roger Swain, the host of PBS’ Victory Garden series. He kindly returned our jaws to our faces and harvested us a handful of seed, which is the foundation of every seed we now share today.
The hyacinth beans themselves are not edible, but their orchid-like flowers are soft, sweet and utterly delectable. Hummingbirds often nest in ours and it’s hard to eat every single flower, since they are so prolific, so you’ll still be able to enjoy their luminescent pods and save plenty of seeds for next season.
Similar to hyacinth bean, the green pods of chocolate runner beans are fibrous and unappetizing. Their flowers, by contrast, add color and just a touch of sweet to salads. Hummingbirds lose their minds in the wall of crimson and cream, and if you miss a few flowers (and you will, there are so many!), let the green pods mature to gold and harvest the extraordinary beans in fall. They’re delicious, like massive cannellini beans, just save a few to sow again next season and share with your friends.
Best known for her medicinal qualities, echinacea’s vivid petals are also edible! Just be sure to pluck them off the center of the flower, which is surprisingly spiky.
Almost absurdly easy to grow, chives are impressively perennial and their flowers in June are in fact dozens of flowers, each one rich with chive flavor. We love to sear whole flowers to toss on stir-fries; we also break apart the flowers to enjoy on salads and garnish soups. Blend them into your aioli, tuck them into your sandwiches!
Though we never toss chamomile in salads, I would be remiss to share edible flowers I love without adding her. (If you haven’t already made chamomile shortbread in your life, no time like the present!)
Basil, Dill, Arugula, Broccoli, Fennel & More!
I also would do the world a great disservice to not mention the flowers of so many other plants, not traditionally grown as edible flowers (or even flowers at all) that we love to eat the flowers of. Any flowering brassica has delicious flowers and many herbs also have delicious flowers. Explore, experiment and enjoy the adventure!
Finally, though we don’t eat the petals, we love to eat the abundant seeds of poppies and now is the perfect time to establish them! Will Bonsall shared his selection of Ziar’s Breadseed poppy with us in Maine and it continues to join us all over our farm… and once their green pods turn gold, they’re all over our kitchen, as well.
Last but not least, we love to eat…
Since squash like zucchini have both male and female blossoms, be sure you’re only eating male flowers so you’re not sacrificing the fruit itself. (They’re easy to tell apart: The female ovary is a tiny zucchini, butternut or whatever other squash you’re growing. The male flower is simply on a narrow stalk, as above.)
Enjoying edible flowers all summer long is one of the simplest, sweetest ways we bring joy to our lives! May beauty and abundance surround you this season, as well as a sense of adventure.