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8 Edible Flowers to Brighten Your Garden—& Dinners

March 24, 2017

When our Creative Director Kristen sat down to dinner at the legendary eatery NOMA on a recent trip to Copenhagen, she was probably thinking about anywhere but home. One of the dishes she was served, however, featured little triangular purple petals fluttered atop it. The shape was familiar; she looked back at the menu. Oxalis. Where had she heard of that?

Oh, right. Her windowsill in Brooklyn.

A weepy little oxalis from the flower market near our office. Photo by James Ransom

Kristen says the Oxalis leaves taste lemony and bright; the plant is actually a kind of "sourgrass," and often referred to as "wood sorrel." Its citrusy flavor is due to high levels of oxalic acid—which is also found in vegetables like broccoli and spinach—and vitamin C. (While edible, yes, Oxalis leaves should only be consumed in moderation due to the fact that oxalic acid can inhibit calcium absorption, and people who are prone to kidney stone or who have gout or rheumatism should avoid it entirely.)

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“They can be grown indoors with a half day of sun in the winter or put right into the ground during the summer where they will get huge, but will keep growing back after you harvest armfuls of leafy branches of leaves to dry. If growing indoors, let the soil dry out between watering almost up to a week and a half depending on the dryness of your home. ”
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But this curious realization—that a common houseplant could also double as an accent in your next dinner—made us wonder: What other common garden varietals are edible? I consulted Atlethea Harampolis, one of the authors of Harvest: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Extraordinary Garden Plants, who made a very good first point: If you're planning to eat any garden or houseplant, grow it from seed yourself—you really never know what chemicals might have been used on it at a nursery.

The following are 8 garden plants from Harvest that I hadn't realized were edible before reading it. Plant your own for harvesting, and pick up the book for more ideas on how to cook with them.

Breadseed Poppy; Lilac

Breadseed Poppy, Papaver somniferum

  • Where they'll grow: All zones; heeds full sun and moderate water.
  • What to eat: Just the seeds! (All other parts are poisonous.) Harvest when the pods are "dry and plump."
  • How to use them: Baked into [lemony muffins], or stir into salad dressings and ice creams.

Lilac, Syringa vulgaris

  • Where they'll grow: USDA zones 3 to 7; needs full sun and cold winter nights.
  • What to eat: the flower petals. Harvest in the morning and place stems in cold water until used.
  • How to use them: In salads, steeped into a neutral oil for accenting dishes, or blended into sugar.

Scented Geraniums, Pelargonium

  • Where they'll grow: USDA zones 8 to 11; requires full sun or part shade, and moist soil.
  • What to eat: the leaves.
  • How to use them: Dried, minced, and mixed into an herbal sugar, or added to salads fresh. (Or rub a leaf directly on your skin as a bug repellant.)
Scented Geranium; Purple Coneflower

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea

  • Where they'll grow: USDA zones 3 to 10; full sun to part shade, in well-draining soil.
  • What to eat: the flower petals (the roots have medicinal properties, but then you lose the plants!).
  • How to use them: Dried and steeped into tea or hand salve.

Gem Marigolds, Tagetes tenuifolia

  • Where they'll grow: All USDA zones; needs full sun.
  • What to eat: the flower petals and, if desired, flower heads.
  • How to use them: Petals can be sprinkled over salads, while heads can be infused into bitters ("where their bitter centers are appreciated") or amaro.

Rose, Rosa

  • Where they'll grow: USDA zones 3 and up (there are many types and growing habits!).
  • What to eat: the flower petals; harvest in the morning, before the heat of the day wilts them.
  • How to use them: In jams, teas, baked goods, or ice creams.
Pansies; Gem Marigolds

Viola (Pansy!), Viola adorata and Viola tricolor

  • Where they'll grow: USDA zones 2 to 9; full sun in cooler climates and part to light shade in warmer climates.
  • What to eat: the flower petals, stems, and leaves.
  • How to use them: Petals can be mixed into salads or compound butters; stems and leaves can be eaten raw or steamed/sautéed/creamed as you would with greens.

Calendula (Marigold), Calendula officinalis

  • Where they'll grow: Prefers full sun over partial shade.
  • What to eat: the flower petals.
  • How to use them: Raw in salads or steeped to make tea.

The images above are reprinted with permission from Harvest, by Stefani Bittner and Alethea Harampolis, copyright © 2017, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs copyright © 2017 by David Fenton.

7 Comments

petalpusher March 31, 2017
Scented geraniums are one of my favorite herbs to use in homemaking. The flower petals are also edible. Rose and lemon scented varieties are the most delicious. 'Robers Lemon Rose' or 'Old Fashioned Rose' are good choices for their very uplifting qualities. Include fresh leaves when brewing your favorite tea. Steeped with fresh raspberries in vodka makes a delightful liqueur to sip during a snowstorm or pinken champagne.<br /> Dried leaves and flowers mixed with dried lavender flowers and crushed dried lemon verbena leaves makes the headiest, smile inducing blend for sachets.<br /> No time to sew? Stuff this dried blend into little toddler socks and hot glue the top closed. These are great to have with you in the car when stuck in traffic when you're running late. Keep them in a zip lock bag and breathe deep when you get a little harried.<br /> Everyone who is interested in having the very best in herb blends and recipes should own Emelie Tolley's The Herbal Pantry. <br /> Another winning feature of the scented geraniums is they are really hard to kill. They can be grown indoors with a half day of sun in the winter or put right into the ground during the summer where they will get huge, but will keep growing back after you harvest armfuls of leafy branches of leaves to dry. If growing indoors, let the soil dry out between watering almost up to a week and a half depending on the dryness of your home.
 
Food P. March 30, 2017
I actually wrote about oxalis and my recipe for the Polish soup made out of it: http://foodpolka.com/2017/03/12/this-dark-green-soup-made-out-of-california-wild-sorrel-might-surprise-you/
 
BerryBaby March 26, 2017
Beware if you have allergies especially to outdoor pollen.
 
mary M. March 26, 2017
Wisteria is also edible. It grows like a weed everywhere in the South, its flowering now. If you add the flowers to crepe batter and pan saute them you have a wonderful European peasant food from Croatia. It doesn't sound too amazing, but it it totally is.
 
petalpusher March 31, 2017
It does sound wonderful. Crepe's would be a great platform for edible flowers. I plan to do this with redbud flowers. They have a fruity sort of mild hawaiian punch flavor. Thanks mm.
 
weshook March 24, 2017
The leaves and flowers of nasturtiums are edible.
 
Smaug March 24, 2017
There are many species of oxalis, many of them aggressive weeds. The plant pictured appears to be oxalis regnelli, a relatively restrained type. The term wood sorrel is usually used for o. acetosella; in the west, O. Oregana is referred to as redwood sorrel. There is also O. Esculenta, or oca, the tubers of which are used for food in South America. Some are much worse than others, but I'd be pretty cautious about using any of them in the garden (not that I don't, but like I said, cautiously). Growing some of these plants from seed is not really practical- especially roses- but you really needn't worry much about flowers formed after you've purchased the plants.