Are ornamental peppers edible?

Posted April 4, 2019 in Plant and Tree

Have you ever laid your eyes on an ornamental pepper plant?  It’s odd, but I remember seeing them for the first time at Longwood Gardens, and they have been on my mind ever since.  Being some of the showiest, striking, vibrant, colorful and unique ornamentals on the market, a few questions come to mind.  How do you grow them, how many varieties are there, and of course, can you eat them or are they just for show??  Well, let’s take a deeper dive…

For as beautiful as they are, you would think that ornamental peppers require tons of care, but they are actually quite low-maintenance!  Most varieties grow into small bushes, about 12-18” tall with a similar spread.  Foliage ranging from a deep dark purple to a glossy-green, the leaves will depend on the variety selected, but each plant’s appeal is only heightened by its upright and colorful fruit.  No matter the variety, these showstoppers perform their best in full sun, well-drained soil and in hot temperatures!  Their penchant for hot summer air, matched with remarkable drought tolerance makes these plants candidates for deck and patio focal points.  However, while drought-tolerant, each variety will be healthier with a good soak once their soil dries out.

The fruit of the ornamental pepper varies in shape and color, but each has its own amazing appeal.  From conical, twisting or even resembling those bulky old-fashioned Christmas light bulbs, you will find the colors in deep/vibrant/rich reds, purples, oranges, yellows…it’s the quintessential party-plant!  Let’s take a quick peek at our favorite varieties:

  • Sangria: Perfect in mass plantings, pots and hanging baskets, this hardy variety has dark green foliage in the early spring, followed by hundreds of slim dark purple peppers by mid-summer which transition to brilliant hues of red and orange in the fall!  This variety reminds me of parade confetti, it screams fun!  Can you eat it? Yep!  This is considered a more family-friendly pepper, as it is reported to be at least 8 times milder than a jalapeno.
  • Chinese Five Color:  This is the variety that reminds me of Christmas lights, maybe because they are so colorful, grow to only about 1” and each plant propagates hundreds!  The beautiful array of color ranges from light purple to deep oranges and reds and adds a unique interest no matter where they are placed in your outdoor living space!  Can you eat them? Mmmhmm!  However, beware, Chinese Five Color share the same Scoville heat unit as cayenne peppers.
  • Black Pearl: This variety looks so ominous and scary, mostly because its foliage is very dark and its fruit starts out black in mid-summer and transitions into deep shades of red in the fall.  Sounds like something you would find at a real haunted house!  While you would think you should leave this plant alone, like most pests do, they are certainly edible..and hot…very hot.

So, now that we know that most ornamental peppers can be eaten, the question remains, should you?  Some landscapers or gardeners may tell you absolutely not, while others say it’s perfectly fine…who should you believe?  The good news is ornamental peppers are safe to eat, but there is a little bit of a catch.

You would think that anything that looks like candy would taste just as sweet, yet most ornamental peppers have a surprisingly ferocious bite.  Since they are mostly cultivated for aesthetic appearance, it hasn’t been a concern to growers to try to tone down the heat.  Also, you will find that these peppers don’t have the most complex pepper-flavor on the block, but their kick of heat is found to work well in foods with complementing flavors like salsas and they also work well dried out and ground into hot pepper flakes.  If spice isn’t your thing, don’t dismiss the idea of incorporating the fruits into your dishes!  While these plants are grown to be an ornament, something that brings beauty and enhances the atmosphere, the garnish possibilities will make even the most boring dishes into a culinary masterpiece!  (This garnish is also helpful for that one dinner guest that has just a glass of wine too many and is easily influenced with a dare.)

All in all, whether you prefer these gorgeous plants to dazzle your tastebuds, embellish your outdoor living space (or both!) these ornamental beauties are the best of both worlds.  Providing a variety of festive color and texture, this plant will have your guests say, “oh, what is that plant over there?”, bringing conversation into the gathering.  Who doesn’t love a focal point?!

Serving the Poconos, Lehigh Valley through the Main Line of Philadelphia and western New Jersey, MasterPLAN would love to open up the conversation with you about your outdoor living aspirations!  Offering unique and custom-tailored solutions for your outdoor living space, we aim to create a partnership with our clients through the backyard transformation journey.  If you would like to explore all options for your own outdoor space perfectly tailored to your family, home and lifestyle, reach out to MasterPLAN Outdoor Living!  Together, we can create an outdoor living space to help you live your best life outdoors!

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