As spring quickly approaches, every gardener is dreaming about the perfect flower garden while every chef is working on creating new dishes with all that fresh produce. One fresh item that people tend to forget about is all the edible flowers that exist in the garden. Flower cookery was started in Rome and moved to other cultures such as Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian, and even in Victorian times. Today some of these flowers are commonly found on the salad bar and include broccoli, cauliflower, and artichokes while others are found in the herb garden, vegetable garden, flower garden, and even in the rose bed. Borage calendula, chamomile, chives, lavender, nasturtium, roses, violas, marigolds, day lilies, chrysanthemum, hibiscus and snap dragons are just a few of the commonly known edible flowers.
Growing these flower delights is easy but an important factor needs to be considered. Never plant any material that is going to be eaten that is not organically grown and never eat anything that you are not absolutely sure is organic and safe to eat. To be able to consume any flower material the plant needs to be started from organic seed or comes from a nursery that specializes in growing plant material organically.
The best approach when starting to plant your edible flowers is to start all plant material from seed. This prevents the worry about any over spray from chemicals and/or if the plant material is truly organically grown. Next after the seeds have been chosen, pick the containers for seeds. Planting in containers gives the gardener more control over the environment and any accidental chemical spray from neighbors.
Dish gardens, hanging baskets, and container gardens are all perfect for growing edible flowers along with raised beds. To start the process, clean all container material by removing any soil residue with a brush and spraying off with water. Let the containers dry completely in the bright sunlight before moving on to the next step. Sunlight is a great sterilizer so any germs left on the containers will be killed through solar radiation.
Once the containers are dry, place a coffee filter or potshard in the bottom of each container. Blend your own potting soil mixture by combining an all-purpose potting soil with a slow-release fertilizer and a hydrogel. If hydrogel is not available, use the stuffing out of a clean diaper. This will help the soil retain moisture and reduce the chances of losing the plant material when the soil dries out too quickly.
Add the DIY soil mixture to the container to within ½ inch of the top of the pot. Then plant the chosen seeds and cover with ¼ inch of soil. At this point, there really only exists one rule and that is not to mix edible and non-edible plant material. Mixing plant material, especially if you are a beginning gardener, can end in deadly results. So always plant edibles together in the same container, but that does not mean you cannot mix edible plants. Plants that have the same growth requirements work together such as all the violas. Violets, Johnny-jump-ups and pansy all thrive in a shady environment so take advantage of this fact and plant them together.
Once the seeds have been planted, water the container thoroughly and cover with plastic until the seeds germinate. Then remove the plastic and place in the correct environment that meets the specific plant needs. Continue to monitor the soil moisture and do not let the containers dry out.
When flowers begin to open, start the harvesting process. To get the most out of your flowers only harvest them in the morning while the dew is still on the ground and the sun is just coming up. Bring them indoors and wash off. Place on a towel and let the flowers completely dry. Once dry, it is time to add them to dishes.
Roses such as Rosa rugosa and Rosa gallica can be made into jams, jellies and even rose petal sugar. To create rose petal sugar, place 1 cup of sugar in a glass container with a lid. Place a handful of rose petals on top of the sugar and cover with another cup of sugar. Let set for at least two weeks before using.
Marigolds add golden color to salads while nasturtiums add a peppery taste to any dish they touch. Rose petals and violas can be found on cakes as sugary decoration. To make your own, dip the petals and/or flowers in an egg white wash and roll in superfine sugar. These can be stored in an airtight container for a few days prior to using.
To make a statement at a garden party or dinner, place one flower into each cube space in an ice cube tray. Fill with water and freeze the tray. When ready to serve, place your flower ice cubes into lemonade, ice tea, and even in mixed drinks.
Growing edible flowers is not as difficult as it may seem and when they are served to your guests, it will leave them speechless. If you do not want to grow your own, there are places where they can be purchased, but always make sure they come from a reliable source and they are organically grown.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.