Tips for Using Edible Flowers

Culinary experts will tell you that we eat with our eyes first. A colorful plate in a variety of hues is much more appealing than one that is monochromatic. We can add color and visual variety to our dishes by using a variety of fruits, veggies, and even flowers.

Edible flowers have been used for thousands of years, and it’s widely presumed that the bitter herbs referred to in the Old Testament include dandelions. The ancient Chinese and Greeks ate chrysanthemums for centuries. Romans carried on the tradition, adding rose petals and violets. In the Victorian era, edible flowers were especially fashionable, particularly in salads. They even pickled or candied flowers to eat in times when fresh blossoms were not readily available.

If the idea of eating flowers still seems a little off to you, it may be surprising to hear that you’re already eating a variety of flowers regularly. Broccoli, artichokes, and cloves are all examples of unopened flower buds we regularly consume. Adding fresh, edible flowers can give your dishes an extra boost with their lovely colors and flavors. If you’re intrigued by eating fresh flowers, here are a few you may already be growing:

Anise hyssop: If you like anise, this is the edible flower for you. Separate the florets and add them to sweet or savory dishes. You can also use the full flowers to garnish a cheese plate.

Bee balm: This member of the mint family has minty-tasting flowers. Colors range from bright red to purple and pink.

Calendula: An easy and prolific edible flower that's easy to grow from seed right in the garden. Separate the petals from the center of the flower and sprinkle the petals into salads. Colors range from pure yellow to orange and red.

Chamomile: English chamomile has small, daisy-like flowers with an apple-like flavor. If you're allergic to ragweed, you might want to avoid chamomile.

Daylily: Daylily buds and flowers taste a bit like asparagus. They can be used as a garnish, or can be stuffed or made into fritters. They’re delicious in stir-fry dishes, too.

Honeysuckle: The blossoms make a pretty addition to salads, but don't use the berries; they're poisonous.

Marigolds: Use the tiny flowers of signet marigolds, such as Lemon Gem and Tangerine Gem. Their blossoms have a citrus taste.

Nasturtiums: Blossoms have a peppery flavor like watercress. All colors and varieties are tasty in salads or as garnishes. Leaves can be eaten, too.

Pansies and Johnny jump-ups: These flowers have a wintergreen flavor and are pretty on cakes and other desserts. Glaze with warmed jelly for a jeweled look.

Squash blossoms: Use these as you would daylilies.

Most edible flowers are best when consumed raw and as soon after picking as possible. They lose flavor, color, and texture when cooked or weighted down with sauces. Freshly opened blossoms are tastier than flowers that have been open for a few days. If you’re going to grow flowers for your own consumption, be sure to double check that the flowers are safe to eat, and be sure to avoid eating flowers that have been in contact with any type of insecticide, fungicide or herbicide. Unless you have a fully organically grown lawn, don’t eat the dandelions that sprout up in your yard.