11 DELICIOUSLY EDIBLE PLANTS for BEAUTIFUL GARDEN SPACES

Credit: Todd Trapani

Growing your own food, whether in your vegetable garden or perennial beds, means you have easy access to healthy food, right outside your door. 

Potential bumper crops mean that you’ll have enough to share and show others how to do it, too! If you’ve ever grown zucchini, you’ll know what I mean.

Not to mention, the potential health benefits. Growing your own edible plants in fertile soil (by adding kitchen scraps, compost, etc.), can result in the nutritional value of your plants/crops increasing, exponentially.

That, in addition to being able to control what pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, if any, the crops you eat are exposed to. 

The icing on the cake is that gardening gets you outside and exercising in the fresh air, which studies have shown can relieve stress.

WHY YOU SHOULD GROW YOUR OWN FOOD

What we’ve all been experiencing, has clearly created a shift in our perspectives on things. Not really a BOOM!-like shift.  

It’s been more like a slow, subtle drift from one viewpoint to another. Fueled by a number of unexpected, back-to-back, global events. 

As a result, supply chains that we never questioned before (much less, really thought about) have been disrupted. 

The flow of availability for everything from fresh produce to paper goods to gasoline has slowed to a trickle. Which has, in some cases, made these items ridculously expensive.

Keep reading, and I’ll show you what we’re planting to ease our exposure to market stresses and often devasting price increases. Edible plants that you can encorporate into your own garden.

A related issue that has become an increasing concern, for me, is what’s being applied to crops. 

Forcing them to produce increased yields, intended to make up for a slow supply chain and the sagging income streams of crop growers. 

Sadly, synthetic fertilizers serve this purpose better than organic. They certainly can increase yields. 

But, in forcing growth, they also decrease the amount of natural nutrition in crops that we look to when we’re trying to eat healthier. 

They also lack the ability to increase and maintain soil fertility. Meaning these un-natural stimulants may one day leave the soil completely barren. Empty dirt in which nothing will grow. 

Here, at the Olenick House, we’ve been saving kitchen scraps, creating our own compost and adding it to our garden soil for years. 

Especially, in our vegetable patch, because these are things that we’re going to put in our bodies. 

I’ll typically work some compost in around our perennials too. But, the “nutritional factor” wasn’t an issue in these areas before. 

During our long covid “stay-cation”, I started thinking, “Why not? Why not start encorporating edible perennials and annuals into the rest of our garden?”

THE BENEFITS of GROWING EDIBLE PLANTS and FLOWERS

Growing edible plants and flowers can increase your harvesting yield and, of course, the beauty of your garden. 

Container gardens full of color and clean eating will also give you the opportunity to try recipes you may have never considered before.

The myriad of ways to use edible plants and flowers in cooking and baking include, but are not limited to, using them fresh or dried (think herbs), as condiments or seasonings and in soups, salads, dessert and cocktails.

Most of these should be picked fresh and dry, on a sunny day. When they’re in full bloom but have not yet begun to wilt.  

Most edible garden plants and flowers need to be used shortly after picking. But, some can also be frozen for future use. Like in winter, when picking them fresh isn’t possible.

However…before you eat any plant or flower, do your research. Make absolutely sure that the plant you have in mind is actually edible and that it doesn’t contain ANYTHING harmful or something you may be allergic to. 

Let’s take a look at a few that I grow in my own garden and that I often use in recipes. These will fall into both perennial and annual categories.

EDIBLE PLANTS and FLOWERS

Some edible flowers have tart, bitter or spicy flavours that you can mix and match. These can contribute new flavor profiles to familiar recipes, making the old, new again.

Disclaimer: This listing is for informational purposes only. Any risk of allergy should be researched by the reader before consumption.

EDIBLE ANNUALS

Edible Nasturtiums

NASTURTIUM

(Tropaelum)

Nasturtiums are plants that are typically grown from seed and in turn, these seeds are easily harvested in the fall, making them quite sustainable to grow. 

Their lovely colors often appear brightening up flower boxes or cascading from hanging baskets.

The flowers have a peppery taste, making them perfect as a substitute for any salad recipe that includes radishes and the leaves, washed well, can be added to the leafy greens. 

What a beautiful presentation this makes when coupled with a complimentary, sweet dressing like a raspberry vinaigrette!

This spicy aspect can also be utilized in more savory dishes, like a lovely soup or try adding them to our Slow Cooker Roast with Harvest Vegetables, part of our  Sunday Supper Series.

If a nice charcuterie is more your speed, try swapping the crackers out for nasturtium leaves. That pop of pepper is a delight for the taste buds when filled with sweet fruits or tangy cheeses.

Edible Pansies

PANSY

(Viola tricolor var. hortensis)

In the coolness of spring, when they start to bloom, these give your tongue a mild wintergreen experience. This versatile flavor profile can be used in everything from homemade ice cream and smoothies to salads, soups and stews. 

Due to its gelatinous consistency when blended, it can also act as a thickening agent in some recipes.

The delicate, colorful flowers also add edible beauty to hors d’oeuvres and when candied can be lovely additions to sweet confections like cakes, cupcakes and cookies!

Edible Marigolds

MARILGOLD

(Calendula officinalis)

We’re all familiar with the happy yellow, gold, and orange flowers of the marigolds that protect our tomatoes from invaders in summer. 

But, did you know that some types also have an interesting tangy, peppery taste that pairs nicely with the sweetness of those tomatoes?

While these little beauties may be considered common now, they were quite revered by the Aztecs and used medicinally as well as in religious rites. 

Today, marigolds are a familiar ingredient in delicious Pakistani and Indian cuisine. Yet, it has been discovered that the use of these as edible delights goes back as far as the ancient Greeks.

While adding a kick of peppery spice, they also impart their brilliant color, much like saffron, which is a part of the crocus flower. In fact, marigolds are sometimes referred to as “poor man’s saffron.” 

Depending on the type, the flavor of marigold can range from citrusy to spicy, but both on the subtle side.

Edible Garland Chrysanthemum

GARLAND CHRYSANTHEMUM

(Glebionis Coronaria)

Similar in appearance to the ornamental variety we see in floral bouquets (which are NOT edible), both the leaves and stems of the garland chrysanthemum can be used in salads, soups, stews, and stir-fry dishes. 

If the greens are young enough, the leaves are great in salads as they impart a subtle grassy, herby taste. 

If the plants begin to flower, the leaves will become bitter-tasting, so leaves from young shoots are best. 

In Japanese cuisine, these greens are often lightly steamed and paired with a sesame dressing. The nutty flavor of the dressing is a nice compliment to the grassiness of the greens.

Unlike the leaves from other plants discussed here, garland chrysanthemum leaves also freeze and dry well for later use. 

These can then be ground down into flour to add some extra nutrition to bread recipes.

Edible Geraniums

GERANIUM

(Pelargonium graveolens)

The leaves and flowers of scented geraniums are definitely edible. Due to the essential oils in their leaves, they impart not only a decorative element, with their pretty pastel colors, but also a lovely aroma to both sweet and savory dishes.

Scented geraniums have white, red, pink, or purple flowers with flavors such as apple or lemon, depending on the type. 

Rose geraniums impart a more sophisticated note to puddings, cakes and jellies. Varieties with a lemon scent add a touch of citrusy heaven to salads, ices and teas.

Disclaimer: This listing is for informational purposes only. Any risk of allergy should be researched by the reader before consumption.

EDIBLE PERENNIALS

Edible Lavender

LAVENDER

(Lavandula spp.)

As one of the most popular kitchen herbs to grow, lavender is a natural for our list of edibles. 

Both its flowers and leaves can be used fresh or dried and are best, flavor-wise when paired with fennel, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, and savory.

Unlike other edible ornamentals, where the flavors may limit their use, the application of lavender is limited only by one’s sense of culinary creativity. 

Widely popular for its calming scent, lavender has a sweet, floral flavor, with hints of lemon. The potency of the lavender flowers increases with drying, making them perfect for teas.

Edible Hosta

HOSTA

(Asparagaceae)

Hostas are actually edible when young. In fact, certain cultures have been incorporating them into theri cuisine safely for centuries. The buds and flowers are delicious sauteed in a bit of butter, steamed as a green side dish or fried in tempura. 

These uses impart a flavor similar to lettuce and asparagus and they can nicely be substituted in salads.

Edible Daylilies

DAYLILY

(Hemerocallis)

These lovely blooms, when opened, can be used to add interest to salads, soups and stews as they lend a flavor profile similar to asparagus or summer squash. 

You can also use them to wrap cooked grains, veggies, pates, and spreads just as often seen done with squash blossoms.

Similar to garland chrysanthemums, the flower petals can be dried, ground down and used as flour in baked goods.

Edible Roses

ROSE

(Rosacaea)

While most commonly used to add a sense of elegance to garden beds, roses are actually related to lots of other healthy snacks that we’re familiar with like almonds, apples, apricots, peaches and plums.

Where the leaves of some of the other plants on our list are delicious, rose leaves wouldn’t make for a good addition to foods due to their sharp edges and bitter taste. But, they are fantastic when dried and mixed in a lovely tea blend. 

They have a familiar black tea flavor, but they don’t contain caffeine. It’s the best of both worlds when caffeine isn’t your thing.

The petals though are more versatile. They can be added to a salad with fresh orange or peach slices for a fresh summer meal, outside on a warm evening, and added to a chilled sorbet for dessert.

In Greek cuisine, the petals are mixed with honey and spread over a still-warm slice of local bread, straight from the oven. Nirvana! 

Of course, they can also be candied, drizzled with a simple syrup to decorate desserts. 

Moreover, when the roses are left to go “to seed”, the rose hips are packed with vitamin C and are evidently the most flavorful put of the plant, imparting not a rosey flavour but more of a tangy one, similar to hibiscus flowers.

Edible Borage

BORAGE

(Borago officinalis)

Borage, with its blue, purple, and lavender flowers offers a crisp cucumber-like flavor that has been incorporated into many a meal as far back as Roman times when they first brought it to Britain.

The older the plant becomes, the more pungent the flavour. One has only to remove the hairy threads from the stalk to enjoy it. 

You can cut the older leaves and include them to other leafy greens in salads.

The royal blue flowers can be picked like daisies, “He loves me…he loves me not…”, then nibbled on as a sweet snack. 

These freeze well which means you can also add them to decorate ice bowls or frozen in cubes for more ornate cocktails!

Edible Hollyhocks

HOLLYHOCK

(Alcea rosea)

The last plant on our list is the most versatile, having many of the same uses as many of those above, plus the leaves, roots, flowers and seeds are all edible. 

It’s not just a beautiful flower that adorns many a cottage garden, it’s used in medicines and skincare applications as well.

The leaves can be blanched as you would spinach, or chopped and added to stir-fry dishes. They can also be added to soups and stews or used in place of lettuce leaves for wraps. 

But, unlike the other flowering plants on our list, each part of the hollyhock imparts no particular flavour at all. 

The benefit is that, like lettuce, it provides a strong source of roughage. It’s another one of nature’s little brooms, as they say.

I hope this has inspired you to expand your own edible garden out beyond the gates of your vegetable patch too! Please let me know how it goes and what creative recipes with these plants you’ve come up with.

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