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Offering a wide range of colours, shapes and textures, edible flowers inspire gardening enthusiasts and food lovers alike.

By Nathalie Beaudoin, Naturopathic Herbalist and Culinary Florist
You can enhance your flowerbeds with annuals, bi-annuals and perennials, then cook with the same flowers to satisfy your taste buds as well! None of these plants are toxic for children, cats or dogs. They can be grown directly in the garden or in containers, and you can keep cut flowers in the fridge 3 to 5 days in a sealed container. Note that you should not wash flowers before storing them. Here are five to consider.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Description

Also known as pot marigolds,Calendula plants are native to Southern Europe. These are cheerful, sunny flowers that add a colourful splash wherever they’re planted. Plants have lanceolate, alternate leaves on erect, branched stems covered with fine hairs.  Inflorescences are grouped on top, developing clusters composed of sterile, tubular flowers in the center and fertile ray florets around the outside. There are several Calendula varieties: single or double flowers in colours from light yellow to bright orange. All are edible!

Growing and Maintaining Calendula Flowers

A very hardy, self-seeding annual, Calendulas can be grown in open beds in the garden and certain cultivars can be successfully grown in containers. Fall frost-resistant, calendulas will light up your garden space straight through till the end of the season.

  • Indoor seeding: early April
  • Outdoor seeding: May
  • Plants: transplant in full sun late May
  • Exposure: full sun
  • Soil: clean, rich soil amended with mature compost
  • Spacing: 30 cm
  • Maintenance: occasional watering
  • Harvest: pick flowers on a sunny day

Cooking with Calendula Flowers – Recipes

Whole flowers, buds and petals (ray florets) are edible. The taste can be described as subtle, sweetish, slightly resinous and bitter.

  • Use Calendula flowers to garnish and add colour to vegetable dishes, soups and vegetable or fruit salads.
  • Use to complement dishes with rice, eggs, sauces and tabbouleh.
  • For certain recipes, avoid using the center, which is often bitter, or chop very fine.
  • Add flowers separately at the very end of the cooking process.

In traditional herbalism, whole inflorescences, either fresh or dried, are used in therapeutic preparations (infusions, ointment, mother tincture) to soothe, disinfect, heal and nourish the mucous membranes and skin. 

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)

Description                                                                                                                   
Native to Central and South America, Nasturtiums are herbaceous plants with deciduous, alternate, rounded leaves divided into 5 to 7 lobes or leaflets measuring 5 to 7 cm long. Flowers have 5 funnel-shaped indented petals which can be white, yellow, orange or red, and measure approximately 5 cm.

Growing and Maintaining Nasturtiums

A non-hardy annual, Nasturtiums can be grown in both the garden and in containers. Blooms first appear in June, and continue through till the first frost in October. Certain varieties are perennials, so check with your garden center.

  • Indoor seeding: 4 to 6 weeks before the projected last spring frost
  • Outdoor seeding: when the soil has started to warm up
  • Plants: transplant late May
  • Exposure: full sun to partial shade
  • Soil: poor to normal, fresh and well-drained
  • Spacing: 30 to 45 cm between plants and 70 to 80 cm between rows
  • Maintenance: regular deadheading will promote a continuous bloom; water only during periods of extreme heat. 
  • Harvest: pick flowers throughout the blooming period, from July to September, either early in the morning just before they are fully opened or at sundown.

Cooking with Nasturtiums – Recipes

All parts of Nasturtiums can be used: petals, entire flower, stem and even the seeds if they are still green and tender.
The peppery flavour of Nasturtiums, somewhat similar to cress, adds a little “bite” to your dishes.

  • Add flowers to butter, summer drinks, salad dressings, soups, vegetable and fruit salads, omelets, and gratin dishes or casseroles.
  • Use fresh seeds as you would pepper..
  • Preserve the seeds – like capers – in vinegar.
  • Dry flowers to preserve them, but they do lose in taste.

Day Lily (Hemerocallis fulva and other cultivars)

Description

Day lilies resemble fleur-de-lys, although they have a more delicate texture and velvety appearance. The trumpet-shaped flowers open at the top of their long stems from June through to September. The stem branches out one to five times and carries 8 to 30 flowers in various colours. In all cases, the flower lasts but a day, hence the name, “Beauty for a day.”

Growing and Maintaining Day Lilies

Day lilies are highly resistant perennials. The length of their bloom periods depends on the variety and cultivar.

  • Plants: dig a hole and plant at the same depth as the pot.
  • Exposure: full sun, but shade is tolerated.
  • Soil: rich in organic matter and well-drained.
  • Maintenance: water as needed during the first year, but once established, watering is seldom required.
  • Companion planting: do not introduce day lilies into a small flower bed, because they’ll soon take over!

Cooking with Day Lilies – Recipes

All day lily varieties, especially single-flower varieties, are edible. The flavour is light with a crunchy texture similar to romaine lettuce.

  • Remove spent leaves and steam-cook the young, green 10 to 15 cm shoots.
  • Eat the 1 to 2 cm flower buds raw or lacto-fermented.
  • Prepare them as you would capers or cut them up into a salad.
  • Serve as you would vegetables, either boiled or steam-cooked for a few minutes.
  • Offer with butter or as a seasoning.
  • Savour the petals and flowers uncooked, as a garnish or in a salad.
  • Incorporate fresh flowers, as buds or fully open, with different dishes: bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, fruit salad, soup, rice, etc. 
  • Remove the pistils and stamens, and brighten up dips, savory and sweet dishes and salads of crunchy petals.
  • Cook fresh flowers fried, braised or stuffed.
  • To preserve the flower, parboil for 2 minutes then freeze.
  • Dry the pistils and add to sauces and oils to season.

Monarda (Monarda didyma or M. fistulosa)
Description

Monarda is an herbaceous perennial with square stems that can reach a height of 80 cm to 1.20 metre depending on the variety. It has oval-lanceolate leaves with serrate margins, and its flowers are grouped in false whorls, with long corollas, 3.5 to 6 cm long. Flowers are very melliferous, providing a delicacy for all nectar-loving animals, such as bees, bumble bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Growing and maintaining Monarda

Native to North America, Monarda is a perennial hardy to Zone 3.

  • Direct seeding: autumn or spring after the risk of frost has passed.
  • Plants: can be put in the garden once all risk of frost has passed.
  • Soil: should be rich and fresh, moist and slightly acid.
  • Exposure: full sun or partial shade in a well-ventilated area.
  • Spacing: 30 cm between plants and 45 cm between rows
  • Maintenance: roots should always be moist and never allowed to dry out.
  • Multiply plants by division.
  • Bloom period: July and August (starting the second year)
  • Disease: sensitive to powdery mildew, also called white mould or white rot (Erysiphe cichoracearum) which is caused by a fungus.
  • May overwhelm the garden.

Cooking with Monarda – Recipes

Two varieties are prized:
Bee Balm, Monarda didyma, for its leaves (Oswego Tea) and for its flowers, either fresh or dried. Blooms are red and give off a rich, aromatic and lemony fragrance with bergamot hints.
Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa, for its flowers, either fresh or dried. Pink in colour, the taste is similar to oregano, just stronger.

  • Separate the flowers from their inflorescences and either crystallize them or make ice cubes.
  • Dry flowers and leaves for infusions and herbal teas.
  • Use fresh flowers to perfume butter, cream cheese, goat cheese, salt, vinaigrettes, jellies and summer drinks.
  • Sprinkle on vegetables, meat, grilled fish and fruit salads.

Wild Pansey (Viola tricolor)

Description

Wild Pansies, also called Viola Tricolor have very pretty, decorative flowers. Deep purple, yellow and cream flowers has two slightly superimposed upper petals, two side petals and a petal underneath. Annual pansies with large flowers in single, two-tone and three tone colours are also available.

Growing and Maintaining Pansies

Pansies are herbaceous annuals or bi-annuals 10 to 15 cm tall that often self-seed. Their long flowering period, from April to October, gives us ample time to savour their beauty!

  • Outdoor seeding:
    • Spring: in a cold frame (small, low greenhouse) used to acclimate plants to outdoor conditions.
    • Summer: directly in the garden or outdoor containers.
    • Fall: for blooms the following spring.
  • Plants: plant outside once all risk of frost has passed.
  • Exposure: full sun or partial shade.
  • Soil: rich, loose and always fresh.
  • Spacing: 15 cm between plants.
  • Maintenance: water regularly to prevent the soil from drying out and put straw around plants to conserve moisture.
  • Harvest: pick as often as possible during the blooming period, from May to September.

Cooking with Pansies – Recipes

Adorable and delicious, Wild Pansies have a refreshing taste, sweet and slightly menthol. Perfectly suited to use in the kitchen, they are available in a range of colours, all of them edible.
Both the larger cultivated pansies – Viola – and the small, wild violets – Viola sororia and others – including the highly fragrant Viola odorata are edible.

  • Eat the flowers raw, as a garnish and in salads.
  • Incorporate into a vinaigrette.
  • Enhance vegetable and fruit salads and desserts.
  • Use to make ice cubes for drinks and beverages.
  • Dry and prepare as an infusion.
  • Crystallize fresh flowers with a mixture of egg whites and sugar.
These five marvelous plants with edible flowers will soon become essential friends both in the garden and in the kitchen! Happy exploring!
 
References:
BEAUDOIN, Nathalie, Des fleurs dans votre assiette [Flowers on your plate], Montréal, MultiMondes, 2018.
GINGRAS, Daniel and Albert MONDOR, Attirer la faune au jardin [How to attract wildlife into your garden] GINGRAS, Montréal, Les éditions de L’Homme, 2009.
MACKAY, Diane, 40 plantes médicinales pour la pharmacie familiale [40 Medicinal plants for the family pharmacy], Colloïdales, 2019.
MICHAUD, Lili, Les fines herbes de la terre à la table [Fine Herbs, From the Ground to the Table] Les fines herbes de la terre à la table, Montréal, MultiMondes, 2015.  Day liies :
SAVINA, Guénolé and Gaëlle NHAN, Hémérocalle, cultivez l’éphémère [Day lilies: growing the ephemeral], Guénolé Savina éditions, 2017.
WILSON, Mélinda, Fleurs comestibles du jardin à la table [Edible flowers from the garden to the table], Montréal, Fides, 2006.
Nathalie Beaudoin, Naturopath and Herbal-therapist, is an accredited member of the La Guilde des herboristes du Québec (Herbalists association of Quebec) and certified by the Academy of Naturopaths and Naturotherapists of Canada. She works as a Natural products consultant, and consults on a private basis as well. Nathalie Beaudoin is a Culinary Florist and the author of Des fleurs dans votre assiette (Flowers on your plate), published by MultiMondes, an award winner at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2019. The book was also nominated at the Taste Canada Awards / Les Lauréats des Saveurs du Canada 2019, where she had the honour to be a co-finalist with Ricardo and Josée di Stasio.
Facebook page: Nathalie en Herbe Herboriste
Website: nathalieenherbe.com | nathalieenherbe@gmail.com