Have you ever seen flower garnishes on plates and wondered if they’re edible or just for decoration? Not only do they provide color and visual interest, but yes, they are edible! They also add a very mild floral flavor and sometimes included specifically for cleansing your palate. But you don’t have to go to a fancy restaurant to enjoy these flowers. Gardening enthusiasts can forage or grow their own!
How to Grow Edible Blooms
You’ll need good soil for the seeds, a container to grow them in, a labeling system, and, of course, water and sunlight. Let’s break down the best practices for each:
I use a mixture of compost, chicken manure, and peat moss because that combination works well in my desert state. You will want to research what types of soil work best for your climate and location. When in doubt, a garden compost should work just fine. You can find those at a local garden center, home improvement store (like Home Depot or Lowe’s), and even marketplaces (like Kroger/Smith’s or Walmart). And if you’re savvy with your leftover plant scraps and garden waste, you can make sustainable compost yourself.
Cardboard egg cartons are a great way to start seeds. You’ll need to upgrade to something larger once the starts grow big enough. You can find many free garden containers on marketplace websites or save the ones you use if you’ve bought plants for your yard. If you’re in a warm enough area, you may be able to start your seeds outside or transfer them earlier than that should you live in a colder climate. Tip: you can use plastic milk cartons with the cap and the bottom cut off to cover plants outside to protect your new plants from a freeze.
I just use tape (duct, gift, or masking) and write what the plant is on it. If I have a lot of them, I’ll use an abbreviation. Keep in mind that if your container gets wet, the tape can detach. You can also use waterproof pens or markers to write directly on the container.
When you are starting seeds, you need to make sure that the soil stays moist. There’s a delicate balance between too wet and too dry, however. You don’t want to drown the plant, and you don’t want to dry it out. Once the plant sprouts, you can water less (about every other day), but make sure to check the soil with your finger now and again to feel for moisture. As the plant gets established and grows, you can reduce watering even further. Again, this will also have some variance depending on your climate.
For starts, you want them to have gentle sunlight exposure. Direct sunlight can dry out the soil and even burn the seeds. I put mine close to a window for diffused light. Once the plant sprouts and has more growing space (as in it’s been transplanted or is large enough), you can give it more direct sunlight, but make sure to read about the plant's light preference. Some are shade lovers, and some like to bask in full sun.
Planting your seeds
I recommend reading the packaging, just in case, but most seeds only need to be planted about a half-inch into the soil, which is as simple as a finger press. Don’t forget to check the germination rates of the seeds you selected. This information will tell you how many you need to plant in one hole to get a sprout. For example, a 25% germination rate means 1 out of 4 seeds planted will grow, so you’ll need to add four seeds into the hole to increase your odds of success. Once seeds are placed, cover with soil, and water until the soil is moist.
How to Forage or Buy Edible Blooms
Let’s talk about identification. If you’re not confident in your ability to identify a plant, foraging is not for you, as many look-alikes are growing in the wild that can be toxic or harmful. I do encourage you to explore and learn, however! We all started somewhere. Some general tips to consider when foraging or shopping for edible blooms are:
- Eat blooms ONLY when you have a positive identification that they are edible. The keywords here are positive identification. See Aspen’s Health Industry Heroes for information about the phone app Picture This.
- Eat blooms that are grown organically and are free from pesticides and fungicides. This is easier to avoid when foraging (unless it’s by the side of a road or area with high vehicle traffic) or at a farmer’s market, but harder to avoid at conventional retailers.
- Wash blooms before you eat them. Do this using water or a produce wash that’s safe for consumption. There are several ways out there, but plain ol’ tap water is the best in studies (Center for Food Safety). Regardless, the important thing is just to wash them.
- For most flower blooms, only eat the petals.
- Again, if there is any doubt, DO NOT eat the blooms.
Five Edible Blooms You Can Forage or Grow in Your Garden
Dandelions are one of the most effortless blooms to forage and grow (zones 3-9). This plant is remarkable and exceptional for health, particularly for benefitting the body’s cleansing organs such as the liver and kidneys. It’s also one of the few plants out there whose entire body is edible. You can eat the root, the flowers, the leaves, the stems, and anything on it. People traditionally have fried the flowers, used the root for tea and broths, and made salads out of the leaves. I’ve even made dandelion wine and syrups. You don’t have to look far to find a dandelion, but remember to consider if it has been sprayed with chemicals. Unfortunately, the odds are not in your favor in this regard, so make sure what you’re harvesting is safe for consumption.
If you choose to grow these, do so in a container and make sure to pick the flowers off when they seed to plant more next year or keep them from spreading. Dandelions are considered invasive in certain areas because they are such great self-seeders. They are not picky about soil type, and they prefer full sun, but can grow happily in almost any sunlight conditions (Vanderlinden).
Wild roses, garden roses, fragrant roses — I love all the roses! This plant can be foraged or grown in your yard or a container (zones 4-9). Roses are another bloom where the entirety of it is edible; just remove the bitter white portion of the petals (unless you like it). Roses offer a sweet floral flavor and slight spice. Traditionally, the leaves, rosebuds, and flower petals have been used for tea, mixed in with salads, infused with honey, for garnish, and more. You can also dry them to save and use later. Rosehips, the little round or almond-shaped bud on the rose stems, contain more Vitamin C than oranges. I use these to make teas, which are really mild and slightly floral in flavor. You’ll want to look into how to harvest these yourself, or here’s a good resource (Lannotti). (For print: ...or check out the article in The Spruce called “How to Harvest and Use Rose Hips” (Lannotti).)
You’ll often find these as a container plant or a dormant root. If you’re lucky, you can borrow a start from a friend or neighbor that has them. You want to plant roses in the spring or fall, after or before the fear of frost has passed. They like well-drained soil and full sun. In scorching climates, you’ll want to protect them from the afternoon heat. Roses can struggle with diseases, so research the species you want to plant (Frank).
This one is a personal favorite of mine and grows well in containers or gardens (zones 5-9). You can also find it growing in the wild. This plant has a wide range of delicious uses, from lavender lemonade to baked treats and cocktails, even without considering the multitude of medicinal benefits. The edible parts of lavender include the bud, stems, and leaves; however, not all lavender tastes good due to the high camphor content of some varieties. For culinary purposes, you’ll want to seek out the most popular Lavender Angustifolia (English Lavender) or lavandin varieties, such as Lavender Intermedia “Provence” (French Lavender). Be careful not to use too much of this bloom (it’s strong), or you risk your dish tasting more like soap than lavender.
You will want to start from a root, if possible. You can grow lavender in a pot or in your garden. Lavender prefers well-drained soil and lots of sunlight, though it can grow in partial sun conditions in hot climates (Beaulieu).
These cute, colorful little blooms are beautiful in your garden and on your plate (zones 4-9). Depending on where you live, they can be considered annual, biennial, or short-lived perennials, which self-seed. They come in various colors and are easy to grow in containers or your yard. They look lovely in flower beds. However, it’s not easy to find these wildcrafted, which means you’ll need to search at a local garden center or start seeds. They are often used in salads, charcuteries, candy, and drinks for their color variety, taste, and presentation. They are considered medicinal herbs and are used for respiratory and skin health. Only the flowers and leaves are edible (Becker).
Pansies favor partial shade to shade but can do well in full sun in a suitable climate. They prefer well-drained soil, though they aren’t too picky about the type. Plant your blooms in a container or garden bed during early spring or late fall when the weather is cooler.
These native annual blooms add a burst of yellow and orange happiness to gardens everywhere (zones 3-11, perennial in zones 9-11). Not only is calendula bright, but it also has a lot of medicinal qualities for eye, immune, and skin health. It is a great companion plant to have in your yard, as it wards off common pests. I plant calendula every year in my garden as a companion plant and for medicinal uses. The petals and leaves are often used as a decoration, baking, as a dye for cheese and rice, or in soups, salads, and charcuteries. Any CalendulaOfficinalis variety is considered suitable for medicinal or culinary use (Blankspoor).
These blooms prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade. In hot climates, they will need some afternoon shade. The soil needs to be well-drained, though calendula isn’t picky about soil type. You can plant calendula in your garden, yard, or in containers (Lannotti).
Other Edible Blooms
While I only covered a handful of edible blooms, there are lots of others out there ready to find their way into your kitchen or home apothecary. You can also use anise, apple blossoms, bee balm, wild bergamot, borage, chamomile, chicory, chives, daylilies, fennel, impatiens, honeysuckle, mint, nasturtiums, sage, squash blooms, sunflowers, and more (Macdonald).