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by Anja Lowrence, Master Gardener, SCMG

Enjoy your flowers two ways: food for both your eyes and taste buds!

Have you ever wondered if there were things in your garden that you can eat? I’m not referring to those plants in your raised bed or veggie garden, but some of the ornamental ones you planted for the leaves or flowers.


CAUTION: Many plants contain compounds to protect themselves and many of these are toxic. Be sure that you have correct identification (botanical name) and do not eat any plant or part of a plant if you are unsure of it’s identification.


Do you like asparagus? Emerging Solomon’s Seal leaf spears can be eaten like asparagus. Hosta spears can also be eaten like asparagus … if you make it out there before the snails! These spears can be cut off at ground level and steamed or grilled for your evening veggie. Be aware that if you take too many spears, you can weaken the root or even kill the plant.


Have you heard of fiddleheads? These are the unfurling leaves of the Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). In the winter you can often identify the brown spore producing frond standing above the snow. As the weather warms, the 6-8 sterile fronds can be seen growing from the base of the fern. It is important to know what type of fern you are growing as some ferns (i.e. Bracken fern, Pteridium aquilinum) are known to be carcinogenic.


If you would like to have some cool tropical appearing plants that are edible, you might want to try artichokes and cardoons! These are both fairly large plants (2 m tall with a spread of ~2 m) with spiky leaves that deer & rabbits will likely shy away from. The flower bud is eaten for the artichoke while the tender young leaves from the cardoon can be eaten … if you stay away from those spikes! These plants are biennials, meaning that, when started from seed, the first year they only have the basal leaves and it is not until the second year that they flower.


Did you know that you could make an entire salad from flowers? Hosta flowers are very sweet and tasty; Nasturtiums are spicy, peppery;  and violets flowers are sweet. Add a few nutty flavoured Scarlet runner bean flowers, a garlicky chive flower, some pretty primrose flowers and serve with a simple White Balsamic vinegar, EVOO, salt and pepper dressing. Don’t forget to add some pretty blue Borage flowers as a garnish. In some cultures Borage flowers are sugared and used as garnish for cakes and cupcakes.


Those large squash flower can be fried, stuffed or consumed in your salad. Fried squash flowers, either battered or stuffed with a mild cheese, make an interesting appetizer. Stuffed flowers can also be eaten raw. Be sure to select the male flowers only, as the female flowers produce the fruit. Male flowers have a longer slender stalk as compared to female flower, which has a more bulbous stalk that is the ovary which develops into the squash.


Some people have started foraging for food in the wild, such as wild leeks also known as ramps. I strongly discourage foraging in our forests for food. While this practice was sustainable even half a century ago, today’s overcrowded world cannot keep up with people searching woods for plants that can take up to seven years to mature, trampling other plants in the pursuit of a wild leek. Please encourage consumption of only home grown plants rather than wild foraging.


Another note of caution: Never eat anything if you unless you are 100% positive it is edible. Also, do not consume any plants that have been sprayed by pesticides.