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Mow vs. Grow? Edible Flowers are the Clear Winner

Strawberries that grow wild on our pesticide-free lawn are just coming into season in Maine.

Strawberries that grow wild on our pesticide-free lawn are just coming into season in Maine.

I mowed my lawn last night. After a long day that included dropping the children off at daycare, registering the car, driving said car 350 miles and then dashing back to the office to answer a few dozen emails, I came home and took out the mower. I like the machine well enough, mind you. It’s an battery-powered Black & Decker model that gives me about 50 minutes of cutting time, which is just about enough to do my whole lawn if I hustle.

And as much as I don’t mind the exercise, I still often wonder why I have so much lawn. So I daydream while I mow about what I’d plant where if I only had the time. Usually I think about food, and how it makes so much more sense to be growing something harvestable than something that requires regular mowing. Or maybe I think about food because I usually mow the lawn right before dinner time . . .

Just about finished with the lawn, I bent down and plucked the season’s first daylilly blossom and munched on it. The plant didn’t bloom until almost July last year, but with our ridiculously mild winter and spring here in the Northeast, most plants are flowering two weeks early. The delicious daylily, with a mild, if slight peppery taste, got me thinking about what other flowers I ought to be growing for their culinary or snacking possibilities. I came up with a dozen or so in my head, but figured many more could be placed on the list.

So with the lawn mowed, dinner finished and the children tucked into bed, I typed “edible flowers” into Google. Combing quickly through the first 50 of 357,000 results, I came upon this list from Melissa Breyer: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/42-flowers-you-can-eat.html. As you read through, it’s both visually stimulating and mouth watering — which is way more than you can say for the average lawn:

Allium
All blossoms from the allium family (leeks, chives, garlic, garlic chives) are edible and flavorful! Flavors run the gamut from delicate leek to robust garlic. Every part of these plants is edible.

Angelica
Depending on the variety, flowers range from pale lavender-blue to deep rose and have a licorice-like flavor.

Anise Hyssop
Both flowers and leaves have a subtle anise or licorice flavor.

Arugula
Blossoms are small with dark centers and with a peppery flavor much like the leaves. They range in color from white to yellow with dark purple streaks.

Bachelor’s Button
Grassy in flavor, the petals are edible but avoid the bitter calyx.

Basil
Blossoms come in a variety of colors, from white to pink to lavender; flavor is similar to the leaves, but milder.

Bee Balm
The red flowers have a minty flavor.

Borage
Blossoms are a lovely blue hue and taste like cucumber!

Calendula / Marigold
A great flower for eating, calendula blossoms are peppery, tangy, and spicy–and their vibrant golden color adds dash to any dish.

Carnations / Dianthus
Petals are sweet, once trimmed away from the base. The blossoms taste like their sweet, perfumed aroma.

Chamomile
Small and daisylike, the flowers have a sweet flavor and are often used in tea. Ragweed sufferers may be allergic to chamomile.

Chervil
Delicate blossoms and flavor, which is anise-tinged.

Chicory
Mildly bitter earthiness of chicory is evident in the petals and buds, which can be pickled.

Chrysanthemum
A little bitter, mums come in a rainbow of colors and a range of flavors range from peppery to pungent. Use only the petals.

Cilantro
Like the leaves, people either love the blossoms or hate them. The flowers share the grassy flavor of the herb. Use them fresh as they lose their charm when heated.

Citrus (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, kumquat)
Citrus blossoms are sweet and highly-scented. Use frugally or they will over-perfume a dish.

Clover
Flowers are sweet with a hint of licorice.

Dandelion
Read a whole post about dandelions here: Eating and Harvesting Dandelions. (I am nuts about dandelions.)

Dill
Yellow dill flowers taste much like the herb’s leaves.

English Daisy
These aren’t the best-tasting petals–they are somewhat bitter, but they look great!

Fennel
Yellow fennel flowers are eye candy with a subtle licorice flavor, much like the herb itself.

Fuchsia
Tangy fuchsia flowers make a beautiful garnish.

Gladiolus
Who knew? Although gladioli are bland, they can be stuffed, or their petals removed for an interesting salad garnish.

Hibiscus
Famously used in hibiscus tea, the vibrant cranberry flavor is tart and can be used sparingly.

Hollyhock
Bland and vegetal in flavor, hollyhock blossoms make a showy, edible garnish.

Impatiens
Flowers don’t have much flavor–best as a pretty garnish or for candying.

Jasmine
These super-fragrant blooms are used in tea; you can also use them in sweet dishes, but sparingly.

Johnny-Jump-Up
Adorable and delicious, the flowers have a subtle mint flavor great for salads, pastas, fruit dishes, and drinks.

Lavender
Sweet, spicy, and perfumed, the flowers are a great addition to both savory and sweet dishes.

Lemon Verbena
The diminutive off-white blossoms are redolent of lemon–and great for teas and desserts.

Lilac
The blooms are pungent, but the floral citrusy aroma translates to its flavor as well.

Mint
The flowers are–surprise!–minty. Their intensity varies among varieties.

Nasturtium
One of the most popular edible flowers, nasturtium blossoms are brilliantly colored with a sweet, floral flavor bursting with a spicy pepper finish. When the flowers go to seed, the seed pod is a marvel of sweet and spicy. You can stuff flowers, add leaves to salads, pickle buds like capers, and garnish to your heart’s content.

Oregano
The flowers are a pretty, subtle version of the leaf.

Pansy
The petals are somewhat nondescript, but if you eat the whole flower you get more taste.

Radish
Varying in color, radish flowers have a distinctive, peppery bite.

Rose
Remove the white, bitter base and the remaining petals have a strongly perfumed flavor perfect for floating in drinks or scattering across desserts, and for a variety of jams. All roses are edible, with flavor more pronounced in darker varieties.

Rosemary
Flowers taste like a milder version of the herb; nice used as a garnish on dishes that incorporate rosemary.

Sage
Blossoms have a subtle flavor similar to the leaves.

Squash and Pumpkin
Blossoms from both are wonderful vehicles for stuffing, each having a slight squash flavor. Remove stamens before using.

Sunflower
Petals can be eaten, the bud steamed like an artichoke.

Violets
Another famous edible flower, violets are floral, sweet, and beautiful as garnishes. Use the flowers in salads and to garnish desserts and drinks.

Melissa also had some other tips about eating flowers fresh from the garden that are definitely worth remembering:

1) Eat flowers you know to be consumable–if you are uncertain, consult a reference book on edible flowers and plants.

2) Eat flowers you have grown yourself, or know to be safe for consumption. Flowers from the florist or nursery have probably been treated with pesticide or other chemicals.

3) Do not eat roadside flowers or those picked in public parks. Both may have been treated with pesticide or herbicide, and roadside flowers may be polluted by car exhaust

4) Eat just the petals, and remove pistils and stamens before eating.

5) If you suffer from allergies, introduce edible flowers gradually, as they may exacerbate allergies.

6) To keep flowers fresh, place them on moist paper towels and refrigerate in an airtight container. Some will last up to 10 days this way. Ice water can revitalize limp flowers.

Now, for all the lawn lovers out there, don’t take this post as me being anti-lawn. My children and I love it for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which was the best part of my day yesterday. I didn’t mow the area of my lawn where the strawberries grow wild and, right after dinner, I brought my daugher, Aimee, outside for two handfuls of tiny red sweetness. She squealed with delight all the way back into the house and asked, as I tucked her in, “Daddy, can I pick more strawberries tomorrow?”

Because we don’t apply pesticides that would otherwise kill those plants, that answer would happily be: “Yes, dear.”

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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  • Joan B.

    Thanks for posting such a wonderful list! Any ideas where I can look for hints to what will grow where (I am thinking zone and soil)?

  • Melanie

    Hi Paul, Funny you should post this the day after I had Liam (5) plant nasturtium and calendula seeds all over the place and I replanted/expanded my herb bed to make way for the strawberries! Now a have a few more things to add after reading your list…

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  • L

    Love your sidekick spokesperson, she’s such a cutie!

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  • Cathy Barash

    Hi Paul,

    Loved seeing the video and the list, but I have to disagree with some of the flowers you posted—impatiens, gladiolus (may be an abortefactant), fuchsia (high oxalic acid content, can close your throat), bachelor button (chicory is sometimes called b y that name and chicory is ok, bachelor buttons not).

    When I researched my book Edible Flowers from Garden to Palate, I had Dr James Duke (ethnobotanist, formerly with the USDA, who wrote the book The Green Pharmacy, vet the list for safety. He had me pull gladiolus and fuchsia and a few others.

    I’m currently working on getting my website up, but in the meantime, if folks want my list of about 80 safe and tasty flowers (with botanic names- important as common names vary from region to region), they can email me at bloominggourmet@mchsi.com and I’ll send them a copy along with the 10 commandments for edible flowers.

    In the mean time, Bon appetit!!

    Cathy Wilkinson Barash

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