Edible Flowers

 In Flower Gardening

At Lake Valley Seed, we love growing flowers! They brighten our gardens, attract all sorts of beneficial insects and are easy to start from seed. Many of our flower varieties make excellent companion plants in the veggie garden and, it turns out, in the kitchen too! Here are some of our favorite varieties of edible flowers.

The funny faces of Johnny jump ups are a welcome sight each spring, and I mean truly each spring. You only need to plant this charming flower once as it very generously, yet politely, reseeds itself about the garden. These volunteer clusters appear in the exact place that meets their water and sunlight needs, making them some of the healthiest plants in the garden. But oftentimes, that exact place is the center of a pathway or right where we intended to sow our radishes. When this happens, it’s harvest time!

Only the flowers of Johnny jump ups are edible, so go ahead and compost any foliage. The deep purple and yellow blooms have a mild, slightly minty flavor, making them wonderful additions to deserts and even cocktails. Our favorite way to enjoy Johnny jump up flowers is to candy them:

For this project, you’ll need your flowers, one egg, and roughly ¼ cup of super fine sugar. First, make sure your flowers are clean and dry, free from any morning dew. Then separate your egg, and beat the egg whites until frothy (you can use powdered egg whites if raw eggs are a concern). Using a small brush, paint each flower lightly with the egg whites then sprinkle with sugar. Set your flowers to dry on a plate or rack until slightly brittle to touch which can take 4-36 hours. Your candied flowers can be stored in an airtight container, separated by layers of waxed paper, at room temperature for 2-4 weeks.

These candied flowers make beautiful decorations for cakes, especially cupcakes when perched on a cloud of lemon frosting. Or, try adding them as garnish to your favorite frothy cocktail or mocktail. They make a charming surprise atop a cold gin fizz.

LVS seed recommendations: Viola Johnny Jump UP, Viola King Henry

If sweet is not your fancy, don’t worry, there are flowers to satisfy the savory palette. For those who love tangy arugula, crispy radishes or hot wasabi, look no further than your summer nasturtiums! One of the most abundant and carefree flowers, nasturtiums make wonderful garden additions. We love them softening the edges of raised beds, or spilling over hanging baskets. 

Nasturtiums require little care from the gardener once established, but provide them with vibrant blooms all season long. The mounding foliage comes in solid shades of grass green, or variegated tones of green and white that give a delightful marbling effect. Flowers come in all the shades of summer, from the softest golds to the hottest reds and lucky for us, both foliage and flowers are edible!

Every plant is different, but generally the flowers and leaves are similarly flavored, like a mild radish or a baby arugula. As the season progresses, or if the plant becomes water stressed, the flavor intensifies, so gardener beware! The spicy flowers make for a refreshing snack straight from the garden, or bring them in the kitchen to dress up summer salads. The sharper flavor pairs especially well with olive oil based dressings and adds zest to buttery lettuces. 

The leaves, too, can be added to any salad for a spicy kick. With their unique rounded shape, they make the perfect addition to the classic cheese and crackers. Try layering round crackers with your favorite spread (flavored cream cheese, pesto or hummus), a fresh nasturtium leaf, and top with sliced cucumber, tomato or more cheese!

If that wasn’t enough, you can also eat the immature nasturtium seeds. Once the flowers start to fade and the petals drop, check the stems for the pea-size bright green capsules left behind. Unlike mature seeds, which are hard as stones, these young seeds retain their moisture and should be firm but soft to the touch. The tastiest way to prepare them is to make nasturtium seed “capers.”

This process is much like making a quick pickle. You’ll want to wash your fresh nasturtium seeds well then pat dry with a towel and pour into a 1-pint jar. For approximately one cup of seeds, you’ll need one cup of vinegar, one teaspoon of salt and any additional pickling spices of your choice (peppercorns, juniper berries or caraway seeds are some ideas). Bring the vinegar and spices to a boil, then pour the solution over the seeds. Seal the jar and place in the fridge. The pickled seeds are ready for snacking in about a month and will keep in the fridge for several months.

LVS seed recommendations: Nasturtium Alaska Mixed Colors, Nasturtium Jewel Dwarf Mix

While we think of flowers as a summer treat, eating flowers need not be reserved for just one season. After all, isn’t it in the darkest months of winter when we most need the joy of fragrant, bright blossoms? One of the best flowers we can grow for winter cooking is, appropriately, one that resembles the sun itself. Calendula, also known as pot marigold, is just the flower to brighten your winter kitchen.

Calendula grows best in the cool spring months. Like nasturtiums and Johnny jump ups, it is a generous re-seeder and will often reappear year after year. The sunny yellow blooms unfurl from saucer-like buds just as the sunlight hits them. If you go out early in the morning, you will see the petals still tucked in, sleeping in till late morning which is just when you want to pick them.

As with most annual flowers, calendula plants bloom more the more you pick (letting a flower set seed tells the plant it’s job is done) so pick freely. The petals can be eaten fresh, straight from the garden, but in order to enjoy them in the winter months, the flowers must be dried.

Look for new blossoms that have just opened their petals and clip them off at the next node, or intersection where the leaf meets the stem. You’ll want to find a cool, dry place to dry your flowers, out of direct sunlight. Arrange them in a single layer on a sheet of newspaper, or an old window screen and let dry until they are brittle to the touch. Once the flowers are thoroughly dry they can be stored in an airtight jar for later use. An added perk of calendula flowers is that they keep their vibrant color after dried, so your jar of blooms will be quite pretty!

Come wintertime, these dried flowers can be tossed whole in to any hearty soup or stew to add a bit of summer cheer. The slightly resinous base of the flower, known botanically as the calyx, is thought to have medicinal properties that boost the immune system, making it an even more desirable winter tonic. If nothing else, the cheerful blooms certainly boost winter spirits!

LVS seed recommendations: Calendula Pacific Beauty Mixed Colors, Calendula Pink Surprise

Perhaps the best known edible flower is the humble lavender. This fragrant beauty from the mint family has been gracing gardeners’ kitchens for centuries and with good cause. That unmistakable fragrance is mirrored in the plant’s flavor, lending a deeply floral note to your cooking and baking.

With lavender, a little goes a long way. Often a single flower stalk will flavor a whole dish, so start sparingly. Lavender may be best known as a flavoring in shortbread, where it complements the buttery dessert beautifully. Try adding the flowers to your other favorite baked goods, it pairs well with vanilla based cakes and makes a surprising addition to sourdough loaves.

Like calendula, lavender makes an excellent dried flower. Surely many of you have dried little posies to keep in dresser drawers or linen closets. The scent of lavender is undeniable soothing, as is the flavor. A few dried flowers can be added to a mug of hot water to make the perfect bedtime tea. In the warmer months, try adding the flowers fresh or dried to your lemonade or sparkling water.

LVS seed recommendations: Lavender true

We hope these suggestions have inspired you to start harvesting more than just vegetables from your garden! Or, if you haven’t yet grown flowers, to add them to your veggie patch or front yard. The rewards are plentiful.

Happy gardening!

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