I'm grateful for growing up in a family that encouraged curiosity and wide diversity in our meals. Eating flowers wasn’t unusual for me, even in grade school, but I quickly learned that others often weren’t as adventurous. I got used to the question, “Really, you can eat flowers?” There are, of course, flowers that should not be eaten. Some are poisonous, such as Angel’s Trumpet, Lily of the Valley, rhododendron, oleander and autumn crocus. Others, like petunias, aren’t considered edible but aren’t poisonous. It’s recommended you always consult a reliable source before eating flowers, and don’t ever eat one unless you know for certain the identity of the flower. With that caution, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of very good, very safe and quite delicious edible flowers. Just avoid any that have been sprayed with insecticides or grown with chemical fertilizer that contains pesticide. Here are some flowers that are very well worth eating.
Calendula flowers are highly useful. The petals, without the green part, are a flavorful and colorful addition to pancakes, muffins, cakes, salads, and breads. Chopped fine and added to cake batter, they lend a wonderful golden yellow to the cake. I chop calendula petals and add them to already-cooked purple and red potatoes for a colorful potato salad.
Lilacs are another delicious flower. I make lilac sorbet each spring to celebrate the blooming of this highly fragrant plant. The flowers, picked off the stems, can be made into jam or jelly, used for tea, incorporated into ice cream, sorbet, sherbet, cakes, cookies or simply scattered over a fresh greens salad.
The rose is a cousin to the apple tree and all roses are edible (provided they haven’t been sprayed with poisons, of course). Roses are excellent used fresh in salads, cooked into syrups for ice cream, made into ice cream, used in cakes, cake frostings, cookies, jams and jellies. The rose hips, the fruit of the plant, are also edible, but the best flavors are in the fresh, fragrant petals. Tea roses have the least flavor, while pink, yellow and white shrub and climbing roses have the best flavor. If a flower has a good fragrance, it will also have a pleasing flavor.
There are many, many more edible flowers and a multitude of ways for using them. Observe the cautions about avoiding those that have been sprayed and always be sure of the identification of any flower before eating it. Enjoy these delightful and colorful flowers in your meals!
Safe, Edible Flowers to Try
• Anise hyssop (Agastache feoeniculum) — tea, sorbet, salads
• Basil (Ocimum basilicum) — cooking, salads, jellies
• Bachelor’s Buttons/Cornflower (Centauria cynaus) — salads, garnish
• Bee Balm (Monarda species) — jellies, salads, teas
• Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) — vinegars, salads, garnish
• Borage (Borago officinalis) — garnish, salads
• Calendula (Calendula officinalis) — cooking, salads, desserts, medicines
• Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) — salads, jellies, syrups, desserts
• Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) — salads, teas
• Chives & Garlic Chives (Allium spp.) — cooking, butters, salads
• Citrus (Citrus spp.) — desserts, syrups, salads, garnish
• Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) — jellies, fermented beverages, salads, fritters
• Daylily (Hermocallis fulva) — fried, salads (most other lilies are not edible)
• Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) — cooking, “dusting” over foods, garnish
• Hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.) — tea, salads, jellies, sorbet
• Hollyhock (Althaea rosea) — tea, salads, jellies, sorbet
• Johnny-Jump-Up (Viola tricolor) — salads
• Lavender (Lavandula spp.) — cooking, cakes, cookies, ice cream
• Lilac (Syringia vulgaris) — sorbets, ice creams, salads
• Marjoram (Origanum majorana) — vinegars, garnish
• Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) — salads, butters, vinegars, garnish
• Oregano (Oreganum spp.) — cooking, seasoning, jellies
• Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana) — salads, desserts, jellies
• Peas (Pisum sativum); (but not perennial sweet peas) — salads, garnish
• Radish (Raphanus sativus) — salads, garnish
• Redbud (Cercis canadenis) — salads, garnish
• Roses (Rosa spp.) — ice creams, sorbets, jellies, candies, vinegars
• Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) — tea, salads, syrups, jellies
• Sage (Salvia officinalis) — jellies, vinegars, garnish
• Squash (Curcurbita spp.) — fried, salads, casseroles
• Sunflower (Helianthus annus) — salads, cupcakes, garnish
• Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) — jellies, cakes, cookies, syrups
• Tuberous Begonia (Begonia X tuberosa) — garnish, salads, only hybrids are edible
• Violets (Viola odorata); (but not African violets) — jellies, jams, salads, decoration
• Yucca (Yucca baccata) — petals only; salads, garnish, in small amounts
• Zucchini (Curcurbita peppo spp.) — stuffed with salads, fried, garnish
Jim Long’s recipes and garden stories can be found on his gardening adventures blog.