Wake up your taste buds with these flavorful flowers that taste as good as they look.
This annual grows 2 to 4 feet tall with purplish blue, star-shaped flowers that “make the mind glad,” according to renowned 16th-century herbalist John Gerarde. This annual grows 2 to 4 feet tall with purplish blue, star-shaped flowers. Sow seeds in a sunny spot in spring after last frost, or earlier in warm climates. Borage (Borago officinalis) tolerates most soil types and usually reseeds itself. Transplanting isn’t recommended because the plant has a taproot that’s difficult to unearth.
Borage adds a cucumber taste to salads, dips, and cold soups. Freeze flowers in ice cubes to float in decorative drinks. In large amounts, borage may have a diuretic effect.
Also known as pot marigold, this annual was a favorite in medieval cooking pots. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) grows up to 20 inches tall, with attractive pale yellow to deep orange flowers. Sow seeds in a sunny spot in well-drained soil. Provide afternoon shade in hot temperatures. In colder climates, start indoors. This easy-to-grow plant self-sows freely.
Sometimes called “poor man’s saffron,” calendula has a slightly bitter taste. Petals add color to scrambled eggs, cheeses, poultry, and rice. Try chopped leaves and petals in soups, salads, and stews. Use caution if you have allergies to ragweed, asters, and other members of the Compositae family.
This annual has tiny daisy-like flowers immortalized in “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” when Mrs. Rabbit brewed a calming tea for her son Peter. Easily grown from seeds sown in spring, chamomile (Matricaria recutita) grows 1 to 2 feet tall in full sun. It prefers neutral to slightly acidic soil with good drainage. Chamomile reseeds easily, and can be invasive in some regions. Check with your local nursery or cooperative extension service to see if it’s invasive in your climate.
Chamomile’s sweet apple flavor and fragrance make a delicious tea. Steep 2 to 4 teaspoons of fresh flowers with a cup of boiled water for three minutes. Strain and serve. Use caution if you have allergies to the Compositae family.
This perennial (Allium schoenoprasum, Zones 3 to 11) grows 12 to 24 inches tall, with pink and lavender flowers that have flavored meals for centuries. It prefers full sun and moist, well-drained soil that’s high in organic matter. Planting rooted clumps is the easiest way to propagate chives. Seeds germinate slowly and require darkness, constant moisture, and temperatures of 60°F to 70°F. Divide plants every few years. Chives also grow well in sunny windows.
Break apart chive florets to add mild onion flavor to dinner rolls, casseroles, eggs, potatoes, and herb butters.
Queen Elizabeth I reportedly sipped lavender blossoms in tea. This perennial requires dry, somewhat infertile soil with good drainage. It grows best in neutral or slightly alkaline soil in full sun.
Not all lavenders have the same culinary qualities. The most popular are Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’ (both Zones 5 to 8). Lavender’s floral taste combines well with rosemary and thyme in chicken and lamb marinades. Add a teaspoon to sugar cookie and cake recipes. A little lavender goes a long way; too much tastes soapy.
This annual has cheerful cuplike flowers that Thomas Jefferson used to spice salads at Monticello. Available in diverse cultivars, including climbing and bushy types, nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) comes in bright colors such as orange, pink, and yellow. Sow seeds in spring in colder climates, or earlier in warmer zones. Nasturtium prefers light, sandy soils in full sun, with partial shade in hot temperatures. It flowers best in less fertile soils.
Flowers and leaves add peppery taste to salads, herb vinegars, sandwiches, and even pizzas. Immature pods can be pickled and used as capers.
Eating roses (Rosa spp.) dates back to the ancient Romans. Roses grow best in rich, well-drained soil with full sun and good air circulation. These plants prefer regular pruning, watering, and fertilizing. The older species, such as Rosa rugosa and Rosa gallica, are considered the best for taste.
Petals add a floral flavor to jellies, honey, vinegars, and salads. For rose sugar, mince one part petals with two parts sugar and leave covered for a month. Strain and use for cookies, cakes, and sweet breads. Rose hips make a delicious tea high in vitamin C.
Sweet violet, Johnny-jump-up, pansy
These three violas are old-fashioned culinary favorites that bloom best in cool weather. They all prefer rich, moist, well-drained soil. In hot climates, plant them in partial shade. Sweet violets (Viola odorata) are perennials with aromatic purple or white flowers. Typically hardy to Zone 5, violets are propagated by dividing clumps. Johnny-jump-ups (Viola tricolor) and pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) are annuals that are easy to find as transplants in garden centers.
These pretty flowers add sweet, perfumed, or wintergreen flavor to salads, fruits, and vegetables. Float flowers in punch, or candy the petals for elegant cakes and cookies. You don’t need to remove their pistils and stamens, however Johnny-jump-ups have saponins, which can be toxic in large amounts.
Teresa O’Connor is a garden writer in Boise, Idaho. Previously a master gardener in California, she is currently training to become a master gardener in Idaho.