Updated: Nov 13, 2018
Edible flowers are flowers that can be consumed safely. Flowers are part of many regional cuisines , including Asian , European , and Middle Eastern cuisines . Early American settlers also used flowers as food. Today, there is a renewed interest in edible flowers for their taste, color, and fragrance. Edible flowers can be used fresh as a garnish or as an integral part of a dish, such as a salad. Squash flowers can be fried in light batter or cornmeal. Some flowers can be stuffed or used in stir-fry dishes. Edible flowers can be candied; frozen in ice cubes and added to beverages; made into jellies and jams; used to make teas or wines; minced and added to cheese spreads, herbal butters, pancakes, crepes, and waffles. Many flowers can be used to make vinegars for cooking, marinades, or dressings for salad or incorporated into beverages such as teas or wines. Herbal flowers normally have the same flavor as their leaves, with the exceptions of chamomile and lavender blossoms, where the flavor is usually more subtle.
Edible flowers do not necessarily mean fresh flowers - some are dried and used like culinary herbs .
Many flowers that are technically edible can be far from palatable . For best flavor, fresh flowers should be harvested early in the day. Wilted and faded flowers, and the unopened buds of most species, can be distasteful, often bitter. Many flowers can be eaten whole, but some have bitter parts, such as the stamens and stems.
Some flowers are safe to eat only in small amounts. For example, apple flowers (Malus spp.) containcyanide precursors and Johnny jump-ups (Viola tricolor) contain saponins . Borage (Borago officinalis) and daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) flowers are diuretics and sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) can have blood-thinning effects. The flowers of linden trees (Tilia spp.) are reportedly safe in small amounts but heavy consumption can cause heart damage. Marigolds (Tagetes spp.) can be harmful in large amounts, and only certain species have an appealing flavor.
Toxic flowers are easily mistaken for edible varieties, and safe and unsafe species may share acommon name . Various non-toxic plants can cause severe allergies in some people. Flowers commonly carry traces of pesticides and harbor organisms such as insects. Flowers cultivated asornamental plants for garden use are generally not intended for use as food.
Pesticides on the Flowers We Eat
Resources: NC State University
Pesticides for use on fruits and vegetables have undergone extensive testing to determine the waiting period between treatment and harvest and potential residuals on food. Pesticides used on flowers and ornamentals have not been evaluated to determine their safety on food crops. Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries, garden centers, or flowers found on the side of the road. Consume only flowers that you or someone else have grown specifically for that purpose. If you have hay fever, asthma or allergies, it is best not to eat flowers since many allergies are due to sensitivity to pollen of specific plants. It's best to introduce flowers into your diet one at a time and in small quantities.
Growing Edible Flowers
Chemicals for pest control should be avoided, if possible. Hand-pick harmful insects. Beneficial insects, such as lady beetles and praying mantises, can be used to decrease insect populations. Growing different flowers together provides diversity to support a good beneficial insect population and keeps pest problems low. Many gardeners locate their edible flower garden away from other plants to avoid chemical spray drift. Many edible flowers can be successfully grown in containers.
Flavor can vary with growing conditions and cultivars. Conduct a taste test before harvesting large amounts of a particular flower. Flowers should be picked in the cool of the day, after the dew has evaporated. For maximum flavor choose flowers at their peak. Avoid flowers that are not fully open or that are past their prime. To maintain maximum freshness, keep flowers cool after harvest. Long-stem flowers should be placed in a container of water. Short-stemmed flowers, such as borage and orange blossoms, should be harvested within 3 to 4 hours of use, placed in a plastic bag, and stored in a refrigerator. Damp paper towels placed in the plastic bag will help maintain high humidity.
Because pollen can distract from the flavor, it's best to remove the pistils and stamens. Pollen may cause an allergic reaction for some people. Remove the sepals of all flowers except violas, Johnny-jump-ups, and pansies. For flowers such as calendula, chrysanthemum, lavender, rose, tulip, and yucca, only the flower petals are edible. The white base of the petal of many flowers may have a bitter taste and should be removed from flowers such as chrysanthemums, dianthus, marigolds, and roses.
Resources: Gardeners.com; The National Gardening Association; Colorado State Extension
Some flowers are high in nutrition as well. Roses — especially rose hips — are very high in vitamin C; marigolds and nasturtiums also contain vitamin C; and dandelion blossoms contain vitamins A and C.
So we’ve learned that any flower that isn't poisonous or that doesn't cause a negative reaction is considered edible. However, just because a flower is edible doesn't necessarily mean it tastes good. Before you go munching through the flower garden and window box, there are a few criteria to consider.
Be sure to positively identify a flower before eating it. Some flowers have look-alikes that aren't edible.
Don't eat flowers if you have asthma, allergies, or hay fever.
Only eat flowers that have been grown organically so they have no pesticide residue.
Collect flowers for eating in the cooler parts of the day — preferably early morning after the dew has evaporated — or late afternoon.
Choose flowers that are at their peak, avoiding those that are not fully open or are starting to wilt.
Fresh flowers also can be preserved for later use. Choose flowers with larger petals, such as pansies, and paint the petals with an egg-white wash. Use a soft brush and dehydrated egg whites to avoid food borne illness. These flowers are edible if the dehydrated egg powder has been pasteurized. After painting, dust the petal with super-fine granulated sugar and dry it. Store preserved flowers in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Avoid dark-colored petals; they turn even darker with this treatment.
From Wikipedia and True Food: Eight Simple Steps to a Healthier You (National Geographic, 2009) by Annie B. Bond, Melissa Breyer and Wendy Gordon.
Culinary herbs are distinguished from vegetables in that, like spices, they are used in small amounts and provide flavor rather than substance to food . But we find many edible flowers among the herb world.
Herbs can be perennials such as thyme or lavender , biennials such as parsley , or annuals like basil. Perennial herbs can be shrubs such as rosemary , Rosmarinus officinalis, or trees such as bay laurel , Laurus nobilis – this contrasts with botanical herbs , which by definition cannot be woody plants. Some plants are used as both herbs and spices, such as dill weed and dill seed or corianderleaves and seeds. Also, there are some herbs such as those in the mint family that are used for both culinary and medicinal purposes.
Here’s a useful list of edible herb flowers and their characteristic flavor:
1. Basil - Blossoms come in a variety of colors, from white to pink to lavender; flavor is similar to the leaves, but milder.
2. Chamomile - Small and daisylike, the flowers have a sweet flavor and are often used in tea. Ragweed sufferers may be allergic to chamomile.
3. Cilantro - Like the leaves, people either love the blossoms or hate them. The flowers share the grassy flavor of the herb. Use them fresh as they lose their charm when heated.
4. Dill - Yellow dill flowers taste much like the herb’s leaves.
5. Fennel - Yellow fennel flowers are eye candy with a subtle licorice flavor, much like the herb itself.
6. Lavender - Sweet, spicy, and perfumed, the flowers are a great addition to both savory and sweet dishes.
7. Mint - The flowers are — surprise! — minty. Their intensity varies among varieties.
8. Oregano - The flowers are a pretty, subtle version of the leaf.
9. Rosemary - Flowers taste like a milder version of the herb; nice used as a garnish on dishes that incorporate rosemary.
10. Sage - Blossoms have a subtle flavor similar to the leaves.
Crystallized / Candy Edible flowers
From What’s Cooking America
Candied flowers and petals can be used in a variety of imaginative ways - to decorate cakes large and small - all kinds of sweet things, such as ice cream, sherbet, crèmes and fruit salads, cocktails.
1 egg white or powdered egg whites
Superfine granulated sugar (either purchased or made in a blender or food processor - just blend regular sugar until extra-fine)
Violets, pansies, Johnny-jump-ups, rose petals, lilac, borage, peas, pinks, scented geraniums, etc.
Wire rack covered with wax paper
Carefully clean and completely dry the flowers or petals.
Beat the egg white in the small bowl until slightly foamy, if necessary add a few drops of water to make the white easy to spread.
Paint each flower individually with beaten egg white using the small paintbrush. When thoroughly coated with egg white, sprinkle with superfine sugar.
Place the coated flowers or petals on wax paper on a wire rack. Let dry at room temperature (this could take 12 to 36 hours). To test for dryness, check the base of the bloom and the heart of the flower to make sure they have no moisture. Flowers are completely dry when stiff and brittle to the touch. NOTE: To hasten drying, you may place the candied flowers in an oven with a pilot light overnight, or in an oven set at 150 degrees to 200 degrees F with the door ajar for a few hours.
Store the flowers in layers, separated by tissue paper, in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to use.
Making Blossom Ice Cubes:
Gently rinse your pesticide-free flower blossoms.
Boil water for 2 minutes for all the air trapped in the water to escape. Remove from heat and let the water cool until room temperature. NOTE: This will ensure that the ice cubes are crystal clear.
Place each blossom at the base of each individual compartment within an ice tray. Fill each compartment half full with the cooled boiled water and freeze.
After the water is frozen solid, fill each ice cube compartment the rest of the way to the top with the remaining boiled water. Freeze until ready to use.
Edible WILD Flowers
It is early spring, so there are many, many edible wildflowers that haven’t yet emerged. Although certainly not exhaustive, here’s a list of other edible wildflowers that are either in bloom now or will be later in the season and into summer:
Alfalfa, apple blossoms, borage, broadleaf plantain, burdock, cattail, celandine, chickweed, chicory,
Coltsfoot, creeping Charlie, dandelion, dead nettle, echinacea, goldenrod, henbit, horsetail, Joe Pye weed, milk thistle, mullein, oxeye daisy, prickly pear cactus, Queen Anne’s lace, redbud tree buds, red clover, rue, St. John’s wort, violet, wild rose, wood sorrel, yarrow, yellow dock, yellow rocket
Incorporate edible wildflowers in your cuisine by tossing them on top of whatever was already planned to eat. Pancakes, frittata, salad — the addition of wildflowers to a dish seriously ups the ante. Try this recipe for an extra-special “breakfast” risotto, riddled with bacon (although it can be made vegetarian), topped with poached eggs and drenched in a medley of edible wildflowers. Put this dish on the table and watch the smiles of springtime gratitude pop up all around.
Beautiful Breakfast Risotto Serves 4
3 slices bacon
1/2 onion, diced
2 cups rice
6 cups stock
1/2 cup wine (if desired, otherwise use this amount of additional stock)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
several grinds black pepper
1 tablespoon herbs de Provence
5 eggs, poached
pinch of salt
enough wildflowers to cover the dish (about a cup or so)
1. Over medium heat, cook the bacon in a medium-sized pan until it starts to get crispy. Remove the bacon and set aside. Drain about half of the bacon fat (or add 3 tbs cooking oil if skipping the bacon to make it vegetarian), and then add the diced onions.
2. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
3. Add the rice and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Add 1 cup of stock and stir into the rice.
5. Stir constantly. Whenever the liquid level gets low, add another half cup of the stock. Add the wine in place of the stock one of those times, if desired.
6. After the rice is cooked fully but still has a bit of bite, add the Parmesan, herbs and black pepper.
7. Cook 5 more minutes, leaving it a little looser than desired, because it will tighten up as it cools.
8. In the meantime, poach the eggs.
9. Place the poached eggs evenly around the risotto in the pan and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
10. Sprinkle the flowers over the top.
11. Cut into the yolks so that they run onto the risotto.
12. Serve at the table in the pan.