The Garden Muse — Edible flowers from herbs and plants

Published 3:00 pm Friday, August 12, 2022

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Most people believe that once their herb plant has flowered it is of no use anymore, but for some herbs/plants this is not true. It is fact that once herbs such as basil, sage, and thyme flower they lose a lot of their flavor and stop producing leaves, this is due to the plant directing all its energy into making seeds.

All is not lost when some herbs and flowering plants flower though. Some flowers are edible. I make it a customary practice in my herb gardens to grow at least two of every plant. I let at least one naturally go to seed and I will snip the flower buds from the others to prolong the harvest period of the herb itself. Of course, Mother Nature dictates how much of a prolonged period of harvest will be allowed each year, eventually the plant will go to seed.

My favorite ways to use edible flowers are in salads, baked goods, beverages and as garnish. I would be remiss if I did not also include fried zucchini blossom. For those of you who enjoy fried zucchini blossom, harvest the male blossoms, and leave the female blossom to develop into fruit. The male blossoms have a long thin stem, and the female flowers will have a swollen base.

When harvesting flowers from any plant for consumption the MOST important first step in the process is IDENTIFICATION. Not all flowers are edible and not all flowers from different varieties & species of the same plant are edible. Know the botanical name of the herb/plant you intend to use the flowers from. Always be 100% certain it is edible.

Especially important second step is to be 100% sure that the plant you are harvesting the flowers from is a known species (know the botanical name and the grower) and free from any pesticides/chemical amendments. I would avoid plants growing on the roadside, grown by a nursery/florist (that you do not trust) and all plants with unknown origin of growth.

Third step is to be mindful that some people may be more prone to have allergic reactions to certain plants/flowers. If you are sensitive to certain allergens or suffer from Hayfever CAUTION should be taken.

Some common flowers to try are A. Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), B. Basil (Ocimum basilicum, O. species), D. Chives (Allium Schoen. or tuberosa), Dill (Anethum graveolens), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Honeysuckle (Lonicera species), Mustard (Brassica species), Rose (Rosa species), and Lilac (Syringa vulgaris.) There are many more, too many to mention here.

Some tips for choosing and collecting edible flowers are 1. Taste test a flower to decide if it is agreeable to your palate. 2. Collect edible flowers in mid-morning after dew is gone, they will be at their peak and chances are you will encounter less insects. 3. Remove stems, sexual parts, base of petals=sepals or all the “green parts” in general. 4. Cook VERY minimally, if at all. Lastly, I suggest introducing edible flowers to your plate slowly, in small amounts.

There are so many ways to use edible flowers. Infuse them into beverages, honey, and white sugar for added flavor. Freeze them into ice cubes and turn chilled beverages into something beautiful. Add them to green salads, soups or simply as a garnish to the plate. They can also be dried and used for crafting.

Dawn Conrad is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Herbal enthusiast, Writer and Fiber Artist. She can be contacted at dawn@