Edible flowers

With the picnic and outdoor cooking season here, it might be time to try something different in your culinary endeavors! I thought the following article might be of interest to the Northfield community. I ran across this Yard and Garden brief about edible flowers written by Ginny Coyle of the University of Minnesota Extension Service. She gives some good tips and provides a lists of flowers along with comments on each flower variety. I hope you find it helpful. Happy gardening (and cooking)!

Current interest in herb growing and adventurous cooking has led to increased use of edible flowers. Floral ingredients add flavor, texture, color and excitement to many recipes. The addition of vibrant nasturtiums or pansies can transform an ordinary salad.

There are several things to keep in mind however when cooking or garnishing with flowers:

  • Be sure the flowers are not toxic and are safe to eat.
  • Remember that “edible” does not always mean “palatable.”
  • Take care that the plants were not previously treated with pesticides.

To ensure that your plants are pesticide-free, grow them yourself from seed or buy organically grown plants. Edible flowers may also be found in the produce department at some grocery stores.

It will be easier to care for culinary flowers if they are grown in containers. If you are vigilant, you can eliminate the need for chemical applications. Common insect problems such as slugs or spittlebugs can be controlled by handpicking. Aphids and mites may be washed off with water from your hose.

Precautions: Many plants create toxins to discourage animal or insect damage. The same toxic chemicals can also injure humans. Never experiment by eating plant parts unless you are sure they are harmless. Often only a particular part of the plant is edible. For example, rhubarb stems may be eaten, but not its leaves, roots or flowers.

If you know one part of a plant is safe to eat, do not assume that all parts will be. Check a reliable reference such as those listed at the end of this Brief or the AMA Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants, published by the American Medical Association.

The source of flowers to be eaten is also very important. Garden center plants may have been treated with systemic pesticides to prevent insect damage or diseases. Older gardening books may not address previous chemical applications or may just suggest washing the flowers. Current recommendations are that flowers never be eaten unless the plant was grown “organically.”

Serving suggestions: The word “edible” means you may safely consume the flower. Unfortunately it does not always mean the flavor is appealing. Some flowers (eg. lavender) have a bitter or astringent taste and are best used as a garnish.

When seasoning with edible flowers, taste test and try to match the flavor to the recipe. Sweet or floral scented blossoms can be used to decorate desserts or garnish cold drinks. Peppery nasturiums, cucumber- flavored burnet and chive blossoms add interest to salads.

Blossoms should be harvested the day they’ll be used; try to pick no more than one day early. Wash the fresh flowers gently and set them aside to dry. Refrigerate them in plastic sandwich bags until you use them.

Remove interior flower parts such as stamens and styles of larger flowers (i.e. squash or tulips). These are tart tasting in some flowers. The white part at the base of hollyhocks (the calyx) is bitter and should also be removed. When serving flowers fresh, add them to your dish just before serving.



The flowers are edible on all of these plants.

Scientific name Additional comments
Alpine Strawberry Fragaria alpina Leaves often used in tea
Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum
Apple or Plum Malus species
Beebalm Monarda didyma Taste may differ by cultivar; avoid ‘Panorama’ as the taste is too astringent
Begonia Begonia x tuberhybrida
Borage Borage officinalis Leaves also
Calendula Calendula officinalis
Chamomile Matricaria recutita Flowers have an apple scent and flavor
Chives Allium schoenoprasum Blossoms and stems
Daylilies Hemerocallis species Buds are good stir-fried
Dill Anethum graveolens Flowers, seeds and foliage
English Daisy Bellis perennis
Gladiolus Gladiolus species
Hollyhocks Alcea rosea
Honeysuckle Lonicera species
Lavender Lavandula angustifoliaor officinalis Bitter taste to flowers, but wonderfully scented. Neither is fully hardy in Minnesota, but either may be grown as an annual.
Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis Leaves and flowers are scented.
Lilac Syringa species
Marjoram Origanum majorana Leaves are often dried, but can also be served fresh.
Mint Mentha species Leaves can be used fresh or dried.
Mustard Brassica juncea Leaves and young seed pods can be eaten.
Nasturtium Tropaeloum majus Both flowers and leaves have a peppery taste, so use sparingly.
Pansy Viola species
Petunia Petunia x hybrida or species
Pinks Dianthus species
Rose Rosa species Use petals.
Scarlet Runner Beans Phaseolus coccineus Bean pods toughen as they age, so make use of young pods as well as flowers. Please note: Sweet Pea flowers are not edible.
Sage Salvia elegans Leaves fresh or dried.
Squash Curcurbita species Flowers can be stuffed or fried. If female blossoms are picked, however, the fruit will not develop.
Tulip Tulipa species Use petals.

How to keep Deer away from your plants

If you have deer in your neighborhood, chances are that you have seen them taking a lunch break on in your yard, enjoying one of the new shrubs (or perennials) that you just purchased. And you thought it was just the right plant for the right space. It looks like the deer agree with you, because they are enjoying it, too!

I wish that there was such a thing as deer-proof plants, but unfortunately, such a thing just doesn’t exist. However, there are some things you can do to discourage them from deciding to stop by for a visit and have lunch while they’re at it.

1) Erect a physical barrier. If you are up against a large population of deer, and you have large amounts of valuable plants a fence can be one way to go. To be effective it needs to be 7 feet tall, or more. It is only practical if and you want to go to the effort and expense of erecting a fence. Another way to make a barrier is s to cover your plants with chicken wire or welded wire mesh formed to a cone or dome and staked to the ground.

2) Deer repellent. They are available commercially. Hinder, and Deer-away are two brands that are available. It will usually be a trial and error process to find out which one works the best. Or, you can make your own. Some do-it-yourselfers will use 3-4 rotten eggs mixed with a quart of sour milk, putting the mixture in a spray bottle and applying it to the plants. You will need to reapply it after a rain. Another inexpensive treatment is to get a bag of Milorganite fertilizer and sprinkle it around the plants. Both of these treatments repel by smell. Milorganite is sewage sludge that is dried, bagged and sold as organic fertilizer. Both commercial repellents and homemade recipes have had mixed results. It really boils down to how hungry the deer are!

3) Experiment with deer resistant plants. And I do mean experiment! There are several lists of resistant that you will find, but it’s best to use one that is put out by someone in your area, like the University extension service. Another place to contact is to is a local grower of the plants you are interested in.
No plant is guaranteed, but some have been reported to be more resistant than others.There has been no “scientific” tests that I am aware of, because there are too many variables involved in what the deer will eat. The local deer population and competition, amount of snow cover if winter feeding is a problem, other available food sources, and how used they are to being around humans to name a few. I suspect there may even be regional differences in taste, just like there are with us. All of the lists that I am aware of are based merely on observation.

Anyway, there are some plants that seem to appear on multiple lists. In general, deer will avoid plants that have a strong odor or taste to them, such as yarrow, any of the mint family (such as bee balm, cat mint, and spearmint), Russian sage, and Sumac, to name a few. Also, plants with thorns are naturally avoided. Other plants that have made the list:

Perennials: Salvia, Astilbe, Artemesia, Foxglove, Monkshood, Russian sage, Joe Pye plant, Bleeding heart, Flowering onion, Yarrow (Achillea), Most fern varieties, Globe thistle(Echinops), Coneflower (Rudbeckia), Most ornamental grasses, Butterfly weed (Asclepias),  Beebalm (monarda) and other mints

Ground covers: Ajuga, Vinca, Pachysandra, Lily of the valley

Trees and shrubs: Elm, Ginkgo, Magnolia,  Coffeetree, Hawthorne,   Some Pines, Honeylocus, Canadian Hemlock, Juniper (Eastern Red Cedar)Lilac, Roses, Sumac, Juniper, Potentilla, Barberry,, Smokebush, ,Honeysuckle, Ash leaf spirea, Bush honeysuckle.