Edible Flowers Expand the Palette for the Palate
Dannielle Swan was flipping through seed catalogs, picking out the flowers she wanted to grow on her Field to Heart farm when descriptions of edible flowers captured her attention. Intrigued, she ordered several varieties and planted them alongside rows of cut flowers on her Snohomish, Washington flower farm.
Field to Heart has featured edible blossoms ranging from nasturtiums and pansies to gem marigolds and carnations since 2013. During that time, Swan has earned a reputation for growing flowers that are both colorful and flavorful.
“A lot of cut flowers are edible but it’s great to see the flavors of these flowers getting more attention,” she says. “Since edible flowers are a new trend, it’s still an experimental process but it’s spurred me to buying more seeds with dual functionality.”
As the popularity of edible flowers blossomed, the perfumed petals have moved from garnishes on the side of the plate to colorful main ingredients.
Swan sells edible flowers to local restaurants and bakeries, including The Pink Door and Pacific Northwest Cupcakes, where the colorful blooms are used in everything from salads and pastas to cakes. When the Slow Flower Summit was held in Seattle last summer, Swan supplied pansies, violas, and nasturtiums for specialty cocktails.
Between June and September, Field to Heart also offers Community Supported Floriculture (CSF) shares that include weekly packages of edible flowers as well as cut flower bouquets.
Beautiful AND Edible
Though there are countless edible flower varieties, Swan has a few favorites. She recommends ‘Painted Lady’ scarlet runner beans in shades of pink, red, orange, and white as whimsical additions to salads; the colorful petals from bachelor buttons as decorative accents on cupcakes; and the sweet, spicy taste of ‘Lace Perfume’ carnations added to anything made with chocolate.
“Edible flowers are a decorative and a sensory experience,” she explains. “It’s exciting to see more people developing an interest in them.”
As interest has grown, so has the farm.
Dannielle launched Field to Heart on one-eighth of an acre of land where she grew a mix of edible and cut flowers, selling bouquets, CSF shares, and fulfilling orders from wholesalers and retailers. In 2017, she moved to a farm with a one-acre garden plot and low tunnels for season extension; plans to add at least one high tunnel will further expand production of both cut and edible flowers.
A larger space requires a lot more work to manage—and Swan is still working on embracing a less manicured farm.
“Farming flowers is a lot of work,” she says. “Once you have systems in place and get organized, it gets easier, but moving to a bigger place threw things off for us a little and we’re working to get back on track.
Field to Heart is not certified organic but, because several varieties of their flowers are grown to be eaten, Swan does not use any chemicals so keeping on top of pests and weeds requires extra attention.
“We want to focus on growing fantastic flowers, and that means we sometimes have to put on blinders and ignore the weeds, or spend more time figuring out how to deal with things like thrips,” Swan adds.
Wholesale Works for Edibles
Focusing on wholesale business helps manage the workload.
“I like the practice of wholesale,” Swan says. “There is a lot less legwork [than direct-to-consumer] because we can do a bulk cut and hand it over and we can get a lot more product to the wholesale market at once.”
Almost two-thirds of the flowers grown on Field to Heart farm are sold via wholesale channels, including the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market.
But wholesale has its challenges. Because Swan is not a member of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, the flowers are offered on consignment and unsold blooms must be marketed via other channels. Swan developed relationships with a local co-op that purchases her flowers; others are bundled into bouquets for CSF customers.
For Swan, the other “challenge” of having more space is much more fun: She is tasked with choosing which flowers to plant. In addition to edible and cut flower favorites, Swan likes experimenting with new varieties.
This season, Swan planted buzz button, Acmella oleracea, an edible annual with a bright yellow bud and a tart flavor that causes the mouth to “buzz” when it’s consumed; ‘Seaton’s J’Adore’ carnations; and bunny tail grass. All three were a hit. In the future, she plans to plant a witch hazel orchard, featuring the shrub in bouquets and as an edible medicinal plant.
As Swan learns more about edible flowers, she learns from past mistakes and tweaks her approach to make smarter growing decisions—and in the process, she enjoys every day she spends working on the farm. “I’m always looking for new things to grow, and am always inspired by the flowers I’m growing.” she says.