Wondering what to do with your perennial flowers this time of year – flowers, seed pods, roots! Here are a few flowering favorites and how to make the most of your perennials this fall.
Harvesting Perennial Flowers for Food, Medicine and Seed
First, let’s take care of a little lingo.
Don’t let the fancy, botanical word “perennial” scare you off. A perennial plant is one that grows year after year on the same roots.
By contrast, an annual is a plant that starts and ends it’s life cycle in a year, usually being killed off by the cold weather of winter. Some annual plants throw down their own seed in the fall before they die and pop back up in the spring so we think of them as being perennial, even though they’re technically not.
I like perennials because you plant them once and they grow. Period. Annuals are way too much work for me as a general rule.
Also, let’s consider the flower. The point of a flower, from the plant’s perspective, is to make seed of some kind.
We love the flowers for their beauty, their ability to make seed and their other uses which include crafts, food and medicine. Let’s explore a few of these perennial flowers this harvest season. Be sure to take notes for next year’s gardens!
Perennial flowers – Petal Power
Gardeners certainly appreciate a flower simply because it’s lovely but blooms often have uses that lay beyond their beauty. Here are a few perennial flowers to consider that have multiple uses:
Roses – Zones 2-9, variety dependent
As a floral designer, I’m obliged to love roses. As a gardener, I don’t enjoy growing them – roses are ugly when they’re not in bloom, high maintenance and fussy about how and where they’re grown.
All good reasons to fall in love with the amazing perennial flowers, the rugosa rose. You can read this post where I extol the virtues of the rugosa (click here). In brief, these roses will
- grow pretty much anywhere
- bloom prolifically
- produce amazing hips that are full of vitamin C
The blooms don’t make very good cut flowers because they quickly fade but they have an intoxicating scent that is often used to make perfume. The petals are edible and can be added to salads and other foods.
To harvest rose petals, pull them softly from fully opened blooms and use them right away in recipes. You can dry them for use in potpourris by spreading them out on dehydrator racks or simply air drying them in a dust-free place. If you let the flowers remain on the plant and they form rose hips, use a glove to remove fully ripe hips when they become soft and sweet. The rugosa is majorly thorny so use CAUTION!
Click here to read about a delicate rose petal ice cream we made from our rugosa flowers.
To learn more about what to do with roses, I suggest this lovely e-book from Jan, the Nerdy Farm Wife.
Lavender – Zones 5-10
This entire flowering perennial is covered in essential oils so it makes a wonderful walkway or front door plant. The flowering spikes of lavender are beautiful and come in a range of purples, as well as white and sometimes pink. I once saw a yellow lavender tucked away in the many herbal delights of an Italian nursery. Lavender is my favorite flowering herb and I grow a lot of it.
Lavender is anti-bacterial and used in a wide range of medicinal herbal preparations and is also edible, often being used in desserts and teas.
To harvest lavender spikes
To harvest lavender spikes:
- With your fingers, follow the stem to the bottom where it begins to show leaves and/or down to where it connects with it’s mother branch.
- Cut with sharp clippers.
- Watch for side branching spikes and decide if you want to cut above them to let them mature, or harvest them along with your main spike.
- You may want to set aside a special harvest basket just for lavender to keep the stalks clean and free of other debris – something like this.
Some varieties of lavender grow nice, long, leaf-free stalks and others are very leafy. Dry the leaves and blooms for potpourri and laundry sachets. Petals can be dried and used in baking and for herbal teas and baths.
To air dry, simply gather a bunch together with a rubber band at the base of the stalks and invert, hanging to dry in a place with good air circulation.
Learn how to make a lavender salve.
Or, how to make lavender infused sugar.
Both items would make lovely gift basket items; to get more inspiration, I suggest this stellar e-book from Kathie at Homespun Seasonal Living
Chives – Zones 3-10
Chives are an herb that resemble green onions, only smaller and sleeker. Being members of the allium family, chives have the distinctive onion bloom but the chive flower is smaller, comes in lovely pinks and purples and is frilly and delicate. The chive flower is completely edible and gives quite a pop to salads and soups. Chives also make a lovely cut flower, often lasting for several weeks in the right conditions.
To harvest chive flowers:
- Simply use sharp kitchen scissors and clip off each flowering stalk at the base.
- Remove the flower head and add to any dish.
- It’s best to use chive flowers fresh but you can also infuse them into vinegar for salad dressings.
Click here to learn ten things you can do with chives and their blooms.
To learn more about herbs in general, please visit our affiliate Herbal Academy of New England for online beginner’s courses in herbal medicine.
Flowers for Seed and Roots
These flowers aren’t just another pretty face, they can be grown to produce both useful seeds and roots.
Echinacea or Cone flower – zones 3-9
This scrappy perennial flower comes in many colors from pink to red to purple, it’s iconic color. You’ll often find Echinacea in cottage and historical gardens as it’s an old, herbal flower that has been loved for generations. The bees flock to cone flower so if you’re planting a pollinator friendly garden, be sure to include it. The cones produce a profusion of seeds every year that you can learn to collect and replant or trade with friends and neighbors.
Cone flower makes a pretty average cut flower so leave it in the garden for the bees to enjoy unless you simply must have some of those colors on your dining table. The root, or tuber, of Echinacea is an immune stimulant and is used by herbalists often. Harvest year old roots by carefully digging them with a broad fork or pitch fork. Separate out healthy looking tubers to wash, slice and dry for use in your cold and flu preparations. You may replant any extra tubers or give them to friends.
Learn to plant and plant your own medicinal herb garden – probably our most popular post!
Click here to read how Growing Up Herbal answers a reader’s question about using her garden Echinacea for medicine.
Bread-Seed Poppies – zones 4ish-9
Not just any poppy, these flowers are specifically grown to produce poppy seeds to include in muffins, cookies and breads. Poppies are a great example of a reseeding annual that we tend to think of as perennial flowers. The reason being that in temperate climates, they will self-sow their seed if you allow it to drop to the ground instead of harvesting all of it.
Bread seed poppies aren’t always as hardy as their more ornamental counter parts when it comes to overwintering seed but they are delightful to grow either way. Poppy blooms come in an enormous array of colors.
Poppies don’t do that well as a cut flower but to gather seed, allow the plant to set and dry the balloon shaped seed pods, clipping them off as they dry but before they burst open.
Click here to learn more about growing, harvesting and storing bread seed poppies.
Here’s the recipe for lemon balm poppy seed cookies.
Daylily – zones 3-9
With over 50,000 named cultivars of daylily (hemerocallis fulva), you’re sure to find one that will please you. These pleasing trumpet shaped flowers can be found from Florida to California and all over the world. Originally coming from Asia, these perennial flowers have become a staple in many formal American landscapes. The entire hemerocallis fulva plant is edible from bud to flower to stem to root (tuber).
BE AWARE: bulb lilies (other hemerocallis with proper bulbs) are poisonous so do NOT eat them. Common daylilies have tubers, not bulbs, that look like small, fingerling potatoes.
What to do with Daylilies
For harvesting these perennial flower buds, keep your eye on the plant in summer as it begins to bloom and pick the buds before they open. Sautee them in butter and add some sea salt for a real treat. Opened blooms can be battered and fried, like a squash blossom.
The tubers are a real treat and you can prepare them as you would potatoes, but they’re slightly sweet. Be prepared to dig up the plant to harvest the tubers. You can harvest any time of year, but fall is the best time to harvest mature tubers.
Plan to dig up quite a few plants to make a meal but since these lovelies grow like weeds in some areas (and have even been called invasive as they escape their cultivated gardens and establish themselves in ditches), you need only be sure not to completely wipe out your stand of daylilies. Unless that’s what you’re trying to do, of course.
For more information on using daylily as food, including a daylily jelly recipe, please click here.
Here’s how to sustainably harvest and enjoy daylilies, click here.
Notice that many of these perennial flowers are herbs – such useful plants! To learn more about a few simple herbs you can grow anywhere, feel free to sign up for our weekly-ish newsletter and receive your complimentary copy of our e-booklet, Herbs in the Bathtub.
You can also learn more about some easy to grow herbs, especially herbs suited to growing in pots, by picking up a copy of our short e-book Herbs in the Bathtub. This book will help you learn to grow herbs wherever you live – apartment growers take special note!
Did I miss your favorite perennial flower? Be sure to fill me in with a comment below. The harvest season doesn’t have to be limited to squash and tomatoes this time of year. Be sure to fill your senses and your palettes with the wonderful perennial flowers all around you!