The carnation (Dianthus Carophyllus) is an old-fashioned garden favorite that is cheap to buy and easy to grow, rewarding even negligent gardeners with bushy, brightly colored blooms. Though the plant may cause skin irritation in some individuals, carnations are generally not considered threatening to humans. When grown organically, the petals of carnations are actually edible.
Members of the Dianthus genus contain triterpenoid saponins in their leaves. When the foliage is handled, these toxic saponins can cause minor skin irritation, according to the North Carolina State University Extension. This irritation generally only lasts a few minutes. Leaves can also cause low toxicity symptoms when ingested. If you have concerns about the toxicity of carnation leaves, contact the American Association of Poison Control Centers' free, 24-hour Poison Help Line at 1-800-222-1222.
Let Them Eat Carnations
Carnation petals have a clove-like fragrance and a sweet flavor, and may be steeped in wine, candied, or used as a garnish in a salad or on a cake. The white base of the flower is bitter, so petals must be separated before they are eaten. Carnation petals have been used to make the French liqueur Chartreuse since the 17th century, according to Plants for a Future. Never eat carnations that have been exposed to pesticides or herbicides, and avoid eating carnations growing by the side of the road.
Carnations can be toxic to pets such as cats and dogs, causing mild gastrointestinal distress if ingested and mild dermatitis if touched, according to the ASPCA. If you catch your pet eating carnations, particularly the leaves, contact your veterinarian or call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. The ASPCA may charge a consultation fee. If your pet regularly ingests carnations, you may want to choose a replacement flower or put up a protective fence.
Culture and Care
Carnations are adaptable plants that will grow in full sunlight or partial shade in well-draining, average soil. They are tolerant of urban air pollution, and can also handle the salty air and soil found in coastal regions. Carnations grow better in poor alkaline soils instead of rich acidic soils, according to Plants for a Future. Michigan State University recommends carnations for U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 to 10.
- ASPCA: Carnation
- North Carolina State University Extension: Dianthus Spp.
- AAPCC: American Association of Poison Control Centers
- What's Cooking America: Edible Flowers Are The New Rage In Haute Cuisine
- Plants For A Future: Dianthus Caryophyllus
- Michigan State University: Caryophyllaceae = Pink Family
Michelle Wishhart is a writer based in Portland, Ore. She has been writing professionally since 2005, starting with her position as a staff arts writer for City on a Hill Press, an alternative weekly newspaper in Santa Cruz, Calif. An avid gardener, Wishhart worked as a Wholesale Nursery Grower at Encinal Nursery for two years. Wishhart holds a Bachelor of Arts in fine arts and English literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz.