Edible flowers have become quite fashionable of late and for good reason. A handful of flowers will transform a mundane salad into an edible work of art that makes you feel like Martha Stewart. Flowers don’t only add color however; many also add unique and delicious flavors.
You probably already grow edible flowers in your garden, you just don’t realize it and think of them as simply ornamentals. My belief is that if you have them, you should make use of them. I am not going to give any cultivation directions here, I just want to make you are aware of what is out there. Things you might already have, or might choose to grow in the future.
Caution: The golden rule with eating anything is “know what you eat”. Never put anything in your mouth that you don’t know to be edible. Not all flowers are edible (edibility has no connection with beauty) and a few are quite poisonous. Some plants have edible flowers, while the rest is poisonous, so don’t take anything for granted.
Even when a plant is considered to be edible, there is still the possibility that it could cause an adverse reaction in some people (some members of the Daisy family are known for this). When you taste a plant for the first time, it’s a good idea to eat only a small amount and see if there is any problem, before consuming more. It’s probably a good idea to always eat flowers in moderation (which is what most people do anyway).
You should also be aware that flowers in other peoples gardens (or anywhere else) may have been sprayed with toxic chemicals.
Taste: Just because a flower is considered to be edible doesn’t mean it tastes good, or that you will like it. The only way to know that is to taste it yourself.
Which part of a flower you eat will depend upon what it is. Sometimes you eat the whole thing and sometimes only a part of it. In some cases only the petals are good, in which case you will have to remove the sepals (green leafy bits underneath the petals), stamens and pistils (these are the reproductive parts and often taste different from the petals). The stamens commonly contain pollen which can occasionally cause allergies). Sometimes even the white base of the petals isn’t good and should be removed. You need to experiment to find out what you like and what you don’t (this really is a matter of taste).
Identification: Before you can safely eat any flower you know is edible, you need to be sure that you have got the right plant. Common names can sometimes be confusing, as the same name may be applied to more than one plant (this is why we have unique Latin names for every species).
Gathering: I make it a habit to pick a few flowers whenever I am out gathering salad materials. Gather them when they have just opened fully, ideally while it is still cool, but the flowers are dry. Usually you don’t need many, so you can be picky and choose only perfect ones.
Cleaning: If the flowers have just opened and haven’t touched anything you don’t really need to clean them (they are clean), just check them carefully to make sure they don’t contain hidden insects or other surprises. Nothing spoils the dinner party like a guest crunching on an earwig (you can be sure Martha Stewart doesn’t have insects in her flowers). If the flowers aren’t clean, you can dip them gently in water, shake and dry on a paper towel. They must be dried carefully and rapidly otherwise they will deteriorate.
Using: Flowers can be used in many different ways. The most obvious is to add them to salads, but they can also be used as a edible garnish to add beauty, color and flavor for any dish. You can also add them to ice cubes for drinks, or candy them for decorating desserts.
The best edible ﬂowers
A lot of edible flowers are mostly for show; they add color and make a dish look spectacular, but don’t add much flavor. It you are happy with edible flowers that look great and don’t care if they add flavor, then there are a lots to choose from. If you want something that also adds a unique flavor then you are much more restricted. Here are the ones I have found to be the most useful.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum): The flowers are small, but add a lovely blue color and anise flavor.
Arugala (Eruca vesicaria): The white flowers taste like arugala.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum): The small white flowers taste like basil.
Batchelors Buttons (Centaurea cyanus): Beautiful bright blue color.
Brassicas: All Brassica flowers are edible and have a pleasantly pungent mustard flavor.
Bee Balm (Monarda didyma): Beautiful and aromatic
Borage (Borago officinalis): Use only the blue (or white) petals, remove the hairy calyx and stamens
Calendula (Calendula officinalis): A reliable standby if nothing else is available, Calendula flowers can be found almost year round in my garden. The ray flowers (petals) don’t have much flavor, but are worth adding for their vivid orange or yellow color (they are sometimes called poor mans saffron).
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum): The purple, onion flavored florets are very good.
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum): The white flowers are tasty, but small. Even better are the green seeds, which are a delightful combination of cilantro and coriander.
Day Lily (Hemerocallis species): These are commonly eaten in Asia. Their flavor varies a lot so taste them to find the best kinds (some are not pleasant).
Dill (Anethum graveolens): Nice dill flavor.
Garland Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum coronarium): Also known as shungiku, the petals are aromatic and pungent.
Garlic (Allium sativum): If your garlic produces flowers, they can be eaten for their pungent garlic flavor.
Ox Eye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum): The white ray flowers (“petals”) are good.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare):: The yellow flowers, buds and immature seeds all have a delicious (and quite strong) anise flavor.
Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum): The pretty purple flowers have a nice garlic flavor.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia is best): The aromatic flowers are used to flavor a variety of foods (lavender cookies are good).
Leeks (Allium porrum): The florets have a nice onion flavor.
Lovage (Levisticum officinale): The flowers have that delicious lovage flavor
Marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia): Only a few varieties are good (Lemon Gem and others) so taste first.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus): One of the best edible flowers. Big and colorful with a delightful aromatic/pungent/sweet flavor all their own.
Pea (Pisum sativum): This is the common garden pea (not Sweet Pea – Lathyrus odoratus, which is poisonous). They have a nice (you guessed it) pea flavor.
Pineapple Guava (Feijoa sellowiana): The thick succulent petals are sweet and very good.
Pinks and carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus – Clove Pink is best): Flavor varies a lot so try any you find. Remove the white base of the petal and eat the colored part.
Radish (Raphanus sativus): The flowers and green seed pods have a pungent mustard flavor.
Roses (Rosa species): Not to everyone’s taste, but the scented petals are used to flavor a variety of various dishes and drinks.
Salvia (Salvia species): Pineapple sage, common sage and clary sage are all good, but some others can be mildly toxic.
Squash (Cucurbita species): The stuffed blossoms are a delicacy. The petals are eaten, but the rest is usually removed.
Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) Sweet anise flavored flowers can be used raw or as flavoring.
Violas (Viola species): The strongly scented Sweet Violet (V. odorata) is the best. Other types add color but not much flavor.
Other edible ﬂowers
This is pretty much just a long list, as to go into more detail would take up more room than is really justified. This list is potentially almost endless because anything that isn’t actually poisonous could probably be eaten in the small amounts. These are all considered edible flowers, though their quality varies lot. Many add color and beauty, but not much flavor. You may want to experiment with some of these species (I can’t guarantee they will all agree with you though).
Alkanet (Anchusa azurea): Petals only.
Alliums: Almost any wild or cultivated species can be used.
Alyssum (Lobularia maritima): Small white flowers are pungent.
Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
Apple (Malus spp): Can eat a few petals but not too many, as they have a chemical that turns into cyanide when eaten.
Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorum): Blue flowers are quite good.
Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): Flowers have a green bean flavor.
Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia): Eat the flowers only, all other parts are toxic.
Burnet (Sanguisorba minor): Cucumber flavor.
Carrot (Daucus carota): Nice carrot flavor
Catnip (Nepeta cataria): Strong mint flavor
Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobilis)
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Citrus: Taste first, some are not very pleasant.
Clover (Trifolium species): Sweet
English Daisy (Bellis perennis)
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): Use individual petals
Cottage Pink (Dianthus plumarius): Can be very good.
Elder (Sambucus species): Flowers only (other parts toxic). They have a distinctive aromatic flavor.
Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis): Yellow flowers are quite good.
Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis sylvatica): Use flowers in moderation, contains toxins
Fuchsia: Eat only the petals, discard the rest.
Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides): Used raw, pickled, for tea.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) Fragrant flowers have a ginger flavor.
Gladiolus: Taste first, some are good and some are not pleasant.
Hawthorn (Crataegus species)
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea): Flowers add more color than flavor
Honeysuckle: (Lonicera japonica)
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis
Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana)
Jasmine (Jasmine officinale): Traditionally used in tea.
Kudzu (Pueraria montana): Aromatic and sweet
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla): The flowers are small but aromatic
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
Linden (Tilia spp.)
Mallow (Malva sylvestris)
Manzanita (Arctostaphylos species): Some species are good.
Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis)
Mexican Tarragon (Tagetes lucida): Flowers taste like tarragon.
Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)
Mints (Mentha spp)
Moringa (Moringa oleifera)
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus): Flowers used like hibiscus.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium): Yellow flowers are slightly acidic.
Parsley (Petroselintum crispum)
Passionflower (Passiflora species)
Pelargonium: Taste first, some scented varieties are good, others are not.
Peach (Prunus persica): Can eat a few petals but not too many, as they have a chemical that turns into cyanide when eaten.
Pear (Pyrus communis): Can eat a few petals but not too many, as they have a chemical that turns into cyanide when eaten.
Phlox (Phlox paniculata): Flowers spicy
Plum (Prunus species): Can eat a few petals but not too many, as they have a chemical that turns into cyanide when eaten.
Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) Red petals add color.
Primulas (Primula vulgaris)
Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)
Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius): Dried flowers used like saffron
Savory (Satureja Montana)
Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus)
Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea): The pretty violet flowers are edible and taste like onion.
Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana)
Stock (Mathiola incana)
Strawberry (Fragaria species): These are edible, but every time you take one you potentially lose a strawberry.
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus): (petals)
Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis): Add color more than flavor.
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Thyme (Thymus spp.)
Tiger Lily (Lilium lancifolium)
Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa): Was cooked and eaten by the Aztecs.
Tuberous Begonias (Begonia x tuberhybrida): These can be good, but should be eaten in moderation.
Tulip (Tulipa species): Flowers are sweet and crisp, other parts can be toxic
Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber)
Water Hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes)
Water Lily (Nymphaea odorata):Edible but almost too pretty to use.
Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis): Flowers only, other parts are toxic.
Yucca (Yucca species): Tasty, sweet and crunchy