After falling out of favour for many years, cooking and garnishing with flowers is back in vogue once again. Flower cookery has been traced back to Roman times, and to the Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Indian cultures. Edible flowers were especially popular in the Victorian era during Queen Victoria’s reign.
Today, many restaurant chefs and innovative home cooks garnish their entrees with flower blossoms for a touch of elegance. The secret to success when using edible flowers is to keep the dish simple, do not add to many other flavours that will over power the delicate taste of the flower. Today this nearly lost art is enjoying a revival. Please use this Edible Flowers Chart before eating any flowers.
HOW TO CHOOSE EDIBLE FLOWERS
Begonia – Tuberous begonias and Waxed begonias –
Tuberous Begonias (Begonia X tuberosa) – The leaves, flowers, and stems are edible. Begonia blossoms have a citrus-sour taste. The petals are used in salads and as a garnish. Stems, also, can be used in place of rhubarb. The flowers and stems contain oxalic acid and should not be consumed by individuals suffering from gout, kidney stones, or rheumatism.
Wax Begonias (Begonia cucullata) – The fleshy leaves and flowers are edible raw or cooked. They can have a slight bitter after taste and if in water most of the time, a hint of swamp in their flavour.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) – Also called Marigolds. A wonderful edible flower. Flavours range from spicy to bitter, tangy to peppery. Their sharp taste resembles saffron (also known as Poor Mans Saffron). Has pretty petals in golden-orange hues. Sprinkle them on soups, pasta or rice dishes, herb butters, and salads. Petals add a yellow tint to soups, spreads, and scrambled eggs. Only the petals are edible.
Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus – aka Dianthus) – Carnations can be steeped in wine, candy, or use as cake decoration. To use the surprisingly sweet petals in desserts, cut them away from the bitter white base of the flower. Dianthus are the miniature member of the carnation family with light clove-like or nutmeg scent. Petals add colour to salads or aspics. Carnation petals are one of secret ingredients that has been used to make Chartreuse, a French liqueur, since the 17th century.
Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum coronarium) – Tangy, slightly bitter, ranging in colours from red, white, yellow and orange. They range in taste from faint peppery to mild cauliflower. They sould be blanched first and then scatter the petals on a salad. The leaves can also be used to flavour vinegar. Always remove the bitter flower base and use petals only. Young leaves and stems of the Crown Daisy, also known as Chop Suey Greens or Shingiku in Japan, are widely used in oriental stir-fries and as salad seasoning.
Clover (Trifolium species) – Sweet, anise-like, licorice. White and red clover blossoms were used in folk medicine against gout, rheumatism, and leucorrhea. It was also believed that the texture of fingernails and toenails would improve after drinking clover blossom tea. Native Americans used whole clover plants in salads, and made a white clover leaf tea for coughs and colds. Avoid bitter flowers that are turning brown, and choose those with the brightest colour, which are tastiest. Raw flower heads can be difficult to digest.
Cornflower (Centaurea cynaus) They have a slightly sweet to spicy, clove-like flavour. Bloom is a natural food dye. More commonly used as garnish.
Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) – Also called Sweet Rocket or Dame’s Violet. This plant is often mistaken for Phlox. Phlox has five petals, Dame’s Rocket has just four. The flowers, which resemble phlox, are deep lavender, and sometimes pink to white. The plant is part of the mustard family, which also includes radishes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and, mustard. The plant and flowers are edible, but fairly bitter. The flowers are attractive added to green salads. The young leaves can also be added to your salad greens (for culinary purposes, the leaves should be picked before the plant flowers). The seed can also be sprouted and added to salads. NOTE: It is not the same variety as the herb commonly called Rocket, which is used as a green in salads.
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinalis) – Member of the Daisy family. Flowers are sweetest when picked young. They have a sweet, honey-like flavour. Mature flowers are bitter. Dandelion buds are tastier than the flowers: best to pick these when they are very close to the ground, tightly bunched in the center, and about the size of a small gumball. Good raw or steamed. Also made into wine. Young leaves taste good steamed, or tossed in salads. When serving a rice dish use dandelion petals like confetti over the rice.
Day Lilies (Hemerocallis species) – Slightly sweet with a mild vegetable flavour, like sweet lettuce or melon. Their flavour is a combination of asparagus and zucchini. Chewable consistency. Some people think that different coloured blossoms have different flavours. To use the surprisingly sweet petals in desserts, cut them away from the bitter white base of the flower. Also great to stuff like squash blossoms. Flowers look beautiful on composed salad platters or crowning a frosted cake. Sprinkle the large petals in a spring salad. In the spring, gather shoots two or three inches tall and use as a substitute for asparagus. NOTE: Many Lilies contain alkaloids and are NOT edible. Day Lilies may act as a diuretic or laxative; eat in moderation.
English Daisy (Bellis perennis) – The flowers have a mildly bitter taste and are most commonly used for their looks than their flavour. The petals are used as a garnish and in salads.
Fuchsia (Fuchsia X hybrida) – Blooms have a slightly acidic flavour. Explosive colours and graceful shape make it ideal as garnish. The berries are also edible.
Garden Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) – Sorrel flowers are tart, lemon tasting. So use like a lemon: on pizza, a salad topping, in sauces, over cucumber salads.
Gladiolus (Gladiolus spp) – Flowers (anthers removed) have a nondescript flavour (taste vaguely like lettuce) but make lovely receptacles for sweet or savoury spreads or mousses. Toss individual petals in salads. It can also be cooked like a day lily.
Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) – Cranberry-like flavour with citrus overtones. Use slightly acidic petals sparingly in salads or as garnish. The flower can be dried to make an exotic tea.
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) – Very bland tasting flavour.
Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) – Sweet honey flavour. Only the flowers are edible. NOTE: Berries are highly poisonous – Do not eat them!
Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana) – The flowers have a sweet flavour. They can be used as a garnish in salads or floated in drinks.
Johnny-Jump-Ups (Viola tricolour) – Lovely yellow, white and purple blooms have a mild wintergreen flavour and can be used in salads, to decorate cakes, or served with soft cheese. They are also a great addition to drinks, soups, desserts or salads.
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) – The flavour of lilacs varies from plant to plant. Very fragrant, slightly bitter. Has a distinct lemony taste with floral, pungent overtones. Great in salads and crystallized with egg whites and sugar.
Linden (Tilla spp.) – Small flowers, white to yellow was are delightfully fragrant and have a honey-like flavour. The flowers have been used in a tea as a medicine in the past. NOTE: Frequent consumption of linden flower tea can cause heart damage.
Marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia – aka T. signata) – The marigold can be used as a substitute for saffron. Also great in salads as they have a citrus flavour.
Nasturtiums Tropaeolum majus) – Comes in varieties ranging from trailing to upright and in brilliant sunset colours with peppery flavours. Nasturtiums rank among most common edible flowers. Blossoms have a sweet,spicy flavour similar to watercress. Stuff whole flowers with savoury mousse. Leaves add peppery tang to salads. Pickled seed pods are less expensive substitute for capers. Use entire flowers to garnish platters, salads, cheese tortas, open-faced sandwiches, and savoury appetizers.
Pansy (Viola X wittrockiana) – Pansies have a slightly sweet green or grassy flavour. If you eat only the petals, the flavour is extremely mild, but if you eat the whole flower, there is a winter, green overtone. Use them as garnishes, in fruit salads, green salad, desserts or in soups.
Peony (Paeonia lactiflora) – In China the fallen petals are parboiled and sweetened as a tea-time delicacy. Peony water was used for drinking in the middle ages. Add peony petals to your summer salad or try floating in punches and lemonades.
Phlox, Perrennial Phlox (Phlox paniculata) – It is the perennial phlox, NOT the annual, that is edible. It is the high-growing (taller) and not the low-growing (creeping) phlox that grows from 3 to 4 feet tall. Slightly spicy taste. Great in fruit salads. The flowers vary from a Reddish purple to pink, some white.
Pineapple Guave (Feijoa sellowians) – The flavour is sweet and tropical, somewhat like a freshly picked ripe papaya or exotic melon still warm from the sun.
Primrose (Primula vulgaris) – Also know as Cowslip. This flower is colourful with a sweet, but bland taste. Add to salads, pickle the flower buds, cook as a vegetable, or ferment into a wine.
Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) – Also known as Wild Carrot and Bishop’s Lace. It is the original carrot, from which modern cultivars were developed, and it is edible with a light carrot flavour. The flowers are small and white, and bloom in a lacy, flat-topped cluster. Great in salads. NOTE: The problem is, it is closely related to, and looks almost exactly like another wild plant, Wild or Poison Hemlock, which often grows profusely in similar habitats, and is said to be the most poisonous plant native to the United States. The best way to differentiate between the two plants is to remember that Queen Anne’s Lace has a hairy stem, while the stems of Wild Hemlock are smooth and hairless and hollow with purple spots.
Roses (Rosa rugosa or R. gallica officinalis) – Flavours depend on type, colour, and soil conditions. Flavour reminiscent of strawberries and green apples. Sweet, with subtle undertones ranging from fruit to mint to spice. All roses are edible, with the flavour being more pronounced in the darker varieties. In miniature varieties can garnish ice cream and desserts, or larger petals can be sprinkled on desserts or salads. Freeze them in ice cubes and float them in punches also. Petals used in syrups, jellies, perfumed butters and sweet spreads. NOTE: Be sure to remove the bitter white portion of the petals.
Scented Geraniums (Pelargonium species) – The flower flavour generally corresponds to the variety. For example, a lemon-scented geranium would have lemon-scented flowers. They come in fragrances from citrus and spice to fruits and flowers, and usually in colours of pinks and pastels. Sprinkle them over desserts and in refreshing drinks or freeze in ice cubes. NOTE: Citronelle variety may not be edible.
Snap Dragon (Antirrhinum majus) – Delicate garden variety can be bland to bitter. Flavours depend on type, colour, and soil conditions. Probably not the best flower to eat.
Sunflower (Helianthus annus) – The flower is best eaten in the bud stage when it tastes similar to artichokes. Once the flower opens, the petals may be used like chrysanthemums, the flavour is distinctly bittersweet. The unopened flower buds can also be steamed like artichokes.
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) – Also known as Wild Baby’s Breath. The flower flavour is sweet and grassy with a hint of nutty, vanilla flavour. NOTE: Can have a blood thinning effect if eaten in large amounts
Tulip Petals (Tulipa) – Flavour varies from tulip to tulip, but generally the petals taste like sweet lettuce, fresh baby peas, or a cucumber-like texture and flavour. NOTE: Some people have had strong allergic reactions to them. If touching them causes a rash, numbness etc. Don’t eat them! Don’t eat the bulbs ever. If you have any doubts, don’t eat the flower.
Violets (Viola species) – Sweet, perfumed flavour. Related flowers, Johnny jump-ups or violas, and pansies now come in colourful purples and yellows to apricot and pastel hues. I like to eat the tender leaves and flowers in salads. I also use the flowers to beautifully embellish desserts and iced drinks. Freeze them in punches to delight children and adults alike. All of these flowers make pretty adornments for frosted cakes, sorbets, or any other desserts, and they may be crystallized as well. Heart-shaped leaves are edible, and tasty when cooked like spinach.
Most herb flowers are just as tasty as the foliage and very attractive when used in your salads. Add some petals to any dish you were already going to flavour with the herb.
Alliums (leeks, chives, garlic, garlic chives) – Known as the “Flowering Onions.” There are approximately four hundred species that includes the familiar onion, garlic, chives, ramps, and shallots. All members of this genus are edible. Their flavours range from mild onions and leeks right through to strong onion and garlic. All parts of the plants are edible. The flowers tend to have a stronger flavour than the leaves and the young developing seed-heads are even stronger. Eat the leaves and flowers mainly in salads. The leaves can also be cooked as a flavouring with other vegetables in soups, etc.
Chive Blossoms (Allium schoenoprasum) – Use whenever a light onion flavour and aroma is desired. Separate the florets and enjoy the mild, onion flavour in a variety of dishes.
Garlic Blossoms (Allium sativum) – The flowers can be white or pink, and the stems are flat instead of round. The flavour has a garlicky zing that brings out the flavour of your favorite food. Milder than the garlic bulb. Wonderful in salads.
Angelica (Angelica archangelica) – Depending on the variety, flower range from pale lavender-blue to deep rose. It has a flavour similar to licorice. Angelica is valued culinary from the seeds and stems, which are candied and used in liqueurs, to the young leaves and shoots, which can be added to a green salad. Because of its celery-like flavour, Angelica has a natural affinity with fish. The leaves have a stronger, clean taste and make a interesting addition to salads. In its native northern Europe, even the mature leaves are used, particularly by the Laplanders, as a natural fish preservative. Many people in the cold Northern regions such as Greenland, Siberia, and Finland consider Angelica a vegetable, and eat the stems raw, sometimes spread with butter. Young leaves can be made into a tea.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) -Both flowers and leaves have a delicate anise or licorice flavour. Some people say the flavour reminds
them of root beer. The blossoms make attractive plate garnishes and are often used in Chinese-style dishes. Excellent in salads.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – Depending on the type, the flowers are either bright white, pale pink, or a delicate lavender. The flavour of the flower is milder, but similar to the leaves of the same plant. Basil also has different varieties that have different milder flavours like lemon and mint. Sprinkle them over salad or pasta for a concentrated flavour and a spark of colour that gives any dish a fresh, festive look.
Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) – Also called Wild Bergamot, Wild Oswego Tea, Horsemint, Monarda. Wild bee balm tastes like oregano and mint. The taste of bee balm is reminiscent of citrus with soft mingling of lemon and orange. The red flowers have a minty flavour. Any place you use oregano, you can use bee balm blossoms. The leaves and flower petals can also be used in both fruit and regular salads. The leaves taste like the main ingredient in Earl GrayTea and can be used as a substitute.
Borage (Borago officinalis) – Has lovely cornflower blue star-shaped flowers. Blossoms and leaves have a cool, faint cucumber taste. Wonderful in punches, lemonade, gin and tonics, sorbets, chilled soups, cheese tortas, and dips.
Burnet (Sanquisorba minor) – The taste usually is likened to that of cucumbers, and burnet can be used interchangeably with borage.
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) – Chervil flowers are delicate white flowers with an anise flavour. Chervil’s flavour is lost very easily, either by drying the herb, or too much heat. That is why it should be added at the end of cooking or sprinkled on in its fresh, raw state in salads. Chicory (Cichorium intybus) – Earthy flavour, eat either the petals or the buds. Chicory has a pleasant, mild-bitter taste that has been compared to endive. The buds can be pickled.
Coriander (Coriander sativum) – Like the leaves and seeds, the flowers have a strong herbal flavour. Use leaves and flowers raw as the flavour fades quickly when cooked. Sprinkle to taste on salads, bean dishes, and cold vegetable dishes.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) – It has a star-burst yellow flowers that have a mild anise flavour. Use with desserts or cold soups, or as a garnish with your entrees.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) – The white variety of ginger is very fragrant and has a gingery taste on the tongue. Petals may be eaten raw or you can cook the tender young shoots.
Jasmine (jasmine officinale) – The flowers are intensely fragrant and are traditionally used for scenting tea. True Jasmine has oval, shiny leaves and tubular, waxy-white flowers. NOTE: The false Jasmine is in a completely different genus, “Gelsemium”, and family, “Loganiaceae”, is considered too poisonous for human consumption. This flower has a number of common names including yellow jessamine or jasmine, Carolina jasmine or jessamine, evening trumpet flower, gelsemium, and woodbine.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – Sweet, floral flavour, with lemon and citrus notes. Flowers look beautiful and taste good too in a glass of champagne, with chocolate cake, or as a garnish for sorbets or ice creams. Lavender lends itself to savoury dishes also, from hearty stews to wine-reduced sauces. Diminutive blooms add a mysterious scent to custards, flans or sorbets. NOTE: Do not consume lavender oil unless you absolutely know that it has not be sprayed and is culinary safe.
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) – Tiny cream-coloured citrus-scented blossoms. Leaves and flowers can be steeped as an herbtea, and used to flavour custards and flans.
Marjoram (Origanum majorana) – Flowers are a milder version of plant’s leaf. Use as you would the herb.
Mint (Mentha spp) – The flavour of the flowers are minty, but with different overtones depending on the variety. Mint flowers and leaves are great in Middle Eastern dishes.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) – Milder version of plant’s leaf. Use as you would the herb.
Rosemary – Milder version of leaf. Fresh or dried herb and blossoms enhance flavour of Mediterranean dishes. Use with meats, seafoods, sorbets or dressings.
Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) – The dried flowers, Mexican saffron, are used as a food colourant in place of the more aromatic and expensive Spanish saffron.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) – The flowers are violet-blue, pink or white up to 1 3/8 inches long, small, tubelike, clustered together in whorls along the stem tops. Flowers have a subtler sage taste than the leaves and can be used in salads and as a garnish. Flowers are a delicious companion to many foods including beans, corn dishes, sauteed or stuffed mushrooms, or pesto sauce.
Savoury (Satureja hortensis) – The flavour of the flowers is somewhat hot and peppery and similar to thyme.
Thyme (Thymus spp.) – Milder version of leaf. Use sprigs as garnish or remove flowers and sprinkle over soups, etc. Use thyme anywhere a herb might be used.
IMPORTANT – Do's and Dont's
Following are some simple guidelines to keep in mind before you eat any type of flower
Eat flowers only when you are positive they are edible. If uncertain, consult a good reference book on edible flowers prior to consumption.
If pesticides are necessary, use only those products labeled for use on edible crops. No flowers is safe to eat unless it was grown organically. Wash all flowers thoroughly before you eat them.
Introduce flowers into your diet in small quantities one species at a time. Too much of a good thing may cause problems for your digestive system. If you have allergies, introduce edible flowers gradually, as they may aggravate some allergies.
Remove pistils and stamens from flowers before eating. Separate the flower petals from the rest of the flower just prior to use to keep wilting to a minimum.
Eat only the flower petals for most flowers except pansies violas, and Johnny-jump-ups (in which they add flavour).
Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centers. In many cases these flowers have been treated with pesticides not labeled for food crops.
Just because flowers are served with food served at a restaurant does not mean they are edible. Know your edible flowers – as some chefs do not. It’s easy and very attractive to use flowers for garnish on plates or for decoration, but avoid using non-edible flowers this way. Many people believe that anything on the plate can be eaten.
PICKING EDIBLE FLOWERS
Pick your flowers in the morning when their water content is at its highest. Following information from the book, Edible Flowers – From Garden To Palate, by Cathy Wilkinson Barash:
Remove the stamens and styles from the flowers before eating. The pollen can detract from the flavour of the flower. In addition, the pollen may cause an allergic reaction in some individuals. Remove the sepals of all flowers except violas, Johnny-jump-ups, and pansies.
Only the petals of some flowers such as rose, calendula, tulip, chrysanthemum, yucca, and lavender are edible. When using just the petals, separate them from the rest of the flower just prior to use to keep wilting to a minimum. Others, including Johnny-jump-up, violet, runner bean, honeysuckle, and clover can be eaten in their entirety.
Roses, dianthus, English daisies, marigolds and chrysanthemums have a bitter white portion at the base of the petal where it was attached to the flower. Cut off the bitter part off the petal before using.
CLEANING EDIBLE FLOWERS
Shake each flower to dislodge insects hidden in the petal folds.
After having removed the stamen, wash the flowers under a fine jet of water or in a strainer placed in a large bowl of water. Drain and allow to dry on absorbent paper. The flowers will retain their odour and colour providing they dry quickly and that they are not exposed to direct sunlight.
PRESERVING EDIBLE FLOWERS
To preserve flowers, put them on moist paper and place together in a hermetically-sealed container or in plastic wrapping. This way, certain species can be preserved in the refrigerator for some 10 days. If the flowers are limp, they can be revitalized by floating them on icy water for a few moments; don’t leave too long or else they will lose some of their flavour. You can also store the whole flower in a glass of water in the refrigerator overnight.
DISCLAIMER : If in doubt do not eat. Please research plants thoroughly to recognise the flower.