Certain edible flowers are not only a visual feast, they can also add a colorful, antioxidant-rich finishing touch to summer salads, soups and cocktails.
Although you can find these bright little numbers at farmers’ markets and some grocery stores, it’s more valuable to grow them at home. Picking edible flowers from your own organic garden is usually safer because you can be confident that they were grown without chemical herbicides or pesticides. However, as always, before placing a flower on a plate, you need to make sure that it is actually edible. (If you are not sure, please skip it!) You should also gently wash all flowers before eating, and try a small bite of new petals at the beginning, just in case you are allergic.
Harvest your flowers in the morning after they bloom but before they begin to wither to get the freshest flavor. Eat immediately or store in a refrigerated container on a wet paper towel until you can eat it.
Allison Vallin Kostovick, the organic gardener behind Finch & Folly Farm in Maine, says that when it comes to choosing which flowers to plant in your garden, the more the better. Planting multiple varieties will increase your chances, even if the weather is bad, at least one will produce an edible crop.
Here are some entry options worth investigating-all of them taste as lush as they look.
A favorite of Kostovick, deep orange calendula petals pack an earthy, slightly bitter flavor. Any that she doesn't use in the kitchen go straight into her DIY skin care regimen, as the flower's oil is hydrating and rich in antioxidants.
From stem to leaf to seed to petal, all parts of nasturtiums are edible and have a peppery bite. These multipurpose flowers are also wonderful companions: When stationed next to another edible plant, they can protect them from bugs like aphids. Pair them with your broccoli, cucumbers, and kale for a fresh, colorful salad—no added pesticides needed.
Another Kostovick pick, violas are prized for their long growing season. They can stay blooming all through summer and into fall in most areas. Pick their small, delicate flowers all season long to add a slightly sweet finish to your cooking.
For Marie Viljoen, an urban gardener and chef who grows her own food on a New York City terrace, the best plants are the ones that serve multiple purposes. As such, she'll often let her herbs go to flower and pick the haul to display in a vase or incorporate into her meals.
Though when some edible plants flower, or bolt, it can affect their flavor, she finds that Thai and purple basils are still tasty after they shoot out their colorful blossoms. "They make stunning little flowers that are very attractive and long-lasting if you cut a tall stem," Viljoen tells mbg.
These flowers also tend to attract pollinators, so be sure to keep a few in the ground for a more wildlife-friendly garden. And save at least a stem or two to re-root for next year: "If you keep it in water for long enough, you'll have a new basil plant to take outside," Viljoen says.
Chives produce lots of blooms that come in a lovely faint purple hue and taste faintly of onion and garlic. They tend to be so prolific that Kostovick can usually pick more than enough to make a batch of tangy, bright pink chive blossom vinegar and still have a few bouquets left over to hang out to dry in her kitchen for a fragrant display.
You can usually find a pot of bronze fennel thriving on Viljoen's terrace, and she says it checks a ton of boxes: It's tall and adds height to small gardens, pollinators love it, and the foliage is light, fluffy, and appealing. "Later in the summer, it makes really beautiful yellow flowers," she adds, which can be picked for their slight licorice taste or left to sit and produce aromatic fennel seeds.
After radishes start to flower, Kostovick stays patient and waits until the plant goes to seed before picking. "They're delicious," she says of the resulting radish seed pods, which have the texture of a sugar snap pea with a mild radish taste. "What's so cool about all of this is that now you have a second crop of something you didn't even know you could eat."
While not every flower is edible (and you shouldn't try ones you're unsure about), a handful of blooms can be put to good use in the kitchen. And honestly, we can't think of a better summer showstopper than a meal topped with a rainbow of any of these fresh-from-the-garden gems.