By Crystal Cole

Hi everyone! This is Crystal Cole, sustainable foods intern at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, with an update on what’s happening in the University of Michigan Campus Farm. One of the exciting projects in the works this summer is a fall hoop house installation on the farm. Campus Farm goals include getting students involved in agriculture and providing a space for experimentation, research, and education for students from across the University. Thanks to Michigan’s relatively short summer growing season—when many students are out of town—accomplishing those goals can be a challenge. A hoop house will allow us to extend our season into the fall and winter when people are around.

A hoop house extends growing capacity on both ends of the season.
With the Campus Farm’s new hoop house, we’ll be able to engage students
with nature and food-growing activities during the school year when many more
of them are here. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons.)

As a result of this move to year-round production, we’ve cut back a lot of our summer production but we do have some crops ready to go! You can find them at Argus Farm Stop in Ann Arbor (325 W. Liberty St, Ann Arbor, MI 48103) including different culinary herbs and my personal favorite—culinary flowers!

These zinnias are fresh from the Campus Farm. If you want to bring a pop of cutting-garden color into the kitchen, try zinnias in salads or sandwiches, or mix them in with sauces like mayonnaise.

Chives blossoms add a subtle onion flavor.

Marigolds add a citrusy spice to salads, rice dishes, even desserts.

Violas are just plain beautiful to look at in a salad. Some people
report that violas and violets  have a subtle wintergreen flavor.

Did you know that many flowers you might be growing in your own garden beds can actually be eaten? *See note below.

Here are some of my favorite edible flowers:

Queen Sophia French Marigold
We have a ton of these out in the vegetable garden. Marigolds act as a natural pest deterrent for tomatoes and peppers and they’re edible. It’s like a dream come true. Just eat the petals though, as the green base of the flower can be bitter. The taste of the flower petals is a combination of citrus and spice, with a slight bitterness. They work well in salads and desserts or cooked in rice or egg dishes.

Giant Zinnias
Zinnias bring a pop of color to any garden and also apparently make a great tea said to be reminiscent of chamomile, though I’ve never tried it. Read more about recipes using zinnias.
A great option for bringing a light onion flavor to many dishes, the chive plant extends its culinary uses to the flowers. Pull apart the fluffy flower ball and scatter the flowers on salads, pizza, or sandwiches to bring a bit of onion flavor to your favorite recipes.

Violas or pansies
These aren’t growing in the Campus Farm at the moment but they’re worth planting if you want try grow them for the kitchen. Using the whole flower gives a subtle wintergreen flavor to your favorite dishes.

Candied flowers
Yes, you can candy flowers! It’s a great way to preserve them for use in sweet recipes. Try candying apple blossoms, borage flowers, lilac florets, rose petals, scented geraniums, and violets, violas, and pansies. Take a look at this all-purpose candied flowers recipe from

What flowers do you like to use in your kitchen?
* Note: don’t eat plants or flowers if you’re not absolutely sure what plant it is! Some plants can be toxic to humans and caution should be exercised when harvesting plants, especially from wild areas. Never use flowers that have been sprayed with pesticide or herbicide.

Crystal Cole is a new graduate from Program in the Environment, specializing in aquatic ecology. Her career goals are to work on integrating her aquatic ecology background with her agricultural interests. She is working this summer as the sustainable foods intern.

Crystal Cole