Thoughts on edible ornamentals

I’ve been thinking about the plight of those who want to grow vegetables, and have restrictive HOAs that forbid it.

I think a potential great thing we could do as a community is to make an edible ornamental mixed packet next year. Preferably two, one with annuals and one with perennials. That may be very helpful for people who want a way to grow food in a difficult situation. It may also be great for people who want edible ornamentals for some other reason. It may be great for public spaces such as park landscaping, too.

It would be particularly valuable for that purpose if there’s no concern about messiness, probably with a focus on edible leaves and flowers rather than fruit that will get rotten if it’s not eaten.

What do you think?

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What’s a HOA?

Oh, good question! I guess that means you’ve never had to deal with one. That’s great!

Homeowner’s Association. It’s like a very local government. There’s a monthly HOA fee that everyone has to pay (sometimes hundreds of dollars), and in return, the HOA makes sure everyone who lives there is restricted from lowering everyone else’s property values in terrible ways such as growing plants besides grass, installing solar panels, painting their doors different colors, or any other such nonconforming behavior.

I’ve lived in a community that had one. We spent over a decade there. Gardening of any kind was forbidden, except in our postage-stamp-sized full-shade back yards, in which growing anything was almost impossible. When we moved, we chose a house that had no HOA and came with a 1/5 acre of land, most of the back yard in full sun. (My husband thought, “Space for the kids to play!” I thought, “Garden!” We’ve agreed to do both. :slight_smile:)

In some cities, it’s hard to find any houses without an HOA, so people who don’t want them are often stuck with them. I figure if we can help those people grow food if they want to, that’s a nice thing to do.

Corn-- I grew a giant tall Oaxacan variety that was quite ornamental outside my house. Next year they will be planted in clumps with pole beans so they get held up-- biggest problem was they would fall over and not look as good.
Borage-- flowers literally all summer long and bumblebees are obsessed with it.
Peruvianum-- ornamental with long blooming giant flowers, but I suppose needs enough of them to get pollinated properly. And they take over. But they’re lovely for a big space that needs covering up.
Red Amaranth and Red Orach-- soo tall and pretty
Artichoke-- but the prettiest time is after they’re edible phase unfortunately.
Chia-- tall with pretty purple flowers
I’ll have to come back to this in the spring so I remember what to plant!

Okra is absolutely beautiful, and so is nasturtium.
An interesting website dedicated to edible ornamentals, based out of Norway.

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I know this is a zombie thread I’m resurrecting, but it showed up in suggested topics and I couldn’t resist.

I’m currently in an HOA that’s moderately restrictive, and I think this is a brilliant idea. I spend a lot of time working within/around my covenants to provide some extra food security for my family. I feel like everyone deserves the right to grow food at whatever level they’re able.

A thought that occurs to me… there are other circumstances that lead to similar limitations as being in an HOA… apartment living for example. Condos which might come with not only limited to no gardening space, but ALSO HOAs or similar rules. Etc etc etc. For me, at least, this is where things like growing polycultures in pots come in.
I know my HOA doesn’t say a word about potted plants as long as they’re not a really ugly visual nuisance (so, for example, a large blighted tomato plant on my front porch would probably earn me a letter.) Pretty dwarf tomatoes, ornamental peppers, some trailing nasturtiums with cilantro grouped into a large pot? Just looks like flowers to them, and they wouldn’t even notice it was food.

Since this thread seems to have gone dormant back in Feb. I’m not sure if this is still something that’s being considered, but I volunteer to be part of the brainstorming/planning/whatever if it ever is. :slight_smile:

I am pushing the boundaries of HOA. The rules say no vegetables in the front yard. This is what I started this year.

Canna lilies just coming up. This who area was overshadowed by Tithonia which I removed just today. The bulbs and roots are edible. Grown in Australia as Queensland Arrowroot. The seeds are ground and added to tortillas in Mexico. In rural areas of India, Canna is used in the production of an alcoholic drink called raksi. Canna is a distant relative of Heliconia and bananas. The leaves are today commonly used to wrap tamales.

Down below two large Sea Holly plants are coming along. Both the immature leaves and the roots of sea holly are edible. The shoots are sometimes grown using the blanching technique and served as an asparagus substitute. The roots, boiled or roasted, taste like chestnuts.

In between the Sea Holly I believe (kind of lost track) are Cockscomb. Cockscomb is a popular ingredient in many parts of the world, all the way from Africa to Indonesia and India. Its stem, leaves and flowers are used for stews, soups and as sides to meat and poultry. It can be eaten as a snack, in dressings or smoothies, or sauteed with salt and pepper as a side dish.

Also in there is liriope. According to PFAF it is edible and medicinal though with low scores in both. Lilyturf is said to have the root cooked as well as candied and used medicinally. The roots sometimes have a fleshy, tuberous part near their tip. I will take PFAF’s word for it. But in a survival scenario I guess its good to also have in the garden.

The bush is Texas Sage, which can have the leaves dried and used to prepare a medicinal tea. They say it has antimicrobial properties and commonly used for decongestant, cough remedy and difficulty sleeping. They also seem to have studies on it as to if it promotes good liver health. I have to take their word on it as I have not used it yet.

Not to be confused with Canna lily are the Calla lily.

Calla lily is definitely not recommended for consumption as it is high in oxalates. Stick to the big Canna lily.

Coleus is definitely not edible and can cause intestinal upset. But I hid behind the Coleus some of my Strawberry seedlings. Let’s see if the HOA notices :upside_down_face:

Monkey Grass is not listed as poisonous but it is also not listed as edible or medicinal. So I just let it grow and do its thing.

The Blue Foss Flower (ageratum) is starting to go to seed and all parts of the plant are poisonous and may be harmful to pets or humans if ingested. It is a pretty plant and when the flowers are fresh quite pretty so I will try to collect seed and regrow this next year.

The African Daisy is about to flower. The petals are said to be edible and the stems and leaves tolerable and some folks add them to their salads. They are said to not be poisonous to pets.

Lambs ear is edible and in some parts of the world it is used as a herb. It is said to taste like a combination of apples and pineapples for those of you more adventurous to add it to your routine.

Oil from Lambs ear is said to be antiseptic, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory and used for ear pain, salves made with beeswax used by some for hemorrhoid relief, and teas and tinctures can be made.

Like catnip, catmint is edible. Culinary herbalists typically use it in sauces, teas, salads and soups. No effect on cats as with catnip.

Yarrow is edible. The leaves can be used in almost any dish as a vegetable, added to soups and sauces, or simply boiled and simmered in butter as a side dish. The flowering tops can be sprinkled on salads and dishes as a condiment or decoration. Yarrow leaves and flowers can be dried and ground into a spice. Yarrow leaves can be used fresh in a salad.

Popular in European folk medicine, yarrow contains flavonoids, plant-based chemicals that increase saliva and stomach acid to help improve digestion. Yarrow may also relax smooth muscle in the intestine and uterus, which can relieve stomach and menstrual cramps.

Daylilies are a popular staple in Asian cuisine and they are used both fresh and dried. Every part of the daylily plant is edible: you can pluck the young shoots, boil the tubers like potatoes, or spruce up your salads with its bright orange petals.

Not all lily are edible, so make sure you can identify which ones are first.

Many people don’t realize that the common garden flower, Hollyhock, is completely edible – root, leaves and blossoms.

The seed, root, stem, leaf, and flower are used as medicine. Hollyhock is used for pain, stomach ulcers, wound healing, diabetes, and many other conditions all without scientific evidence to support it yet.

It took me three years to find creeping thyme seeds because I was always trying to buy them in bulk to use as a ground cover. I finally found a tiny packet of seeds and just bought it and started my first creeping thyme this year.

Creeping thyme is a vining plant that creates an excellent ground cover for rock and herb gardens. It can be used as both as a culinary or medicinal herb. It attracts beneficial insects

Dahlia tubers can be eaten raw or cooked. It is best to peel them, as the flavor of the skin is often unpleasant. The flavor of dahlia tubers changes with storage. When first harvested, they are crisp and fairly bland, with a taste something like celery.

Marigold is one of the popular edible flowers which has been used from ancient times. What other parts of the Marigold are edible.

Common wormwood (Artemisia absinthium ) is a perennial herb used in the alcoholic beverages absinthe and vermouth. The bitter-tasting plant has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes to reduce pain and swelling and to treat digestion problems, intestinal worms, and skin infections.

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is an herb used in the alcoholic drinks vermouth and absinthe. Its oil contains the chemical thujone, which most medical pages will err on the safe side and say may be poisonous.

The thujone in wormwood oil excites the central nervous system and can cause seizures and other adverse effects. Other chemicals in wormwood might decrease swelling.

Tobacco is highly nutritious but in its raw state contains nicotine (a natural pesticide spray you can make soaking dried tobacco leaves in water) which negates any nutritional properties it has. Even if someone tried to eat the leaves in their raw state, they would get sick from nicotine poisoning. That’s why when European colonists were starving to death, they didn’t try turning their tobacco crops into salads. :upside_down_face:

The oldest archaeological evidence of tobacco residue in a smoke pipe dates back 3000 years ago—around the same time people in modern Alabama, where the pipe was found, began cultivating foods like sunflower and squash.

It has been chewed, smoked or snorted by people for its dopamine-boosting effects in the brain. Though the nutritional benefits of tobacco have been known for years, it’s still an untapped resource—largely thanks to the this stigma attached to the crop.

Properly ripened Lantana berries are edible and create jams and jellies. However, unripe green berries are mildly toxic to humans. The plant should in general be considered toxic to livestock.

Like hostas and kousa dogwoods, zinnias have turned out to be edible. The flowers are eaten by gardeners in the know; however, the reviews are that they lean to the bitter side of things.

By law when I removed the front shade tree that was growing into the house I have to replace it with another tree. So I chose the Ornamental Peppermint Peach. The photograph is not mine but will show what the flowers look like.

Mathematically no two flowers will ever be identical but will be completely unique mixtures of white, pink and red tones. It does make fruit, but so far I’ve picked them off as the tree has just been planted and is about 10 feet tall unlike the one in the first photograph above I am growing mine out to full height which should stop at 20 feet tall and not grow into my house.

The Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) is a perennial plant that can grow up to 3 m tall and is native to Mexico and Central Africa. You can find this flower in shades of red, yellow, and orange. The leaves and flowers are edible and can be used for garnishing.

[no photo, various rose mallows]

Some of the mallow plants have edible uses. I have lost track of which ones I planted so I am not using them for anything other than growing in difficult areas I had trying to establish plants.

For the Swamp Rose Mallow as an example, the leaf buds and young leaves of the swamp rose mallow can be consumed as well as the flowers. The leaf buds can be cooked or eaten raw. The young leaves have a mild taste with a gelatinous consistency that can be added to salads.

Wood conch mushrooms are not considered edible. In traditional Chinese medicines they have been used to treat indigestion, alleviate pain and reduce heat. In my garden they convert the cellulose in buried logs I accepted as part of the deliveries of multiple arborist woodchips for my garden into new soil over time.

Famous mushroom enthusiast Paul Stamets has hunted the forests looking for powerful allies to fight anthrax, and that tapping into some of the antibiotical systems that these mushrooms produce would be a logical first step. Some of his mushroom discoveries were though to be a Smallpox Defense as well.

In general the proper identification of mushrooms into poisonous and non poisonous is a decently in depth study and even the experts make mistakes every once in a while. So I just have a healthy respect for them in the garden for there ultimate powers as “The Teeth of The Forrest”. Eating up cellulose matter and converting it back to new soils.

A quick one from the backyard, every part of the Moringa tree is edible. The leaves, pods, seeds, flowers, even its root.

Although some might say its not super looking, some have looked to the Moringa tree as a potential super food. I am too cold in the winters for the tree to stay perennial so mine die to the ground but readily grow back from the root stock the following year.

Wow. I didn’t expect this reply to turn into a tour of my front flower garden. But looking at everything I am growing I am even surprised at myself at how much I am thumbing the HOAs nose in it, and all the silly people who write such silly rules when most everything they think is a pretty ornamental flower is really a food or medicinal plant. Next year I might even (gasp) plant a bronze fennel out front! :wink:

Not every plant and flower in the front has made it to this post. I had just randomly taken photographs this morning and had no intention of posting them here.

I am happy with my front flower garden for year one results. :slight_smile:


This is awesome, and a brilliant tour and collection of ideas. I’m glad you are doing this, and thank you for sharing it all with us!

Thank you. As with my backyard food garden the system I set up in the front yard flower garden is also zero watering so far this year. No fertilizers and No sprays.

Awesome. I’d like my front yard to be tolerant of zero water and do just fine. I live in a desert, so that’s probably a bit much to ask, but I’m still doing the best I can towards that goal. Ideally, I want it to be fully of ornamental edible perennials (or self-sowing annuals) that are really drought tolerant and will be perfectly happy getting all of their water in winter.

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I’ve found that hollyhocks are phenomenal as desert ornamental edibles.

They’re beautiful, they self-sow easily (all the hollyhocks in my front yard are volunteers from my neighbor’s small patch), and they’ll sprout, grow, flower, and set seeds just fine with zero irrigation in a desert. And, of course, they are edible. I consider them to taste okay, which is good enough to allow to stay when they volunteer, look pretty, and take no effort on my part. They’re perennials, so they’re always where they were last year, and I usually get several in new places every year. I tend to leave them alone, so I end up with more volunteers that stay permanently every year. Sure, works for me!

The ones in other people’s gardens that are irrigated look much prettier. The leaves are lush and glossy, and so are the flowers, which are bigger and showier. Still, my plants with the sandpapery holey leaves, which are brown and withery at the bottom by the end of the summer, survive just fine and keep on growing. With no irrigation at all. And the flowers, while less showy, are still very nice. That works for me!

@NotFaeGardener Are you volunteering to be the ‘edible ornamental’ seed steward? Not sure how or if that works just being encouraging :slight_smile:

Thank you so much for sharing this Peter! Have you considered writing an ebook on this topic? I think you should!

I have black hollyhocks and they’re definitely my favorite ornamental volunteer for exactly these reasons… they don’t require me to water or pamper them, the flowers are always gorgeous, and if grasshoppers make the bottom half look more like lace than leaves, oh well. I just try to keep most of the volunteers under-planted with something that’ll hide the worst of the bare spots.

I’m not necessarily against the idea. It would definitely require some thinking/planning to make it practical, though, if the target audience is people with HOA limitations or similar restrictions that make traditional gardening difficult or impossible. Rules can vary so widely.

On the other hand, I can already imagine some possibilities – like a mix of annuals for an HOA resident including some promiscuous short-season dwarf tomato seeds, ornamental pepper seeds, basil seeds, and some sort of attractive annual flower… the idea being that depending on restrictions the mix could be planted in a large pot (like, 18+"), or else worked into a flower bed alongside more typical landscaping if that’s allowed.

I’m currently working on finding places to incorporate perennial Kale into my own landscaping… maybe kales and even some of the attractive winter-hardy Asian greens could end up in a non-fruit annual ornamental mix?

Perennials is where it might be harder to come up with widely useful mixes, since HOA restrictions vary so much. I’m actually required to have a certain number of “shrubs” on my property, which is how I get away with having a stand of sandhill plums out back, and fruit-bearing bushes, etc. But some have much tighter limits. I’d have to think on this one some more.

Sweet potatoes or nasturtiums for ground cover, chives or onions for vertical grassy interest, brassicas both as early herbal and as mid season bloomers. Potatoes are actually quite ornamental.

I wouldn’t suggest tomatoes or squashes, they’re just too recognizable, but amaranth or quinoa makes a great show. Maybe sorghum, although you’re likely to get busy bodies reporting you because it looks like corn.

Lots of possibilities.


Mashua is a type of nasturtium that makes edible roots, right? And very few people know it exists. And it flowers. That may make for a very nice pick.

I have grown them in my front yard for 3 years now. Your are right that most folks can’t recognize them they simply think they are lovely flowers especially since they are planted around my daylily… my micro dwarf tomatoes are not recognized as food but make lovely cherry tomatoes. On the subject of squash I had a single plant growing by its self and got asked by experienced gardeners what type tropical plant I had growing…

Hee hee hee hee! Which squash species?