Everyday salads become special-occasion works of art with a simple addition of fresh flower petals. But their colourful table appeal isn’t the only advantage to harvesting some of your garden florals. They are high in many nutrients.
The vivid colours of edible flowers signal antioxidants. Marigolds (Calendula officinalis) contain flavonoids, and more lutein and zeaxanthin – top eye protectors – than most vegetables and fruits. In addition to lutein and zeaxanthin, Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) also contain some vitamin D. Chrysanthemums and Violets (Viola odorata) are a source of the phytonutrient rutin. The spicy flowers of Bergamot (Bee Balm, Monarda didyma) contain quercetin. Sweet flavoured Dianthus (certain species such as Carnation and Sweet William) is also high in antioxidants.
Edible flowers supply vitamins and minerals. Pumpkin flowers and Lavender have abundant vitamin A. Rose petals provide vitamin C and small amounts of vitamin E. Chrysanthemum, Dianthus contain potassium. Borage flowers offer iron and calcium. Violas (species including Pansy, Johnny-Jump-Up and Horned Violet) contain vitamins C and A, and anthocyanin. Many flowers’ pollen and sweet nectar are a source of protein/amino acids.
Of course, before you harvest petals to add to salads, top desserts or garnish a plate, it’s important to properly identify them. (Growing your own ensures you know that the variety is edible and that they weren't treated with pesticides.) For most species, eat only the petals, and remove pistils and stamens. Try them first to find out whether you like the taste; and eat them in small quantities to make sure they don't cause an allergic reaction or stomach upset.
Here are a few edible flowers:
Allium, Angelica, Anise Hyssop, Bee Balm, Borage, Calendula, Carnations, Chervil, Chrysanthemum, Clover, Dandelion, Fennel flowers, Fuchsia, Hibiscus, Hollyhock, Impatiens, Johnny Jump-Up, Lavender, Lemon Verbena, Lilac, Nasturtium, Pansy, Rose, Squash/Pumpkin flowers, Violet.