Edible flowers can take your dish to another level. They give your food a dash of elegance, a sprinkling of creativity or a slathering of deliciousness. A common garden salad gains instant appeal with some scattered, color coordinated petals. A chocolate ganache with a few cunningly placed bee balm petals looks very fancy indeed. Even ice looks more fun when it has pansies frozen in them!
It’s not just about the visual impact, they can also add exciting flavor that is unique to other ingredients.
If you’re going to grow these flowers at home, only buy organic plants that haven’t been sprayed. Also, it goes without saying, don’t spray them with any chemicals that could harm you.
Harvest your flowers in the morning or late in the evening when the harshest rays of sun aren’t around. You don’t want wilted flowers. You can pick your flowers as you’re about to use them, or pick them in advance, then keep thin in a glass of water in the fridge.
Before we continue: If you’re unsure about the identity of an edible flower please check with an expert before consuming.
There are a dizzying number of flowers at your disposal when cooking. You’ll find that buying them from specialty food stores can be quite expensive, especially if you use them often. My advice is to grow your own. Even if you have a small apartment, you can still set up a few pots inside and become self sufficient in no time.
Benefits of edible flowers
- Gain access to new flavors hard to find in other ingredients.
- Add some pizzazz to your plating up.
- Nutritional benefits such as antioxidants and Vitamin A, C and E.
- Some have additional benefits such as calming chamomile.
What can edible flowers be used for?
Flowers excel at versatility. They can be used for a wide variety of applications although not all are perfect for every occasion. The secret is to choose flowers with the right aroma, flavor and aesthetics to match your food. I’ve had excellent success using them for:
- infusions (tea, wine, vinegar)
- frozen ice cubes
18 best edible flowers
1. Anise Hyssop
The anise hyssop tastes of licorice and mint with a strong aroma of fennel seeds that have been crushed.
Goes well with: Use anise hyssop in teas, cordial, or as a garnish in salads.
What to eat: The leaves and flowers are both edible and you’ll find the leaves have a slightly stronger anise flavor.
2. Apple Blossom
Apple blossom has a delicate floral taste with a hint of citrus.
Goes well with: Perfect for salads or to flavor drinks.
What to eat: Eat the blossoms raw or cooked.
Chamomile has a mild, slightly bitter taste. The yellow centres have an apple flavor.
Goes well with: Use in cordials, tea or in a salad.
What to eat: Eat the blooms.
Daisies have a mild, bitter flavor.
Goes well with: Salads, sandwiches, soup, tea or as a dessert decoration.
What to eat: Eat the blooms.
The common dandelion offers an earthy, bitter taste.
Goes well with: Casseroles, bacon, cheese, salads, tea, roasted and ground for use as a healthy coffee substitute.
What to eat: For eating choose the buds, the petals are better for decoration. Eat raw or cooked.
6. Day Lily
The day lily has a faint taste of vegetables with a hint of sweetness. This flower should not be confused with the Tiger Lily which should never be consumed as it is poisonous.
Goes well with: The tubers are excellent in casseroles or stir frys. The flowers are best for decoration in salads and desserts.
What to eat: Saute the unopened buds or the tubers and use the flowers for decoration. The stalks are very tough and unpleasant to eat.
The dianthus has a fun flavor combination of sweet floral, mild spice and a surprising hint of nutmeg.
Goes well with: Cordial, tea, salads and as a sour or dessert decoration. It is one of the ingredients used to make the liquor, Chartreuse.
What to eat: The petals are best part to eat. The stamen and the base offer an unpleasant bitter taste.
The elderflower offers a sweet, floral, vanilla-like flavor.
Goes well with: Delicious with cordial, tea, fruit, pies, cakes, frozen in ice, dipped in batter then fried and as a decoration for desserts.
What to eat: The white flowers.
The hibiscus has a tart, lemon-berry flavor, similar to cranberry.
Goes well with: Use in cordial, tea, as a dessert garnish or in salads.
What to eat: Eat the hibiscus petals fresh or dried.
Lavender has a very distinctive floral flavor with a herbaceous undertone.
Goes well with: Lavender makes lovely tea, cordial, jam, ice cream and cakes. It can also be used in savoury dishes such as roast potatoes, chicken, lamb or salads.
What to eat: Use the flowers fresh or they can be dried.
Lilac has a characteristic floral, lemon flavor and tends to be bitter.
Goes well with: Use in yoghurt, sorbet, water, cakes and as a decoration on desserts.
What to eat: Eat the flower petals.
Marigolds have a bitter citrus flavor with an undertone of spice. They can impart a yellowing color to dishes and have been referred to as a “cheap alternative to saffron”.
Goes well with: Marigolds are a nice colorful addition to salads and can be added to cakes, biscuits and even boiled with rice for extra color and flavor.
What to eat: Only eat the petals. They can be eaten fresh or dried.
Nasturtium has a spicy, peppery flavor, similar to watercress.
Goes well with: Add the large flowers to a salad, pesto, burger, omelette or stuff the entire flower with your favourite savoury fillings.
What to eat: The whole flower can be eaten, you can even pickle the seeds.
The pansy has a sweet, fresh, grass-like flavor.
Goes well with: Freeze in ice cubes, crystallize, decorate cakes and desserts, add to the tops of cookies or to brighten up a salad.
What to eat: The whole flower can be eaten. The leaves have a slightly milder flavor.
Roses vary in flavor depending on the variety. Some are spicy while others can be sweet or resemble fruits such as apple or strawberry.
Goes well with: Use roses in cocktails, honey, jam, cupcakes, salads or as candied rose petals.
What to eat: The petals are edible and the white heel should be removed.
The stigma of the saffron flower has an elusive and hard to define flavor. It can be described as a mildly bitter, floral flavor.
Goes well with: For added color and flavor use saffron in paella, risotto, seafood, sauces, baked vegetables and salads. It can also add a creative twist to cakes and slices.
What to eat: Use the red stigma.
Tulips taste similar to a slightly sweet lettuce and their texture is crispy.
Goes well with: Tulip can be stuffed with your favourite fillings, slice into pieces and add to salads or use them to decorate desserts.
What to eat: Remove the stigma and pollen then eat the tulip bulb.
18. Courgette (AKA Zucchini) flower
The courgette flower has a soft textured mouthfeel with a mild flavor, similar to that of squash.
Goes well with: These can be stuffed with your favourite fillings or get a little crazy and add to a tortilla.
What to eat: Eat the colorful flowers.
Flowers to avoid
These flowers should never be added to to food. They have the potential to cause sickness and in severe cases, death. You can also check out this list of poisonous flowers for a more comprehensive list.
- calla lily
- sweet pea
Edible flowers by color
If you’re looking to color match edible flowers to your dessert (or main) then this infographic will help a lot! It breaks down some of my favorite flowers by color.
- Forget me not
- Blue pea
- Apple blossom
A few dos and don’ts when using edible flowers
- Research flowers before eating to check there are no hidden allergens that could affect you.
- Lay your flowers on a bed of damp paper towels and then place in a plastic container with a lid. The damp towel provides moisture to stop wilting and the container offer protection.
- Check the flowers before storing for dirt or insects. If you see either, lightly brush them clean with a pastry brush or give them a light dunking in water.
- Treat your flowers with care when drying so as not to damage – this rule especially applies to dark or delicate petals that show damage easily. For a tougher flower like a lily, you don’t have to be quite so careful.
- Use a salad spinner to dry your flowers as this is very likely to damage them.
- Taste flowers before removing the unwanted parts such as stamen or pollen.
- Eat flowers that are unfamiliar to you.
- Spray flowers with chemical sprays when they’re growing if you’re going to eat them.
Edible flowers are a delightful addition to dishes and it’s surprising they aren’t used more regularly. They offer some flavors that you couldn’t get from any fruit, vegetable or seasoning. What’s more, they bring your meals to life with vibrant color and texture.
If you’re not familiar with flower types, I strongly recommend checking with a more experienced gardener before consuming. Better to be safe than sorry.
Enjoy your flower foraging and let your creative juices run wild. Once you start using flowers in your meals you’ll never turn back. Flower power!
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