Spring sprang past and everything’s running to catch up. Flowers are blooming and invitations are starting to flow for garden parties, graduations, weddings, and the like. For some, flowers will be featured on the menu as well as on the decor list.
In the 19th century, edible flowers were pretty common in recipes, especially for special occasions. Gradually, edible flowers are making a comeback.
First, a Few Practical Precautions
- If you have allergies or will be serving someone who does, it may be prudent to avoid using flowers as food unless you know for a certainty it won’t be harmful.
- Certain flowers have parts that are inedible. Some are poison. For the most part, I’m bypassing those that come with caveats. If you’re going DIY, you’ll want to get a good guide like the U.K.-based expert Thompson & Morgan. Some of the information here is drawn from their website.
- Never use flowers that have directly or indirectly (wind or soil-borne) been treated with pesticides.
- Ensure the flowers used are blemish, cut, and (of course) bug-free.
9 Flowers to Munch
Gladiola (aka Sword Lily; gladiolus)
Tastes like lettuce. T&M says they are a “lovely receptacle for sweet or savoury spreads or mousses” but I haven’t found any recipes so you’ll have to call your Aunt Edith in London, go searching on your own, or just experiment.
Make a salad colorful by tossing in a few petals in pink, red, white, purple, orange, green or blue. Discard the anther and the middle of the blossom, however you plan to use them. Nectar can be sucked from the flower.
Caveat – The ASPCA says gladiola is toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.
Gladiolus grow well in staked in full sun and light, well-watered soil. Deadhead and cut off spent stalks to keep blooms coming. They can overwinter in the ground in zones 7 and 8; for zones 5 and 6, dig up and store the corms indoors before first frost.
Marigold (Tagetes patula, Tagetes tenuifolia, Tagetes patula x erecta)
The flowers and leaves have a citrus taste, making them ideal for adding to salads, sandwiches, seafood dishes or hot desserts.
Marigold likes full sun and soil that loamy, sandy, or clay. Plant when the soil is warm; they bloom from Spring to Autumn.
Caveat – Large amounts of marigold could be harmful, so make this an infrequent visitor to your table and use with moderation.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus, Tropaeolum minus)
Flowers (and fresh leaves) give a nice peppery flavour to salads, steaks, sandwiches, casseroles, and canapés. Also known as monks’ or Indian cress, it does have a taste similar to watercress.
Grow as annuals in Zones 1 to 7, perinneals in Zones 8 and up. They like sunny or partially shaded spots and soil that is unfertilized but well-drained. Nasturtium blooms in summer and fall in bright orange, red, and yellow. If allowed, they will easily take over a garden plot.
Nasturtium has been used to encourage hair growth; reduce inflammation; treat wounds; fight respiratory illnesses caused by bacteria; and encourage urination, menstruation, and circulation (especially in the legs). It is also a natural repellant (more on that in my next post).
Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana)
Fresh or candied, these flowers make a beautiful decoration on cakes, pâtés, cookies, and other desserts. This charming flower that often has coloring resembling a little face blooms in a variety of colors including yellow, purple, white, pale green, and orange. Satisfy your sweet tooth with the candied version.
Toss fresh flowers into a salad for color and to enhance the flavor; they taste like lettuce. They can also be used to make syrup, as a dye, and to flavor honey.
Pansies boldly bloom in the snow and make a great showing in warm weather; but they’re not a fan of very hot weather. Plant in moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil in full sun.
Flowers (and leaves) are high in vitamins A and C.
Toss petals into a salad or float in a punch bowl. They can also be lightly cooked and sweetened for a treat. Peony water was once considered a delicacy and could be again.
Caveat – Toxic to cats, dogs, and horses, says the ASPCA.
Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Marigolds have a slightly peppery taste and will add a light, tangy peppery taste to soups, salads, and breads. For adding color to dishes, the petals are an inexpensive stand in for saffron.
Marigold blooms from summer to winter frost across the yellow and orange color spectrum. It grows fast and thrives in partial to full sun, well watered compost-y soil. Planet Natural also says as a companion plant it makes a great pest repellant – but more on that later.
A great way to put to use those many blossoms that usually end up withering and dying on the bush. T&M says that generally a rose will taste as good as it smells.
Rosewater (made from steaming the petals) isn’t just a skin freshener, it can be used to enhance drinks and fruit dishes. Use rosehips and petals to make jelly or jam. Decorate cakes and cookies with fresh or candied (crystallized) whole flowers.
Always remove the white heel from the base of the petals before eating.
Roses have a bad rep as hard to grow, hard-to-manage flowers. But that’s not really the case. They do like to be fed and pruned regularly to be at their best. Otherwise, it’s just a case of planting in a near-neutral pH soil in full sun, watering, and watching for pests. They’ll bloom Spring, Summer, and Autumn.
Specific rose species have been used for centuries around the world for a variety of conditions including anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, digestive aid, antiseptic, and astringent, says Cloverleaf Farm Herbs.
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
We know the seeds are a time-tested snack; but eating the buds and petals isn’t as popular. The petals have a mild, nutty taste. The yellow petals makes a green salad colorful.
The green buds taste a little like Jerusalem artichoke. They can be blanched or steamed and have what TOFA describes as a meaty texture.
Sunflowers like 6 to 8 hours of full sun daily and soil that is well-fed, loose, and well-drained. Plant after frost, in an area protected from wind – like along a fence. More planting particulars can be found at TOFA.
Traditionally planted along with corn and beans by First American tribes, it’s time to give sunflower a place at the table along with its sisters.
Violet ( viola )
Violet flowers are used for a variety of things, including a laxative. It is used for winemaking; perhaps the laxative effect is ameliorated in the process.
They grow in partial to full sun, aren’t partial to any particular soil type as long as its kept moist, and like to be fed on a monthly basis. They’re slow growers; for spring blooms you’ll need to’ve started indoors in winter. They don’t tolerate high heat or heavy frost.
Candy and Herb Flowers
Candied flowers besides roses, pansies, and violets include
The traditional method for candying flowers requires patience, a keen eye, and a small brush. Each petal is completely covered by brushing on an egg white mix. Sugar is then sprinkled on. An alternative is making a sugar-water syrup and dipping flowers into the container before laying out to dry with a sprinkling of sugar.
Common herbs with edible flowers include
How to use in food
While they can be fried, sautéed, or otherwise cooked, you’ll also want to show off the color and floweriness of a flower so
- lightly toss petals or small flowers into a salad
- artfully arrange whole flowers or petals on or around a cake
- drop petals into an icy beverage
- freeze petals into ice cubes (sooo pretty!)
More than just decorative
Nasturtium has long been used for heart, lung, and other disorders, says the Old Farmer’s Almanac. It has been studied for use as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and as a new antibiotic source for germs resistant to commonly used antibiotics.
Peony has a long history of use for, among other things, gout and other forms of arthritis, fever, respiratory tract illnesses (including cough), women’s health.
Rose hips are known as a top source of vitamin C but the flowers have a centuries-long use for sore throats, rabies bites, inflammation , and a host of other ailments, according to Cloverleaf Farm Herbs.
Violet also has a long history of use as, among other things, a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, laxative, and expectorant, according to Mother Earth News.
Flowers That Are NEVER Safe to Eat
There are many beautiful flowers which are highly toxic. Some are commonly grown or used for special occasions. The Spruce provides a long but incomplete list which includes:
- Calla Lilly
- Lily of the Valley
- Morning glory
If ever there is even the slightest suspicion that any of these have been ingested, get emergency assistance right away. The importance of ensuring the safe use of flowers as food cannot be repeated too often.
Selling your edible flowers
Maybe you’re not ready to get a spot at the Maryland Food Center Authority, where privately-owned firms sell fresh produce wholesale to restaurants, hotels, and stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic and the District of Columbia. But many restaurants and specialty grocers do buy from small farms so scout out your favorite space, find out who does the purchasing, and make an offer. They’ll need to know that you can provide a steady supply of quality produce. See our blog on selling what you grow to local businesses for exact steps.
Enjoy flowers a new way
Flowers are a breath of fresh air, uplifting spirits with their colors and scents. Incorporating them into your food menu provides another way to benefit from these sublime beauties. Are you an old hand at using edible flowers? Share your wisdom by commenting to this article. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with others.