Edible flowers aren't a new phenomenon, but garnishes of fresh flowers tend to intimidate diners. No one is really sure if the flowers are there for decoration or to be eaten. Even if they are to be eaten, diners often wonder if they will taste good or be better left on the plate.
There are several edible flower blossoms that can be enjoyed both fresh and cooked. It's becoming more common to find edible flowers for purchase in the grocery store, but it's easy to grow your own. Flowers are best when eaten soon after harvest, so growing your own edible flowers makes even more sense.
Growing flowers to eat is really no different from growing flowers to feast on with your eyes. However there are a few precautions you will want to take, as well as a few tricks to ensure you get the most flavor and beauty from the flowers you grow for your plate.
- Only eat flowers when you are absolutely certain they are edible. Just because a flower is used as a garnish doesn't mean it's edible.
- Never eat a flower that has been treated with a pesticide that was not labeled for use on food products. Always follow the pesticide label instructions for harvesting.
- Never eat flowers from florists, nurseries, or roadsides.
Using Edible Flowers in Cooking
Ideally, edible flowers should be harvested in the cool, morning hours, when they are still full of water. If you are not going to use the flowers immediately, cut them with the stems intact and keep them in water. You can also store them in damp paper towels, in the refrigerator.
Keep in mind that when a flower is listed as being edible, it refers to the petals only. Remove the pistils and stamens before eating as well as any attached sepals. Edible flowers are more pleasant to eat if you add the petals to dishes, rather than tossing in a whole flower.
Don't add edible flowers while you are cooking. Leave it to the last minute, so the flowers retain texture and color. This includes adding them to salad—sprinkle them on top of the salad, after it has been tossed. The flavor of edible flowers will vary seasonally and with growing conditions.
Varieties of Edible Flowers
Try out a variety of edible flowers to find what complements your various dishes.
- Borage: Borage has a cucumber-like scent and flavor. The vivid blue flowers make a striking addition to a salad or a last minute garnish to cooked foods.
- Calendula: (Pot Marigolds) The petals work well in cooked and fresh dishes. Calendula is also used as a saffron substitute. The yellow or orange petals will color and flavor foods when chopped and sautéed.
- Dandelion: Everyone is familiar with dandelion wine, but the flowers are also edible and quite delicious when young and tender. There are many cultivated varieties that have been developed for less bitter flavor and more controlled growth. However, even the so-called "weeds" in your lawn can be eaten, provided you haven't used pesticides on them.
- Daylily: Most people are surprised to hear that Daylily flowers are edible. The flowers are often stuffed and prepared like squash blossoms.
- Gem Marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia): 'Lemon Gem' and 'Tangerine Gem' Marigolds are the only edible marigolds. As the names suggest, they have a citrus flavor, even though you won't smell a citrus scent. Pull off the petals and break off and remove the bitter center portion.
- Herb Flowers (Anise Hyssop, Basil, Bee Balm, Chives, Cilantro, Dill, Fennel, Garlic and more): Many herb flowers are just as tasty as the foliage and more attractive. Add some petals to any dish you were already going to flavor with the herb.
- Nasturtium: Easy to grow, these flowers have a peppery tang to them. The bright colors make great accents in salads, but they can also be used to infuse vinegar or even vodka. The seeds can be pickled and used in place of capers.
- Pansy: The whole flower is edible, sepals and all. Pansies have a mild, minty flavor. The flowers work well for candying and make great decorations on top of hor d'oeuvres and cakes.
- Squash Blossoms: All squash flowers are edible, not just zucchini. A popular way of preparing them is to stuff the blossoms with cheese and fry them.