Whatever your reason for growing edible flowers, you'll have the best of both worlds when you grow flowers that are both beautiful and delicious. Eating flowers will take your tastebuds on a flavor adventure ranging from mildly sweet to tangy or peppery, with hints of citrus, melons, vanilla, cloves, and beyond.
Below is a list of some edible flowers that might tempt you to run out and eat a flower, or bring a few inside and make something special to serve tonight.
The best time to harvest your edible flowers is in the cool of the morning, just after the dew has lifted. This is the time when the sugars and volatile oils are at their highest. If you forget to do it first thing in the morning, wait and pick them in the evening when the blossoms have cooled down.
Be gentle with your flowers so they are not bruised or torn. Most blossoms, when served fresh, are at their culinary best when they are just open or almost opening.
With most flowers, remove the pistils, stamens and any attached sepals. This isn't necessary with herb flowers, however. With those, you will pluck the entire tiny flower and serve. Wash the blooms gently in a bath of cold filtered water and place them on a towel to dry. If you don't plan to eat them right away, place them in the refrigerator until ready, preferably in a sturdy container so they won't be crushed or damaged.
Edible flowers can also be preserved by drying, freezing, steeped in oil and/or vinegar, made into jellies and syrups, or crystallized and made into candy.
Common edible flowers:
Allium: This is a large group of edibles including onions, chives, and garlic. The flowers are attractive, with a sweet aroma and a more intense flavor than the rest of the plant. Add to salads, sandwiches, and burgers or as a garnish for anything that you would flavor with minced onions or chives. Onion blossoms not only look appealing sprinkled over the top of baked potatoes, but they also add lots of flavor.
Anise Hyssop or Licorice Mint: Agastache foeniculum has a slight mint flavor with hints of licorice. Separate the flowers from the stems and sprinkle over ice cream, fruit salad, or dinner salad, or use them as a garnish for cucumber finger sandwiches. Anise Hyssop pairs really well with Asian-style dishes and soups. Trim back the flower heads and use them fresh or dried as a refreshing tea. These perennial flowers can be used throughout their long growing season.
Bee balm or Bergamot: Both Monarda didyma and M. fistulosa have edible flowers used in teas or sprinkled on fresh salads. They have a strong flavor similar to oregano, but with a bit more citrus flavor. They go well anytime you would customarily use oregano. Separate the petals and sprinkle over pizza just as it comes out of the oven. Bee balm grows in most soils in full sun, and will benefit from a dose of compost or well-decayed humus.
Borage: The flower of Borago officinalis is one of my favorites. The pretty blue flowers have a slight cucumber flavor, making them perfect in salads, added to summer wine cups, punches, and candied flowers, or frozen in ice cubes. Borage grows best in good, well-drained soil with some organic matter mixed in. Here in the hot south, it grows in full sun or dappled shade.
Calendula or Pot marigold: Calendula officinalis is one of the easy-to-grow annual flowers in shades of yellow, orange and red. It was once known as the "Poor man's saffron" and is still used as a saffron substitute. Fresh or dried petals add natural hues of yellow and orange to rice, buns, cakes, eggs, butter, and cheese spreads. The flavor ranges from sweet to spicy, or from tangy to peppery. Although the plant is said to do well in most soils, it does best in rich compost, where it thrives in full sun, or with some afternoon shade. Harvest the flowers often to ensure a constant supply of edible blooms.
Dandelion: Taraxacum officinale is one of those edible flowers that I just have to include because it is such a wonderfully useful flower, too often mistaken as a weed. Although this article focuses on edible flowers, the entire dandelion plant is edible. The young flowers are sweet like honey and the older flowers are more bitter. They're good steamed or raw, made into a soothing tea, or collected and made into wine. In spring, the young leaves can become delicious salads. The dried and roasted roots make a very tasty tea that is said to clear the liver of toxins. The entire plant is very good for you, chock-full of nutrients and other beneficial compounds. Dandelions grow well in most soils and are often found growing in sunny lawns, but the best place to seek them for harvesting is in the wild, far away from traffic.
Daylily: Hemerocallis spp. is not a true lily of the Lilium family; true lilies are inedible. Daylilies are originally from eastern Asia, and there they are called gum jum. In Asian cuisine the flowers are used fresh and dried in soups. Daylily flowers are succulent, having a sweet crunchy flavor reminiscent of greenbeans; they can be enjoyed raw or cooked. Daylily blooms last only one day, opening with the rise of the morning sun and fading as the sun sets. I like to take advantage of their beauty during the day and then pick them just as they begin to wither and fade in the evening, when they are actually the sweetest; the best of both worlds.
Elderberry: Sambucus spp. Appearing in early summer, the large sweet-smelling, umbel-clustered flowers have a delicious scent and flavor. Used in elderflower cordial, wine, flavored syrups, and ice cream, they are wonderful dipped in a light batter and fried. The flowers are used to flavor an Italian liqueur, Sambuca, which is named for the plant. This hardy perennial grows in rich, moisture-retaining soil in sun or partial shade.
Herbs as a general rule have edible flowers. Typically, if the herbal leaves are edible, so are the flowers. Sometimes the flowers have a spicier flavor than the leaf, but some will impart a milder flavor. A small sample will let you know. Use the flowers to garnish dishes or sprinkle over soups and salads for a splash of color that will certainly brighten up your dish and give it a little extra pizzazz.
Cilantro blossoms look pretty sprinkled across tacos,
a bowl of tortilla soup, or Pho
Impatiens: They are also known as Balsams or Touch-me-Nots and are one of those popular bedding annuals that you might be growing year after year, and yes, they are edible. The sweet flavor makes a nice accent to desserts and salads, or you can use the petals to decorate your favorite dish. They're also perfect for making beautiful flower jelly or crystallized flower candies.
Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus: Nasturtiums have a wonderful flavor that starts sweet and is followed by a peppery bite. They are one of my favorites since childhood and I sometimes eat them straight from the garden. The flavor reminds me of arugula that has been dipped in nectar and then sprinkled with cracked pepper. They come in a wide variety of colors from bright yellow to scarlet red, pale yellow, orange and cream, or even multi-colored. They are attractive atop open-faced sandwiches, or as a garnish. They make a festive statement in salads, adding both color and flavor. The leaves are also edible, but you should choose young leaves. Add them to pesto or use them to make a nice savory butter. The seeds can be pickled in vinegar and are much like capers. These summer annuals do best in sun, but they don't like extreme heat and they will benefit when grown with taller plants to shade them from the hot afternoon sun. They also seem to do best without fertilizer and will bloom profusely.
Passion flower, passiflora incarnata, P. spp: These flowers can make a tasty and beautiful statement in salads. I find that the flowers have an intoxicating aroma and a mildly pleasant flavor. The flowers are more commonly used in teas, fresh or dried, for relaxation. The leaves are also edible and can be used in teas. Passion flower can be grown from seed, and can also be easily cultivated by root division or by cuttings rooted in water or sand.
Rose, Rosa spp: The rose belongs to the Rosaceae family. There are over 100 species used for culinary and other purposes in all parts of the world. The petals are used in syrups, jellies, perfumed butters, and sweet spreads. Remove the white bitter base of the petals before serving. Rosewater opens up another culinary world, and is used by chefs in gourmet cuisine and in confectionery desserts and gelatins. Rose petals can be collected and made into a wine, but unless you have a massive amount of rose bushes, the petals will need to be collected over a period of time and frozen until you have enough.
Squash, Cucurbita pepo: Squash varieties often produce prolific blossoms that are delicious dipped in batter or flour and fried. They are also tasty when they are stuffed with a lightly seasoned ricotta cheese and herb blend and then dusted with flour and sauteed. Squash blossoms have inspired cooks all over the world. In Italy the ricotta-stuffed blossom is enjoyed, along with squash blossom risotto or pizza; Thailand's dok tugtong tod is a crunchy squash blossom and dawg fungtong tod is a pork-filled squash blossom; Mexico prepares a soup called flor de calabasa, or squash blossom soup, and squash blossom with poblano chile, made into delicate and delicious crepes. Collect flowers in the morning and place in the refrigerator to stay fresh until you are ready to prepare. I usually only use the male flowers for cooking and let the female flowers continue to grow into squash. Be sure to remove the stamens, and if using female flowers, also remove the pistils.
Vegetables with edible flowers go beyond the more well-known squash and courgette blooms. Arugula, artichoke, broccoli, okra, pea, radish, and scarlet runner beans all have edible flowers.
Of course not all vegetables have edible flowers, so be sure to check first. For example, those in the Solanaceae family should be avoided; that list includes tomato, potato, pepper, and eggplant. Their flowers are not edible.
There is a much longer list of edible flowers, including carnations, lavender, hibiscus, pansies, violets, yucca, petunias, and more.
There are also flowers that are not edible, and some of them are very poisonous. If you are ever in doubt, don't eat them; it's best not to take the risk. Also, never eat flowers that have been treated with pesticides or chemicals. Many plants and flowers will actually absorb the toxins around them. Never eat flowers found growing along roadways. It's also best not to take a chance on flowers from the nursery or garden center as they probably have been treated with pesticides or other chemicals. Once you bring your plants home and monitor them, you will know when it's safe to eat the new blooms.
I hope that this article opens up a new way for you to enjoy your flowers. Enjoy!
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