By Kim Robson:
Adding edible flowers to recipes creates distinct flavors for food and drinks. Sprinkled as a garnish or tossed into salads, flowers are fresh and fun pops of delightful color. Edible flowers also can be preserved in a number of ways that allow their use well beyond blooming season. Adding flowers to your food provides color, flavor, aroma and a little fun. Some taste spicy, some herbaceous, while others are distinctly floral and fragrant.
The culinary use of flowers dates back thousands of years to ancient Chinese, Greek, and Roman eras. You may be already familiar with some cultures’ traditional use of flowers in their cooking — for example, squash blossoms in Italian food or rose petals in Indian food. In the U.S., we often see flower petals in salads, teas, and as garnish for desserts.
But there are lots of ways to try branching out! Roll spicy flowers (like chive blossoms) into handmade pasta dough, or incorporate flowers into homemade ice cream. Pickle flower buds (like nasturtium) to make ersatz capers, or make a floral simple syrup for use in sparkling water or cocktails. Ever make stuffed squash blossoms? You can use the same recipe with gladiolus.
Employ spicier petals, like garlic, rosemary, nasturtium, or chive flowers, for savory dishes. Use sweeter blossoms, like rose, violet, or lemon verbena petals, for cocktails and desserts.
Eating Flowers Safely
Eat flowers you know to be consumable — consult the list of edible flowers and plants below.
Eat flowers you have grown yourself, or flowers you know to be food-grade from a reliable source. NEVER use flowers from the florist or nursery, as they more than likely have been treated with chemical pesticides.
NEVER eat flowers picked in public parks or from the roadside. Both more than likely have been treated with chemical pesticides, and roadside flowers may be polluted by car exhaust and soot.
Eat ONLY the petals. Remove pistils and stamens before eating.
Edible flowers may exacerbate allergies, so If you suffer from them, introduce edible flowers gradually.
To keep flowers fresh, place them on moist paper towels and refrigerate in an airtight container. Some will last up to 10 days this way. An ice water bath can help revitalize limp flowers.
Edible Flowers and Plants
Allium: All blossoms from the allium family (leeks, chives, garlic, garlic chives) are edible and flavorful. Flavors vary from delicate leek to robust garlic. Every part of these plants is edible.
Angelica: Depending on the variety, flowers range from pale lavender-blue to deep rose and have a licorice-like flavor.
Anise Hyssop: Both flowers and leaves have a subtle anise or licorice flavor.
Arugula: Blossoms are small with dark centers with a peppery flavor, much like the leaves. They range in color from white to yellow with dark purple streaks.
Bachelor’s Button: Grassy in flavor, the petals are edible. Avoid the bitter calyx.
Basil: Blossoms come in a variety of colors, from white to pink to lavender. Flavor is similar to the leaves, but milder.
Bee Balm: The red flowers have a minty flavor.
Borage: Blossoms are a lovely blue hue and taste like cucumber.
Calendula / Marigold: Blossoms are peppery, tangy and spicy — and their vibrant golden color adds dash to any dish.
Carnations / Dianthus: Petals are sweet, once trimmed away from the base. The blossoms taste like their perfumed aroma.
Chamomile: Small and daisylike, the flowers have a sweet flavor and are commonly used in tea. Chamomile is safe for pregnant or nursing mothers.
Chervil: Delicate blossoms add an anise-tinged flavor.
Chicory: Mildly bitter earthiness of chicory is evident in the petals and buds, which can be pickled.
Chrysanthemum: Mildly bitter, mums add a rainbow of colors and flavors ranging from peppery to pungent. Use only the petals.
Cilantro: The flowers reflect the grassy flavor of the herb. Use them fresh, as they lose their charm when heated.
Citrus (Orange, Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit, Kumquat): Citrus blossoms are sweet and highly scented. Use frugally as they can over-perfume a dish.
Clover: Flowers are sweet with a hint of licorice.
Dandelion: Forage in your backyard for dandelions. Makes a lovely syrup, too.
Dill: Yellow dill flowers taste much like the leaves.
English Daisy: While these bitter-tasting petals are edible, they look even better.
Fennel: Yellow fennel flowers have a subtle licorice flavor, much like the herb itself.
Fuchsia: Tangy fuchsia flowers make a stunning garnish.
Gladiolus: Although gladioli are bland, they can be stuffed just like squash blossoms, or remove their petals for an interesting salad garnish.
Hibiscus: Famously used in hibiscus tea, the vibrant cranberry flavor is tart. Use sparingly.
Hollyhock: While bland and vegetal in flavor, hollyhock blossoms make a gorgeous edible garnish.
Impatiens: Flowers don’t have much flavor, but maKe a pretty garnish, or can be used for candying.
Jasmine: Also famously used in tea, you can use them in sweet dishes — but sparingly.
Johnny Jump-Up: Adorable and delicious, the flowers have a subtle mint flavor. Great for salads, pastas, fruit dishes and drinks.
Lavender: Sweet, spicy and perfumed, a great addition to either savory or sweet dishes.
Lemon Verbena: The diminutive off-white blossoms are redolent of lemon. Great for teas and desserts.
Lilac: The blooms have a pungent, floral, citrusy aroma.
Mint: The flowers are minty, not surprisingly. Intensity varies among varieties.
Nasturtium: One of the most popular edible flowers, nasturtium blossoms are brilliantly colored from red to orange, with a sweet, floral flavor and a spicy, peppery finish. When the flowers go to seed, the edible seed pods are sweet and spicy. You can stuff the flowers, add flowers or leaves to salads, pickle the buds like capers, and garnish desserts or cocktails.
Oregano: The flowers are a pretty, subtler-tasting version of the leaf.
Pansy: The petals are somewhat nondescript, but if you eat the whole flower, you get more taste. Great for candying.
Radish: Varying in color, radish flowers have a distinctive, peppery bite.
Rose: Remove the white, bitter base and the remaining petals have a strongly perfumed flavor. Perfect for floating in drinks or scattering across desserts, and for flavoring jams. I’ve made a divine rose jelly. All roses are edible, with flavor more pronounced in darker varieties. Collect rose hips to make a vitamin-C rich tea.
Rosemary: Flowers taste like a milder version of the herb. Nice used as a garnish on dishes that incorporate rosemary.
Sage: Blossoms have a subtle flavor similar to the leaves.
Squash and Pumpkin: Blossoms are wonderful vehicles for stuffing, each having a delicate squash flavor. Remove stamens before using.
Sunflower: Petals can be eaten and, like an artichoke, the bud can be steamed.
Violets: Another famous edible flower. Floral, sweet, and beautiful. Use in salads and to garnish desserts and drinks. Great for candying.
Preserving Edible Flowers
What if you can’t use up fresh flowers in time? See the recipes below for preserving your bounty:
- 2 cups white wine vinegar
- ½ cup flower petals
Add flowers to vinegar and store in dark, cool place for a week. Strain flowers and use vinegar in dressings and other recipes calling for vinegar.
- 1 cup flower petals
- 1 pound honey
Use lavender or rosemary blossoms for a stronger honey, or floral blooms like rose petals for more fragrance. Place flower petals in a reusable tea bag or make a bundle with cheesecloth and add to honey. Leave in a bright, sunny place for a week, then check flavor. Leave longer for a more pronounced flavor. Remove the petal bag before use.
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup finely chopped flower petals
Stir flowers into sugar and let sit for a week. The sugar will absorb the moisture and flavor. Leave the petals in to add color and texture. Lovely for topping baked goods or rimming cocktail glasses.
Flower-Infused Simple Syrup
- 1 cup water
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 cup flowers
Boil ingredients for 10 minutes, strain flowers, and store in fridge up to two weeks. Wonderful in cocktails and other drinks, and great for drizzling over pancakes, waffles, ice cream, and other desserts.
- ½ cup flower petals
- ½ pound room-temperature unsalted butter
Stir petals into softened butter with a fork and form into a log. Roll log into a cylinder with parchment paper, twist ends to seal. Chill or freeze. Slice off rounds to top warm dishes or use in recipes. Herb flowers (chive, garlic, rosemary, etc.) are great on grilled vegetables or pasta, while perfumed flowers (rose, violet, lavender, etc.) are great on pancakes or desserts. Keep refrigerated for up to two weeks or frozen up to six weeks.
- 2 cups vodka
- ½ cup flower petals
Add flowers to vodka, shake well, let sit for 48 hours, then strain. Rose or lavender petal cocktails, served in glasses rimmed with flower sugar, are sure to keep summer garden parties hopping!