An older farmer who was my neighbour when I lived in the country would smile and shake his head whenever he passed by and saw my front garden. I was growing a host of flowers for picking. He would always chide me, “You can’t eat flowers.” How wrong was he? Pretty wrong! Lots of flowers are edible.
When planning your garden this year, you may be getting excited about growing your own herbs and vegetables. Yes, it’s almost a must these days to have at least some freshly picked food from your own garden. Even if it’s a pot of parsley and chives.
Some like my old farmer friend might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater and developing a mindset of “edibles only”. Keep in mind though, that many ornamental plants do double duty: You can pick them for a vase or a salad bowl. Or both, like nasturtiums. (Tropaeolum)
I wouldn’t be without nasturtiums in the garden. The flowers and leaves are both great in salads. Nasturtiums are particularly kid-friendly too, because the seeds are so big and round; they’re very easy to handle. They come up very easily when seeded outdoors in May. You can also buy already started nasturtiums in 6-pack pots, but I think they actually do better when started from seed. Once they start blooming they will go on till frost, and they’re lovely trailing down the sides of a large planter or dotted about the garden in odd places. The taste of a nasturtium leaf is fresh and peppery, a welcome note to add to any salad. And the flowers are gorgeous tossed in with the mix.
There are so many other flowers that can be used as edibles: daylilies, squash blossoms, lavender and Johnny Jump Ups. The list is huge, and you can find more information here, along with some recipes. Remember to pick yourself up a packet of nasturtium seeds, whether you are an old hand or a beginner gardener. And, for the skeptical, even when we are eating vegetables, we are sometimes eating flowers. Broccoli is a flower. So are artichokes.
Photo: Helen Battersby