Edible Plants in Garden Design

What we have been experiencing, on a global level, has created a shift in our perspectives on things. Not really a BOOM!-like shift. Since everything has seemingly come to a halt and life has slowed down quite a bit for most, it’s more like a slow, subtle drift from one point of view to another.

Cultivating Gratitude

One change, here at The Olenick House, is in regards to our food supply. Just like a lot of people, we’ve been placing grocery orders for meats and pantry staples online. Brave and generous angels appear with these goods and leave them on our front porch with a smile and a wave. We gratefully reciprocate through our front door window.

Grocery delivery during covid-19

Where would we be without these kind souls willing to provide this type of essential service? Or more yet….without the farmers, heroically carrying on with their agricultural efforts? This, despite how hard-hit the more rural areas have been by this health crisis.

Asking what would happen if our food supply chain were interrupted, is not necessarily an alarmist question. When asked from a curious yet calm position, it is more an intelligent question, worthy of an answer. Darren and I have called it, “A Plan-B in our back pocket”.

A Growing History

We’ve grown fruits and vegetables in our home garden for years. For obvious reasons, we’ve ramped up our yield goals this year. This isn’t an out-of-the-ordinary concept though, historically speaking.

Antique victory garden poster

During WWI and WWII, people throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia were encouraged to grow fruits and vegetables on their own land as a way to contribute to the war effort. Millions of “Victory Gardens” were cultivated. Crops grown were donated and shared while also keeping the larders of the growers filled, making up a significant percentage of the food supply in these countries during wartime.

Currently, we find ourselves in a similarly challenging time. In that, extra efforts must be made to keep the food supply chains moving. Victory gardens are seen popping up all over countries hardest hit by this pandemic.

To expand on the victory garden concept, Darren and I have been considering ways to increase our yield by adding ornamental yet edible plants to other parts of our gardens. Edibles don’t have to be limited to just the vegetable patch. Some annuals and perennials, often incorporated into garden design, are edible and surprisingly tasty!

Let’s take a look at a few in each category…

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

Annuals

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum)

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.

Nasturtiums

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.

Pansies (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.

Pansies

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!

Marigolds (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?

Marigolds

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.

Garland Chrysanthemum (Glebionis coronaria)

Purple Chrysanthemum

Similar in appearance to the ornamental variety we see in floral bouquets (which are NOT recommended as 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.

Geraniums (Pelargonium graveolens)

Geranium blossom

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.

Perennials

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.

Lavender by the sea

English Lavender, which is what we grow here at The Olenick House, has the sweetest fragrance of all the lavenders. 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.  Lavender, widely popular for its calming scent, has a sweet, floral flavor, with hints of lemon.  The potency of the lavender flowers increases with drying, making them perfect for teas.

Hostas (Asparagaceae)

Flowering Hostas

Hostas are surprisingly edible when young. In fact, certain cultures have been incorporating them 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.

Daylily (Hemerocallis)

Daylily bloom

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.

Rose (Rosacaea)

Rose

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.

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.

Borage

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!

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.

Hollyhock border

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.

Rhubarb hedge

Please let us know what your favorite gardening activities are, we’d love to hear from you! Any plant information or gardening tips you like to read about? Drop us a note in the comments below. Thank you!

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