Add color to your garden and to your plate.
Calendula, hollyhock, begonia, daisies, marigolds, violets, pansies, nasturtiums, hibiscus, honeysuckles, jasmine, chrysanthemums, roses, gladiolus and geraniums don't just look lovely in gardens, pots and planters, their petals look perfect atop a salad, mixed into a stir fry, simmered in a tea, served as garnishes on a dinner plate or placed as decorations on a wedding cake. They add color, taste and a wonderful fragrance, making any dish or drink more memorable.
"Edible flowers like these are often used in dishes and drinks made by high-end restaurants," said Gene McAvoy, a horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service, University of Florida. McAvoy explained that their color adds a bit of pizzazz to a plate or a dish. Oftentimes, the flower petals are not cooked, which helps maintain their bright colors and integrity.
Flowers can also be infused in vinegars, made into jams and jellies, seeped into teas or fermented into wine. Other edible flowers include apple, chamomile, elderberry, lavender, lemon, orange, passion flower, rose, water hyacinth, water lily and yucca.
All flowers have their own unique taste that ranges from bitter, such as marigolds; to peppery, such as nasturtiums; to sweet, such as roses. With roses, oftentimes the darker the petals, the stronger the flavor.
While many flowers bloom through much of the year — thanks to the temperature and light controlled through greenhouses — a few edible flowers that are in bloom right now include nasturtiums, which are delicious and colorful in salads; and roses, which can be steeped into tea, made into butter and tossed on salads.
"We are over the frost, so there are plenty of colorful spring flowers in right now," said Bobbie Heffner, the owner of Robbins Nursery in Sebring. The nursery offers a variety of choices like geraniums, pansies, jasmine, honeysuckle, roses, violets and marigolds starting in 4-inch pots.
"We also do the arrangements of custom flower bowls that can be filled with flowers," said Heffner, explaining that you can place your order specifying the types of flowers you like.
Keep in mind that edible flowers you consume should have been grown by you or for the purpose of being consumed. Otherwise, they may contain pesticides that have not been evaluated for safety in consumption. Still, their color and beauty can add a wonderful touch when used as garnishes or decorations.
Florida flowers are sold as bulbs, as potted plants, in flats and in baskets. They are sold commercially to florists, to consumers and for commercial purposes, such as for landscaping.
"Edible flowers, in particular, are a high value crop and are a good option for someone that might want to specialize in growing them," mentioned McAvoy, who said it might be a good niche for the right grower who plans to grow them specifically for consumption.
If you are growing your own edible flowers, they are grown in a similar fashion as flowers grown for ornamental purposes. McAvoy recommends that you get a soil test before planting. Then it's important to use a well-drained soil with a pH balance between 5.5 to 6. Also, a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch should be added to help reduce weeds, conserve soil moisture, maintain uniform soil temperatures and reduce the amount of soil splashed onto the plant during heavy rain. McAvoy further suggests irrigation, as most plants will need an inch of water per week.
Whether you are growing your own, buying your own or enjoying edible flowers in your favorite dish at a five-star restaurant, no doubt you will love their color, vibrance and wonderful aroma.