I must say I’m a bit of a cynic when it comes to growing flowers on the homestead. When I go to the nursey to pick up my annuals each year, I skip the flower section completely and go straight to the veggies. Sure, they look and smell pretty, but certainly the space could be better utilized for something that can fill the belly, not just the eyes. As my mom would say, “You can’t eat a view.” But if you are a diehard fan of flowers, here are five common edible flowers—plants that provide a beautiful “view” that you can even feature in the front garden bed.
Now a word to the wise, whenever you consume anything you find in a flower bed, woods, or backyard, do take some necessary precautions. Make sure you have identified it correctly, gathered it from a place that hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals, have prepared it properly, and that whatever you consume won’t cause issues with pre-existing conditions or any medication you may be taking.
Despite the name, daylilies are not, in fact, lilies, which is great for all of us floral feasters! Daylilies have been eaten for centuries by the Chinese and all parts of the plant are edible, with different flavors and different times to harvest.
The fleshy roots taste like a mix between a sweet potato and a regular potato, and can be used in similar preparations. The young shoots taste similar to asparagus. The unopened flower buds taste like green beans and the flowers, which last only for a day, have a texture similar to marshmallows and taste slightly sweet.
They are by far my most favorite “view that you can eat” and they are so common that around where I live, we call them “Ditch Lilies” as the ubiquitous orange blossoms pop up plentifully along roadsides. But if orange just isn’t your color, you’re in luck, as they have been bred to be so many colors and shapes and sizes, so take your pick!
A word of caution is that a small percentage of people can be allergic, so if you do partake of this plant just try a small amount before going whole-hog.
A relative of dandelion, chicory are those little blue flowers dotting the sides of roads in the springtime. Just make sure you harvest from your own flower bed and not the road where who-knows-what has been splashed across it! Most parts of the plant are edible, much like dandelion (just avoid the latex-y bitter sap), and can be used in similar preparations. Young leaves can be used in salads, and blossoms for making fritters or garnishing anything that could use a touch of blue. But the real magic is not in what lies above ground, but beneath.
During the Civil War when the Union cut off the South’s supply lines, chicory and dandelions were roasted and ground by desperate Southerners to fill their coffee cravings. It seems they never really lost their taste for it; if you have ever had New Orleans-style coffee, it is cut with some of this chicory root and best served with a side of beignets. Oh, yes, and because you were wondering, chicory is versatile but not caffeinated.
Also known as wild bee balm, bergamot is a member of the mint family and all parts of the plant are edible. The flowers remind me of miniature party favors that come in different colors, shapes, and sizes. Just remember it is a mint and will get out of hand if left to its own devices.
Bergamot makes a wonderful tea that goes back to pre-colonial times. A tribe of Native Americans called the Oswego, made tea with the plant, and after the Boston Tea Party, Oswego tea became a major staple in the colonies. The tea was used to treat nausea and stomach ailments. It was also used as a mild antibacterial agent and used to clean wounds and skin infections. It’s also just nice to soak in your bathtub, so consider adding a few leaves to your next bath.
Purple Cone Flower
A lovely purple blossom upon an upright stem that dots many a prairie, the Midwest Purple Cone Flower, or Echinacea, has been taking the health food world by storm. Lauded for all its immune-boosting potential, all parts of this plant are edible from roots to shoots, to leaves and petals. Although it won’t win any taste contests on its own, it does help increase the nutritional value of anything you put it in. Try it in teas or soups, or perhaps mixed into an omelet. One thing to note though about echinacea is that, when eaten, it may make your mouth “tingle” a little bit, but don’t worry. That is completely normal, it’s just the flower doing its job.
Milkweed is not for the faint of heart and should not be attempted if you are a newbie to foraging.
First, make sure you are only eating common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), as other milkweeds are potentially toxic. Second, see that you are only using young plants or young parts of plants. As they grow and age, they produce more of a milky latex that is toxic in large quantities. Third, make sure that the plants are properly prepared, as cooking will neutralize any of the milky sap found in even young plants and parts.
With that being said, if you are confident in your identification and preparations, milkweed is one of my favorites to eat for sheer versatilely. Choose young plants under a foot tall and use the shoots like asparagus and the leaves like a pot herb. Allow the plant to grow and produce flowers that will give broccoli a run for its money. Allow flowers to go to young pods, 2-3 inches or smaller, and prepare in a manner similar to okra, without the slime. Allow the pods to get bigger and use the fluff as vegan cheese. Every few weeks there is something new to try. It’s the plant that just keeps giving, just make sure you save some milkweed for the monarch butterflies!
A Dinner Bouquet
How ever you bring your “bouquet” to the dinner table—in a vase or in a cup or on your plate—give a flower a taste and also enjoy the view. Consider devouring some daylilies, chomping on chicory, brewing some bergamot, crunching some cone flowers, or even munching on milkweed. It gives a new meaning to the expression “a feast for the eyes!”