Most of us categorize our gardens either as flower or vegetable gardens. But some gardens are a surprising mixture of both. That's because many of the blossoms in them don't just look good enough to eat -- they are!
Dozens of flowers grown for their ornamental qualities are also edible. Some are spicy, some are minty, others taste like vegetables. All of them are colorful and tasty when properly prepared. Of course, they should be properly grown, as well.
If you want to grow some edibles, it would be wise to avoid planting them in a boulevard or alley garden, where they would be repeatedly exposed to car exhaust. You also should use caution when treating insect problems. Many pesticides normally used to control insects on ornamental flowers aren't labeled for use on edible flowers. So, if you encounter insects on your edible plants, wash the insects off with a forceful spray of water or use insecticidal soap (which must be thoroughly rinsed off to avoid any soapy taste). If you want to try a few edible flowers, but don't want to grow your own, be sure to buy them from a vendor who grows flowers for eating (perhaps at a local farmer's market), not from a florist or garden center.
For more information about growing and using edible flowers, check out my favorite reference, "Edible Flowers: From Garden to Palate" (Fulcrum, $24.95) by Cathy Wilkinson Barash.
Here are a few easy-to-grow edible flowers and how to prepare them:
The foliage of these sun-loving annuals is edible, but it's their bright, jewel-tone blossoms that are prized for their looks and their taste. Nasturtiums bring a peppery tang to salads, pasta, meat and vegetable dishes.
Unfortunately, aphids seem to relish nasturtiums as much as humans do. So keep a close eye on your nasturtiums and dispatch these pests before they become too numerous. If an aphid infestation gets away from you, prune out any stems that are badly infested.
Chives traditionally have been used as replacements for onions, but their lavender blossoms also are edible.
Nip off the young flowers, rinse them well in cold water to make sure there are no insects lurking inside, then pat them dry.
Separate the flower clusters into smaller pieces, each containing just a few florets. They can be added to fresh salads or throw them into a stir fry.
Daylily buds taste similar to fresh asparagus or green beans. Pick them before they're ready to unfurl, then rinse them in water and dry them. The buds are delicious when sautéed in a little butter or added at the last minute to stir-fry dishes.
Stuff fresh blossoms with dips or creamy salads such as tuna. Wait until flowers open fully, then remove the inner parts of the flowers (the stigma and stamens), then rinse and dry them. Lighter colored daylilies tend to be sweeter and more mildly flavored than darker ones, so do a taste test.
Zucchini flowers, often numerous in the vegetable garden, also are tasty. To prepare them, pick a few open flowers and stuff them by the same method mentioned above for daylilies. Zucchini blossoms also can be dipped in batter, then fried until crisp and golden or stir-fried with other veggies.