Kitchen Garden Planning – Edible Flowers

My kitchen garden changes year to year – this past year is was mainly tomatoes, pole beans, corn, herbs and ornamental, cutting, flowers.  In 2017 it was spaghetti squash and tomatoes and herbs. The year before, zucchini and tomatoes.

Space in this garden is precious, so whilst tomatoes have been (and will likely remain) a staple, anything else needs to serve at least one, preferably two, purposes. It needs to look great AND taste great. Or taste great AND provide food for bees and butterflies. Swiss Chard looks and tastes great. Zinnias look great and butterflies love ’em. Tulips and glads look great in the garden and also in a vase indoors. Spaghetti squash and zucchini taste great, but by August make the garden look pretty horrible, so they get relegated to a less prominent spot in the yard.

I’ve also started to purposefully plant flowers I always thought of as purely ornamental but can also be eaten. Edible Ornamentals. Last year I planted three nasturtium varieties at the base of some annual King Tut ornamental ‘grass’ (Cyperus Papyrus).  They looked great in the garden, the flowers looked great gracing the top of salads, and they tasted great as well. It turns out this is a growing trend, with lots of articles on the internet listing dozens of flowers that can be eaten by people.

Scientists at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Southern Ontario have teamed up with Freeman Herbs, also in Southern Ontario, to meet this growing demand from professional and home gardeners for more edible flowers. They trialed many types of edible flowers and Freeman hopes to start marketing a selection of potted, edible, flowers in the U.S. later this year, followed by a release in Canada. (Apparently Americans are ‘more familiar’ with edible flowers than Canadians!) In addition to nasturtium, they are looking at specific pansy varieties (already a well known edible) and some flowers I’ve grown but didn’t know were edible, such as some varieties if petunia, Dianthus and Impatiens. .

Did you know some marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia) are not only a source of pollen for bees but the petals are also edible and make a tasty addition to salads, soups and, I’m told, scrambled eggs. They’re also known as ‘poor man’s saffron’!

When you stop to think about it, there are quite a few plants that you (and I) have likely grown without thinking of them as an ‘edible ornamental.’ Chives, basil, sage and, of course, squash blossoms come to mind.

So, what new edible ornamentals will I be growing in 2019? I’m thinking Tangerine Sage (Salvia elegans) with its citrusy taste and red flowers, and Johnny Jump Ups (Viola tricolor) – the diminutive cousin of also edible pansies. They’re cheerful, easy to grow, may self seed year to year, plus I read a great article on The Gardener’s Supply Company site suggesting they can be frozen in ice cubes to be used in cool beverages. How’s that for a multi use kitchen garden plant?

5 Comments

  1. Nasturtium has always been one of my favorites, but one can not eat it all. I grow mine just because they are pretty, and the neighbors take some of the flowers and foliage. They grow like weeds, so no one misses that eaten flowers.

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  2. The “marigold” generally referred to when discussing edible flowers is actually calendula, or Pot Marigold. THAT is the poor man’s saffron. The other marigold that is edible is “Lemon Gem” or “Tangerine Gem.” Regular garden type marigolds like those you show in the photo are not edible…probably not poisonous, but not palatable. There are LOTS of edible flowers and most are good for pollinators as well.

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    1. Thanks Carolee! I had asked Freeman Herbs if they would be marketing Tagetes or Calendula and they haven’t responded. When I searched online for edible marigolds most mentioned Calendula but some also referenced these ‘Gem’ marigolds.

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