• Grow your Own

Edible Flowers for a Potager Garden

  • By Gardenzine
Brighten up your vegetable plot with edible flowers.

Since medieval times, informal 'potager' gardens have combined traditional vegetables with herbs and flowering plants to create cottage-style gardens that are both beautiful and functional. Planting flowering plants in amongst vegetables can mask the scent of your precious veg., hiding them from plant pests as well as encouraging pest predators and pollinators. If your flowering plants are also edible, they will work doubly hard for you.

a potager garden

When picking edible flowers for consumption, never use pesticides and always remove the flower stalk completely. If you find them bitter, you may need to remove the sepals (the green parts at the base of the flower) and/or the stamens and pistils from the centre. If you suffer from pollen allergies, it is best not to eat edible flowers.

Here's our pick of the best and most beautiful edible flowers for you to try.

Chives, Allium shoenoprasum

chives in flower

The sweet, oniony taste of chive flowers is surprisingly delicious and, of course, you can also eat the leaves which are milder than the flowers. Pull the tiny florets apart and use them anywhere you want an onion flavour. They are particularly useful mixed into salad leaves for that extra kick. You can lightly pan fry them in butter for a colourful side dish or infuse them in vinegar for a couple of weeks. After you strain out the chive flowers, you are left with pretty pink vinegar which has a mild onion flavour.

Chives are great companion plants, repelling aphids and attracting pollinators, especially bees. Their anti-fungal properties make them useful for planting beneath roses to help prevent rose black spot. Since black spot is caused by fungal spores which originate in the soil and splash onto rose bushes during rainfall, chives are an excellent barrier.

Rose, Rosa sp.

wild rose flowers

All species of roses are edible. Wild roses are tough as old boots and perfectly pretty enough to belong in a garden but the hybrid roses are a bit more difficult to grow. As a result, the roses you buy as cut flowers and even the rose bushes you buy in plant nurseries are likely to have been treated with a variety of pesticides to keep them looking perfect. Never eat rose petals from cut flowers and it is best to wait a year before harvesting petals from plants you have bought from the garden centre. The best way to harvest rose petals for eating is to grow your own and keep them chemical free.

Rose petals have a floral, slightly sweet taste and they are said to have many medicinal benefits including containing vitamin C. There is unlikely to be much, if any, vitamin C in rose petals. On the other hand, rose hips are going to be valued more by the plant and, as such, they contain more protective antioxidant compounds, including vitamin C. As far as the petals are concerned, they can be used to decorate salads. Rose water, made from infusing rose petals, is used a lot in cooking - to flavour milk puddings, cakes and drinks.

Violas and pansies, Viola sp.

viola flowers decorating a desert dish

All pansies are violas but not all violas are pansies. This is because pansies are hybrids of violas - bigger and bolder but not necessarily prettier than violas. Pansies and violas can be sown at different times of the year, depending on when you want them to flower. Sow June, July or August for autumn flowering or December to February for spring flowering. They prefer the cooler months, either side of winter and need only moderate heat (18-20 degrees) for germination.

Both violas and pansies are edible. Neither have much of a taste so they tend to be used more as a pretty garnish rather to add any kind of flavour. The more delicate viola flowers are most often used whole, while the petals of pansies can be used to adorn any dish. Freeze viola flowers inside ice cubes to decorate summer drinks.

Nasturtiums, Tropaeolum sp.

nasturtium flower on a plate with melon and ham

Nasturtiums are ridiculously easy to grow and self-seed readily meaning they can be hard to get rid of once they are established. For this reason, they are often regarded less than favourably by gardeners who like their plots to be neat and tidy. However, considering how useful they are, their reputation for being garden thugs is undeserved. Their flowers beautifully reflect the hot colours on the colour wheel, ranging from bright red, through orange, to delicate lemon.

Nasturtium flowers and leaves have a distinct peppery taste and will add a nice kick to any salad. Flowers and leaves can be used to flavour butter, cream cheese and pastry. The young seeds can be pickled and used as an alternative to capers.

Cornflowers, Centaurea cyanus

cornflowers decorating a loaf of bread

Beautiful annual cornflowers are extremely easy to grow, preferring to be sown directly into the ground where they are to flower. The petals have a spicy, clove-like taste and can be used in salads or to flavour cream cheese and butter. Sprinkle the petals over ice cream for an unusual kick or use them in ice cubes for summer drinks.

Pot marigold, Calendula officinalis

flower on a pot marigold

Not to be confused with Tagetes species - French and African marigold - pot marigolds or Scotch marigolds belong to the genus, Calendula. In terms of edibility, they are known as 'poor man's saffron' because the yellow petals can be used to impart a yellow colour to white food stuffs like rice.

The petals can be used in moderation to add colour to salads or to decorate dishes but they have a slightly bitter taste so are most useful as a garnish. Calendula is said to have many medicinal and cosmetic properties being high in antioxidants. In the kitchen, use the petals dry or fresh in any situation you might use saffron.

Borage, Borago officinalis

borage flowers

Another very easy annual plant to grow, the sky-blue flowers of borage are also known as star flowers due to their shape. Borage flowers taste of cucumber and are extremely popular as decorative elements in summer drinks such as Pimms. Most parts of the plant are edible but the leaves and stems are hairy and can cause skin irritations so are best avoided unless they are cooked well (boiled and blanched).

Despite their lovely blue flowers, borage plants are a messy affair - more leaves and stems than flowers, with an inability to stand up straight. However, they are worth growing for their delicious flowers but only as an occasional treat as, despite claims that they are good for skin health amongst other things, they are not recommended for pregnant or breast-feeding women or anyone with liver problems.

All edible flowers are best used freshly-picked but many can be dried for later use. To wash them, dip them in water and give them a good shake to dislodge any beasties that might be hiding in the depths of the flower.