More Than a Pretty Face: Flowers in the Edible Garden
By now, I’m sure you all have realized that I am a huge fan of growing food in whatever space is available. As the saying goes, #growfoodnotlawns. But if you swing by my place, don’t expect to see a tiny farm right in the middle of Cameron Park. I certainly do love to grow corn, beans, tomatoes, and a whole host of other delicious or otherwise useful crops right out front. However, I am also an artist, and I demand that my garden be visually interesting, and even (I hope) beautiful. This is where flowers enter the scene.
I am only now beginning to understand how truly valuable flowers can be in the edible landscape. Of course, they are lovely to look at, and strategic placement can keep an urban, front yard kitchen garden from looking overtly agricultural. Growing one’s own flowers also provides beautiful arrangements for the mantlepiece and table at a tiny fraction of a florist’s or market’s price. That, in my estimation, is enough reason to include them in a garden of any size. Even so, I find even greater incentive to incorporate a variety of brilliant blossoms into the horticultural mix.
I have long known of the marigold’s reputation for repelling a variety of crop-destroying invaders, and it is several years since I first tasted a salad topped with a few peppery nasturtium. However, it is only recently that I have begun to really delve into the world of edible flowers. A few of my favorite ways to use these little gems include freezing them in ice for drinks, tossing them into a bowl of greens, and grinding them for seasoning. Here are some of my favorite edible flowers, and how I use them.
Johnny-Jump-Ups: These flowers are lovely, they have a fun name, and they have a mild wintergreen flavor. They are great in salads and make for a beautiful garnish for baked goods, but they are also great with cheeses, in drinks, and as an addition to soups. In fact, the leaves can even be used to thicken soups.
Lavender: I love lavender. I don’t know what else I can say. Lavender can be used in so many ways. The flowers are a joy, but don’t overlook the leaves. They can be used for many of the same things. I personally brew them in a tea with mint, which I have found is wonderful for relieving a mild headache.
Roses: While many people like to wait for the rose hips and brew a tea, I prefer to use the flowers themselves. Dried rose petals make a wonderful addition to my Ras el Hanout spice blend when ground. I also love baking with rosewater, an heirloom American flavoring that is making a comeback among heritage food fans. If you are interested in learning more about it, check out Sarah Lohman’s book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine.
There are many other flowers out there with a host of wonderful uses. I encourage you to explore the library or the web to uncover the hidden virtues of your favorite flowers. As for me, I hear the flower bed calling. Happy gardening!