When we think of flowers, we typically think of beautiful bouquets in vases, but they can also be tasty ingredients for your meals! While we always make sure to include flowers in our gardens, it might feel like a waste of space for some people who don’t have a large area to work with. If this sounds like you, keep reading to learn of good options for people who want to attract pollinators and add some color to their garden while still optimizing their space for maximum food production.
List of Edible Flowers
Nasturtiums are underrated heroes when it comes to our gardens. They serve two main purposes: they are great at attracting important pollinators, and they serve as guardians of the garden by repelling or trapping pests. In addition to its benefits, they are entirely edible! The lilypad-looking leaves have a peppery bite that can spice up salads, and the flowers are both pretty and a bit sweet, thanks to their nectar. If the flowers are not harvested, they produce seed pods that can be pickled into “capers” or saved for seeding the following spring.
This perennial is a great companion for basil ー keeping it safe from insects attracted to its sweet scent ー which is why you can find it in any of our gardens. Its leaves are commonly used to make tea or as addition to salads, but the beautiful purple flowers are edible as well. Cooks love them as garnishes on dishes and desserts, and we love them because they attract pollinators to our gardens. Win-win!
Squash blossoms are seasonal and very ephemeral additions to a chef’s repertoire. One of the difficulties is the fairly short harvest window, since the flowers have to be harvested before they mature into fruits. Additionally, harvesting the flower means one less potential fruit, which is why they can be hard to find and on the more expensive side. If you grow zucchinis at home and want to enjoy this delicacy, we recommend starting with male flowers that bloom early in the season before the female flowers are out. That way, you don’t have to sacrifice a potential zucchini.
You might have seen these thin, curly green stalks at farmers’ markets before. Garlic scapes are the stalks that grow out of hardneck garlic plants, typically harvested in the late spring/early summer before they bloom, allowing the flavors to concentrate in the bulbs that we commonly use. They have a sweeter and milder taste compared to its bulb counterpart, and you can eat them raw or cooked.
Calendulas are great flowers for novice and experienced gardeners alike. They attract pollinators, add beautiful pops of orange or yellow, are self seeding (meaning they drop seeds that will grow next spring), and are edible! The bitter-tasting leaves can be great additions to salads, while the edible flower petals are mostly used as garnish.
Herbs tend to turn bitter when they flower, which is why we recommend “pinching” them in the garden ー preventing them from flowering. However, even the most diligent of gardeners can miss bolting herbs from time to time, which can result in small flowers blooming in their fragrant greens. To make the best out of a sub-optimal situation, the flowers can be harvested and used in dishes. For example, mint flowers have a slightly floral taste in addition to the flavors found in the leaves, and can be used similarly in various recipes. If you have cilantro plants, you can even let the flowers turn to seeds, which you might recognize… that’s coriander!
Whether you plan on eating them or not, flowers remain an important part of a healthy garden. They attract essential pollinators and contribute to increased biodiversity, which strengthens the ecosystem, so keep them in mind when planning your garden!