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Easy-From-Seed : Edible Flowers   print version

Edible Flower Quiz – Most gardeners know that nasturtiums add a radishy kick to salads. And foodies appreciate the delectable texture and taste of battered and fried squash blossoms. But nasturtiums and squash blossoms are just two of dozens of flowers that go from seed to salad in a matter of weeks. Take this quiz to find out how much you do, or don’t know about the edible flowers in your garden:

ONE OF THE FOUR STATEMENTS ABOUT EACH VARIETY IS NOT TRUE. WHICH IS IT? (Answers follow the quiz)

1. Scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) flowers:
a. taste like beans.
b. attract hummingbirds.
c. can be used to garnish deviled eggs.
d. grow on an annual vine.

2. Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
a. flowers can be eaten fresh or used to make tea.
b. is perennial, but often blooms the first year when started from seed.
c. is a favorite of deer.
d. adds a wonderful light licorice flavor to sugar cookies.

3. Borage flowers (Borago officinalis)
a. are beautiful frozen in ice cubes.
b. have a pronounced cucumber flavor.
c. are one of the few true blue flowers.
d. have been added to salads since Elizabethan times.

4. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) flowers
a. are known as “poor man’s saffron” because petals are sometimes used to color and flavor rice.
b. grow easily from seed sown directly into the garden in spring.
c. can be dried whole in a well-ventilated space. Petals can then be stripped and saved in a tight jar.
d. require at least 6-8 hours of full sun.

5. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
a. flowers are either red, orange, or yellow.
b. seed pods are tasty when still green, and resemble capers when pickled.
c. leaves can be used to add a strikingly beautiful zing to salads, soups, and pestos.
d. plants can be either mounding, or trailing.
 

Quiz Answers:

1. d  - Scarlet runner bean is actually a perennial plant in its native Mexico. Other parts of the plant (in addition to the beautiful red flowers) are also edible: the dried bean, the young pods, and even the starchy root.
2. c  -
Anise hyssop is generally avoided by deer. Use this to your advantage by planting a border of it around your garden.
3. b  -
Although borage leaves have a pronounced cucumber flavor, the taste of the flowers is so delicate it is hard to define—mildly sweet and oh-so-slightly peppery.
4 d -
It is true that calendula plants flower best in full sun, but they also adapt well to partial shade.
5 a -
Ok, this one is a little devious. Beside these bright shades, nasturtium flowers also come in cream, apricot, rose and many combinations of these soft warm hues. ‘Black Velvet’ nasturtium is nearly black!

The Easiest of the Easy
The variety of edible flowers you can grow in your garden is likely more extensive than you realize. And isn’t it fortunate than many of them can be grown easily from seed? With fragile flowers, freshness is imperative. They do not store well, which explains why they are so expensive at the market. Plan to integrate a few into your landscape next season, and payback will be threefold: color on your plate, taste on your tongue, and beauty in your garden.


Flowers of herbs such as cilantro often taste similar to the herbs themselves

How can I tell which flowers are edible?
Not by taste testing, that’s for sure! Consult a reliable source—a University website or a trusted non-profit organization (such as the Home Gardening Seed Association), for example—before popping petals into your mouth. Generally, flowers of edible herbs are tasty and non-toxic.

Which edible flowers are the easiest to grow from seed?
There’s a sizable list of plants that, sown directly in the garden, yield edible flowers that same season. It doesn’t get much easier than that! Prepare the soil by loosening it and adding compost. Sow seed and cover the seedbed lightly with soil.
HGSA recommends the following Top Ten for reliability, fast results, and flavor:
Sow in early spring: arugula, bachelors’ button, calendula, cilantro, Johnny-jump-up
Sow when the soil warms and night temperatures are above 50ºF: borage, nasturtium, scarlet runner bean, signet marigold, squash.

Where can I fit these edible flowers in my crowded garden?
Be creative in finding appropriate niches for these beauties. Where there’s a will, there’s a way! Runner beans are best grown vertically, on an obelisk or trellis. Sow cilantro and bachelors’ buttons in spaces where bulbs have died back, and borage in areas vacated by spring greens. Many smaller edible flowers, such as calendula, Johnny-jump-ups, nasturtiums, and signet marigolds, are well suited for container growing. Use a generous-size container so that you will not have to be a slave to its needs in the heat of summer.
As for the squash, the space hog, set aside a 3 x 3 foot space for arugula, and follow it with a hill of summer squash (two plants) for a good yield of greens, arugula flowers, squash blossoms, and a summer’s worth of fruit as well.


Sow bachelors’ buttons seeds directly in the garden

Clip and use garlic chives flowers to prevent them from self-sowing

Grow scarlet runner beans on a teepee or obelisk or on a fence

Both nasturtium leaves and flowers are edible

 Female (left) and male (right) squash blossoms are equally tasty

 Good Edible Flower Choices To Grow from Seed

Common name

 

Scientific name

Flavor

Comments

Anise hyssop

Agastache foeniculum

Sweet anise-like flavor

Plants attract many different pollinators

Arugula

Eruca vesicaria sativa

Nutty, spicy, peppery flavor – like the leaves

Leaves turn bitter when flowers form

Bachelors’ Buttons

Centaurea cyanus

Mild, slightly sweet to spicy

Most often used as a garnish

Borage

Borago officinalis

Very mild flavor

Carefully separate the blue flower from its stem

Calendula

Calendula officinalis

Tangy and slightly peppery

Petals lend a yellow hue to cooked foods

Chives, Garlic Chives

Alliums spp.

Oniony and very flavorful

Clip garlic chive flowers to avoid self-sowing

Cilantro

Coriandrum sativum

Pungent and flavorful—like the leaves

Cilantro flowers make a nice guacamole garnish

Lavender

Lavandula spp.

Floral, slightly perfumey flavor

Intense flavor; use sparingly

Marigold

Tagetes tenuifolia

Flowers smell and taste citrusy

Low mounding plants make a beautiful border

Nasturtium

Tropaeolum majus

Peppery, spicy, delicious!

Entire flower can be eaten, also the leaves and green seedpods.

Okra

Abelmoschus esculentus

Very mild flavor

Flowers are big and beautiful and can be used cooked or raw.

Peas, edible

Pisum sativum

Pea-like flavor

Do not eat sweetpeas (Lathyrus latifolius)

Scarlet Runner

Phaseolus coccineus

Sweet bean flavor

Beautiful vines need a fence or trellis

Squash

Cucurbita pepo

Soft texture, mild flavor

Both male and female blossoms can be used

Viola

Viola tricolor

Mild pea-like flavor

Candied or used fresh in salads or as a garnish

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