Photo: SusaZoom, depositphotos
By Larry Hodgson
Here’s a perfect little project for a novice gardener: growing your own edible wildflower garden from seed!
After all, we see delicious edible flowers on our plates when we go to fancy restaurants. Why not produce our own? And a great advantage of sowing them from a pack of seeds rather than buying plants in pots is that it seriously reduces the cost, making this a project for even the smallest budget!
More Than Just a Decoration
True enough, edible flowers can be—and often are—just used for their decorative effect, as in a garnish designed to make the dish more attractive. But they can be so much more than that!
For example, edible flowers add interesting and exciting flavors to your meals. Some are sweet, others sour, salty, spicy or even caliente?! Most are wonderfully scented as well, as smell is an important component of taste.
Note too that edible flowers are good for you, being rich in minerals and vitamins.
And if edible flowers can add color to our meals, imagine their effect in the garden! An edible flower garden is, after all, a flower bed: a dense concentration of blooming plants. And what’s not to like in a garden full of beautiful flowers in a wide range of colors? Your edible wildflower* garden can truly be something beautiful that will attract a lot of positive attention.
*For the purposes of this article, a wildflower is considered to be a flowering plant that can be sown where it is to grow and then allowed to grow “wild” (on it own). Not all seeds in an edible wildflower mix will be native plants. Rather, they contain plants from all over the world.
Even if restaurants often limit themselves to using edible flowers as a garnish or in salads, you can use them in a wide range of recipes at home. Sauces, soups, smoothies, cocktails, ice cubes (yes, they can be frozen), candies, cakes, etc. Add them to your next home-made pizza, for example!
Also, edible flowers are usually excellent choices for attracting pollinators—bees, butterflies, hoverflies, hummingbirds, etc.—to your living space in order to bring a little bit of nature back into the city. These little winged allies are always looking for colorful, fragrant blooms—a pretty accurate description of edible flowers!
Where to Grow Edible Flowers?
Many plants have edible flowers. Moreover, they’re produced on all categories of plants: annuals, perennials, shrubs, etc. It follows logically that edible flowers can be grown in all imaginable growing conditions—boreal, temperate, tropical, arid, humid, sunny, shady and more.
However, if you want to create a wildflower garden dedicated to edible flowers, the plants you choose must be able to grow together under the same conditions.
Since by far the largest variety of wildflowers with edible blooms are adapted to full sun, well drained, fairly rich soil and average soil moisture, those are the conditions you should aim for. The combination sun, good soil and moderately moist soil already matches the conditions available in most flower beds and container gardens, even in unused fields you might want to turn into a garden, so it won’t take too much effort to get things right.
But . . . wildflowers in container garden? Is that even possible?
Sure! It’s actually very easy to grow wildflowers in a pot or a container and that makes an edible wildflower garden accessible to people who only have a balcony, a terrace or a roof for gardening.
In a nutshell: just about everyone can grow edible wildflowers!
Don’t Eat Just Anything!
Of course, not all flowers are edible, so don’t go nibbling on flowers indiscriminately. Some flowers are considered unpalatable since they are hard to digest. Or maybe they have an undesirable taste or smell. A few, like delphinium blossoms, are even out-and-out poisonous. Before eating a flower, therefore, you should always check and make sure consuming it is considered safe. The list below will help you.
Remember too that the flowers you want to munch on must not have been treated with toxic pesticides. The safe interval between the application of a pesticide and the flower being ready for harvest and safe consumption varies from a few hours to a few months.
For that reason, it’s not a good idea to harvest the flowers of plants purchased from garden centers or florist shops, even if the flower itself is theoretically edible. The only exception would be if the plant is clearly labeled “organic” or “organically grown”
That’s also one major reason why it always makes more sense to grow the flowers you want to eat from seed. That way, you can be sure that it wasn’t treated with anything potentially toxic.
And one last detail: even when you have confirmed that a flower is edible, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the rest of the plant is too. That’s something you should always look into.
Edible Flowers to Sow Yourself
There are thousands of species of edible flowers, but here are 30 that are particularly easy to grow from seed as wildflowers and can easily share a space in the same garden.
- Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop) perennial, hardiness zones 4–8
- Alcea rosea (hollyhock) perennial, hardiness zones 2–10
- Allium schoenoprasum (chives) perennial, hardiness zones 2–8
- Anethum graveolens (dill) annual
- Bellis perennis (English daisy) perennial, hardiness zones 5–8
- Borago officinalis (borage) annual
- Calendula officinalis (pot marigold) annual
- Centaurea cyanus (bachelor’s buttons or cornflower) annual
- Cichorium intybus (chicory) perennial, hardiness zones 3–8
- Coriandrum sativum (coriander or cilantro) annual
- Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s Lace) perennial, hardiness zones 3–8
- Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William) biennial, hardiness zones 2–10
- Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower) perennial, hardiness zones 3–8
- Foeniculum vulgare (fennel) biennial, hardiness zones 6–9
- Glebionis coronaria, syn. Chrysanthemum coronarium (crown daisy) annual
- Helianthus annuus (sunflower) annual
- Hesperis matronalis (dame’s rocket) biennial, hardiness zones 3–8
- Lobularia maritima (sweet alyssum) annual
- Matricaria chamomilla syn. M. recutita (German chamomile) annual
- Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot) perennial, hardiness zones 3–8
- Myosotis alpestris (forget-me-not) perennial, hardiness zones 3–9
- Papaver rhoeas (Shirley poppy) annual
- Phlox paniculata (garden phlox or fall phlox) perennial, hardiness zones 3–8
- Primula vulgaris (common primrose) perennial, hardiness zones 3–7
- Tagetes erecta and T. patula (marigold) annual
- Taxacum officinalis (dandelion) perennial, zones 2–9
- Trifolium spp. (clover) perennial, hardiness zones 3 or 4–9
- Tropaeolum majus (nasturtium) annual
- Viola cornuta or V. tricolor (viola or Johnny-jump-up) perennial, hardiness zones 4–9
- Viola x wittrockiana (pansy) annual or perennial, hardiness zones 4–9
Annual varieties come into flower quickly and will produce their crop of delicious flowers the first year, starting only 5 or 6 weeks after sowing in many cases. Many can persist by self-seeding if given a little space.
However, it’s the longer-lived perennials and biennials, which won’t bloom the first year but start instead the second one, that will really ensure flowering in future years so that you will have beautiful flowers to add to your favorite recipes for a long time to come.
You can buy the seeds of your choice and make your own combinations, but some companies, like Gloco Inc., offer preselected mixes.
Sowing Mixed Edible Flower Seed
If you buy individual seed packets, you can follow the instructions on the packet as to when to sow, how to sow and how to care for them. If you prefer to sow mixed seed, or buy single packs and mix them together, just do so much as you for any wildflower garden, sowing them all at once under average sowing conditions. For that, the following steps will be helpful:
1. Clean the soil surface of debris, such as stones, branches and pieces of bark, and remove all weeds.
2. Loosen the soil to a depth of 4 in (10 cm).
3. Level the planting area.
4. Shake the bag to thoroughly blend the seeds.
5. Broadcast the seed mixture over the sowing surface.
6. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil, about ¼ in (6 mm).
7. Water thoroughly and carefully, but without saturating the soil.
8. While waiting for germination, and also while the seedlings are still small, water gently whenever the soil begins to dry out. If water isn’t readily available, just let Mother Nature do her job!
9. Once the plants have grown a bit and hardened off, it will only be necessary to water during periods of serious drought. Wildflowers, after all, are supposed to take care of themselves. Container gardens, on the other hand, are more dependant on human helpf and will need more frequent watering, especially if the pot is small.
10. Harvest when the flowers are fully open.
1. Cut the flowers during the coolest periods of the day (early morning or late evening), because that’s when they have the highest water content and are least likely to wilt quickly.
2. Shake them lightly to knock free any insects that may be hiding among the petals.
3. If the petals are a bit dusty or dirty, place the flowers in a colander and rinse them lightly with clean water, then place them on a paper towel to dry out for a few minutes.
4. You can then store your edible flowers in the refrigerator until use, setting them on a damp paper towel or cloth inside a plastic bag or other airtight container. Some last barely 24 hours, but others remain in good shape for a week.
5. Cut off the peduncle (stem behind the flower) just before serving.
Helpful Hint: You can also dry edible flowers in a dehydrator or on a tray in a well-aerated, dark room and store them for months for out-of-season color and flavor!
Good luck with your first edible wildflower garden!