A tasty and attractive short lived perennial plant with unusual leaves and lovely large pink flowers. It can grow in almost all soil types and can tolerate some light shade.
Malva moschata or musk mallow is a relative of the better known marsh mallow, whose roots in times past were use to make the confections of the same name.
I started growing this after reading about it in ‘How to grow Perennial Vegetables’ by Martin Crawford. I’ll have to blog more on this book at a later date as I’ve found it to be an amazing resource. Out of the types he listed: hollyhocks, wood mallow, marsh mallow and musk mallow I found, at the time, the musk mallow seeds the easiest to purchase. All mallows are supposed to edible (but don’t eat them unless you’re sure of your identification and do your own research to check that the specific one that you’re eating is definitely edible) but I think only these ones are listed because the others are biennial or annuals.
How to grow
These can be grown from seed either in autumn or in spring. If growing these for the first time I’d suggest sowing in a pot indoors if possible, to help with identification when the seedling appears. It can then be planted out after frosts. I originally sowed mine in autumn and kept it indoors through the winter where it grew fairly slowly. It then was a strong little plant in the spring.
It can tolerate all types of soil but prefers a moist soil that drains well. I’ve read that it should NOT be fertilised as it can accumulate harmful levels of nitrates in the leaves. Apparently, it is the same with lettuces. It likes full sun but can tolerate light shade. Ours are in a pot which only gets sun from about 1pm onwards and they’re happy.
It has the strangest leaves though. They become more divided as the plant flowers. This makes for interesting pressed leaves or sunprints (which I’ll do a blog on at some point too). In the set of pics of the flowers you can see all the different leaves.
The flowering period runs from July to September, but we have had some flowers in late June before.
It is an evergreen plant and will keep a few leaves at the base, even if the frosts come. However, it is a short-lived perennial but it does self-seed quite happily (even my voracious 5 year old doesn’t manage to eat ALL the flowers before they have a chance to set seed). You won’t notice the oldest plant has died if you have a few that are a year or so old filling in the gaps.
How to harvest
Help yourself to leaves and flowers as of and when they’re there. After flowering, the unripe seed pods can be eaten. I’ve read that they are called cheeses due to their shape. These only have a short window of opportunity before they ripen and become hard seeds. That isn’t a problem as it means you’ll be able to save seeds for next year or let it self seed.
How they taste
I’ve been trying to grow a plethora of edible flowers. Edible is not synonymous with tasty. Things like artichoke buds are gorgeous steamed, borage makes a fun cucumbery snack, nasturtiums are tasty but a bit spicy when raw to eat many of, pansies have a wintergreen flavour (think ‘deep heat’ spray) and then there’s sunflower or dahlia petals which are nicely nutty but many varieties are bitter. Some taste like the rest of the plant, like brassica flowers or herb flowers. Some are just deeply bitter and I find it hard pressed to call them food, though they make a lovely garnish like fuchsias or Siberian purslane. I’m still growing fuchsia in the hope that one of the varieties I grow will produce tasty berries (all are edible but not all taste good).
Musk mallow is a delicate, beautiful flower that grows prolifically in season and tastes lovely raw. It has a lettuce like flavour so goes very well on top of salads or, as it happens in our garden, as a snack as soon as the petals open. If you’ve beaten the bees to it (and the bees do love it) you’ll also get a lovely sweetness to it. The flowers have a slight musky smell if you put your nose in close – hence the name. The musky smell is not noticeable when eating though.
The leaves have a lettuce like taste again, but they also have a slightly mucilaginous feel which is probably why they can be used to thicken soups or stews.
There are plenty of edible flowers that can be both beautiful and tasty. There are some that taste a bit rubbish or look a bit boring and there are some that you may already eat without thinking about it.
I have tried hard to maintain my “if I can’t eat it then I won’t grow it rule “so of course my little one has consistently kept up a campaign of asking for flowers. She absolutely loves flowers. I have in my ‘lockdown, terrible home teacher, nanny TV, trying to squeeze working in and ignoring her’ guilt, caved. During our lockdown exercise walks (where photos of lovely things were gathered for ‘My Beautiful neighbourhood 2’) little one saw lots of beautiful, scented wisteria over many lovely houses. Near the start of lockdown, around April/ May they were glorious in their purple clustered beauty. I agreed to get one, but only because the Thompson and Morgan website, that I purchased the flowers from, said that wisteria flowers were edible.
Wisteria: The flowers are the only edible part of the plant and can be made into an aromatic wine.All other parts of wisteria are poisonous.
We won’t of course eat it till more research is done. That’s a problem for future me anyway as it won’t bloom for a least a year. Apparently, it can take up to 15 years for a wisteria to bloom. In hindsight I have realised that this is probably going to be a mistake. Wisteria also lives to a ripe old age and can get very very large. I’m sure my very small garden will not be able to support it without some very heavy-handed pruning. Future me will not be grateful for current me being bested by a 4 year old.
Whilst I was at it, possibly still under the influence of terrible lockdown parenting guilt, I bought seeds for dahlias, forget me nots, aquilegia, and a variety of violets…. And er… some fuchsia plants as I know these are edible. Apparently, some taste better than others. As a bonus, fuchsia berries are also edible.
So now, I thought it might be worth writing about some edible flowers. If you thought about it, you’d probably realise that you already eat some flowers. You may also be growing edible flowers as ornamentals.
We have in the past grown, or are currently growing a few edible flowers. Where flowers are highlighted (in red), hover for a link you can click on for more info on the plant.
Broccoli or cauliflowers (the clue being in the name) are the flower buds of the plant. Sprouting broccoli is basically the flowering shoots. You can also eat the flowering shoots of kales, Turkish rocket or radishes too.
Chard – Beta vulgaris
You can eat the flowering shoots of the chard, though the flowers are not much to look at. Different coloured chard can be grown as ornamentals too with their interesting coloured stems. The young flowers shoots are very tender when cooked and taste like spinach.
It is the young flower buds that are eaten. These are great boiled for 20 mins, then you eat the fleshy bottom of each ‘petal’. They make an excellent vegetable with plenty to eat. If left to mature the flower resembles a thistle and is loved by bees.
Squash flowers – species within the Cucurbita genus
We very rarely eat the flowers because we want the female flowers to develop into squashes/courgettes and the males are crushed a little in hand pollinating. So, I’ve only eaten the flowers when there are an abundance of male flowers and no female ones. However, the female flowers with their young squashes would make a beautiful dish. Both sexes are versatile and fun to cook with. The pistil and stamens (the sticky out reproductive bits) need to be removed. They can be stuffed with cheese and baked, fried in butter or steamed. They taste much like the squashes do.
We can’t really get enough of these. It’s amazing to find such large, lovely flowers that taste good. They are really quite spicy with a watercress taste so may not be everyone’s cup of tea. We have a lovely climbing variety that self seeds every year. The leaves are also edible, and cooking makes the flavour much milder so even the little one will eat quite a bit. The petals are great sprinkled on hot food to wilt them and reduce the spiciness. They have a little cone of nectar at the back that my little one sometimes pulls off to suck.
This is my little munchkin’s favourite snack flower. She will happily graze on these cucumber tasting beauties that bees also love. They look lovely in ice cubes and work well in Pimms and in gin.
Violets – Violaceae
These gorgeous little flowers have a wintergreen flavour, which is like a minty/menthol taste. Pansies are also from the violet family and can be eaten. Little viola tricoloreating (also called heartsease, johnny jump ups and wild pansies) are very mild due to their size and are also gorgeous frozen into ice cubes.
We don’t grow these but we have foraged for them or our neighbour sometimes drops some round from their tree. The flowers make great cordial and sweet fritters. They basically taste how they smell, with a lovely floral yumminess. Do not eat the leaves or stems.
Calendula – Calendula officinalis
This one comes up quite often on lists of edible flowers. They can be grown easily from seed and give a lovely splash of orange for long periods. I’m afraid we didn’t like these much. They taste a bit bitter. The petals can be sprinkled into salad though for a bit of colour.
Chrysanthemum – Chrysanthemum
This is one we have grown as ‘chop suey greens’, so say the seed packets. They have a strong taste that I remember from childhood (it’s sometimes used in Chinese cooking), but it’s not one that I’m sure I like. Cooking doesn’t change the flavour much. It’s a specific flavour that is difficult to describe. Chrysanthemum tea is rather pleasant though.
Cornflower (bachelor’s button) – Centaurea cyanus
Little one loved the colour of these as they are indeed beautiful. Bees also like them. We don’t bother to eat these anymore though as the texture of the petals is a bit papery and the taste is a bit bland.
Roses – Rosaceae
We are only growing these because they were here when we moved in. I was going to dig them up and replace with fruit bushes or kales, but they were beautiful, smelled lovely and the little dictator forbade it. I’ve read that all rose petals are edible, but not all taste good. Where the petal attaches to the base should be removed as it is often bitter. We don’t eat these often, but we do love making crystallised rose petals.
Musk mallow – Malva moschata
Marshmallow (althaea officinalis) flowers (and leaves) are edible. Their roots used to be used as a thickener for the sweets that carry their name. We’ve been growing musk mallows from the same family. These rather large pale pink flowers taste a bit like a sweeter version of lettuce.
There are of course plenty of flowers of vegetables and herbs that can be eaten that basically taste like the rest of the parts that you are used to eating.
Watercress – Nasturtium officinale
These tiny flowers pack a punch. They have that same peppery taste as the leaves when raw (with a bit of sweetness), but like the leaves, are much milder and really tasty boiled.
Winter Purslane flowers (claytonia perfoliate) have the same lettuce like taste. Siberian purslane (claytonia sibirica) are prettier and pink, unfortunately they have quite a bitter earthy taste, like the rest of the plant. Summer purslane (portulaca oleracea) has pretty little yellow flowers and have the same refreshing sour tang as the leaves.
It does seem a shame to eat the flowers when they could develop into something more. However, we’ve been growing lots of peashoots from cheap, supermarket bought dried peas in lockdown and when these are left to grow a bit too much the flowers develop. Because these are dried peas for eating rather than growing – the pea pods produced are rubbish. We eat the pea tasting flowers with some of the shoot attached as an easy garden snack or as a salad addition.
We’ve eaten three cornered leeks, Chinese chives, chives and wild garlic flowers. They all basically taste of some mix of garlic and/or onion. All the alliums have edible flowers that taste like the rest of the plant. They make great garnishes or go great for that garlicky or oniony kick in salads. Cooking makes the taste milder and sweeter in all the ones we’ve tried.
Oregano, marjoram, rosemary, mint, coriander and dill flowers have been used in our cooking the same way we use the leaves. The flowers are generally small and unremarkable, but they do make pretty garnishes. We especially love the dill flowers because we think they look like little fireworks. The coriander and dill can be used in fairly heavy quantities in salads too.
This is the first fuchsia flower we have ever grown. Apparently all fuchsias are edible but they vary in taste. The berries are also edible, but again they vary in taste. We of course had to taste it (literally this morning). The petals were pleasantly succulent. It tasted a bit peppery with a slightly bitter after taste. I doubt they’ll survive to berry stage if my little one, with her fondness of picking all our flowers, has anything to do with it. There are a couple more varieties still to bloom in the garden so we’ll have to wait to be sure if these are worth growing.
I’ve been trying to introduce bellflowers, purple clover and daisies into the lawn for both colour and food but have so far been rather unsuccessful. I’ve also been trying to grow daylilies and dahlias. The dahlias have become happy little plants, but no flowers so far. Dahlias flowers (and tubers) are edible, but they can taste very different. Hopefully I’ll continue to find edible flowers that I love that I can share with you in another post.
These, below, aren’t dahlias that we’ve grown but are photos I took in the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall as an example of how beautiful they are. Didn’t think it was acceptable (or safe) to taste them. That will have to wait till we’ve grown our own.
Please don’t eat anything that you cannot confidently recognise. Please also do some research and read sites that you feel are trustworthy for information. Please also be aware that you may have unknown allergies e.g. if you have a ragwort allergy – chamomile tea is not advised. My daughter used to be allergic to watermelons. This was connected to ragwort pollen allergies. Luckily, she has grown out of it. My brother-in-law has a raw apple allergy and that is connected to birch tree pollen allergy. Anyway, the point is – try a small amount of anything new first after you are sure it is edible. There are similar looking species like the three cornered garlic flowers look much like white bluebells, though the allium smell of the flower is unmistakeable. Bluebells, lily of the valley, snowdrops and foxglove, amongst others, are really very toxic.
Worrying – but necessary to mention. Still, there are plenty of flowers that are already in a typical diet and there are plenty more that can be added. You might be surprised how beautiful a salad can be.