Decorate Your Plate with Edible Flowers
By Laura Conner NH
Master Gardener Volunteer
Flowers are intoxicating to humans.
We anxiously await the arrival of spring blossoms and crave the scent of flowers in summer. We value their varied colors and textures in a landscape and integrate their beauty into our gardens, home décor and cuisine.
For centuries, edible flowers have made their way onto the plates of kings, queens and commoners alike. From biblical times to modern-day cuisine, edible flowers heighten the senses in appearance and taste.
They add pops of yellow, orange and purple in salads, dress up drab desserts and give drinks and soups a depth of flavor. Edible flowers are eaten around the globe in all forms of cuisine and are valued for their aesthetic appeal.
Many edible flowers can be grown in the home garden. When you raise them yourself, there is no doubt that they will be organic and pesticide-free.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) and violets (Viola odorata) are easy to grow in pots. These are all delicious in fresh salads, frozen into ice for festive drinks or candied for confections.
Rose petals (Rosa ssp.) and tulip petals (Tulipa sp.), herb flowers like thyme (Thymus sp.) and basil (Osimum basilicum) and vegetable flowers such as pea (Pisum sativum), squash (Cucurbita ssp.) and radish (Raphinus sp.) grow in the landscape or vegetable garden.
Care must be taken when watering and controlling garden pests and disease. Using fertilizer or pesticides near or on a plant that will be consumed should be done with caution and according to the product label.
Check your plants early and often to identify issues before they become problems. Encouraging beneficial insects to take up residence in the home landscape and using integrated pest management in the garden will keep your vegetables, herbs and edible flowers beautiful and safe to eat.
Watering plants at the soil level is advisable. When plants are watered from above with sprinklers or hoses, moisture can collect on delicate flower petals and cause damage or discoloration. Using mulch reduces the amount of soil that may splash onto the plant, reducing the amount of time it takes to prepare your flowers for consumption.
Harvesting and Storing
Edible flowers, like vegetables and fruit, should be harvested when they are ripe and three quarters of the way open. Flowers are most turgid (full of water) in the morning and will stay fresh longer if picked then.
If soil or insects are present, float the flowers gently in cool water and dry on a paper towel. A small, delicate brush also works to remove loose debris from dry flowers.
Edible flowers can be stored in a plastic container with damp paper towels until they are ready to use. Whenever possible, use caution when handling flowers as they may bruise and wilt easily.
Preparation and Uses
Before adding edible flowers to a dish, the reproductive parts of the flower should be removed. Using tweezers or scissors, cut away the anther and filaments. Removing any pollen reduces the risk that someone with allergies will react to eating the flower.
Removing the sepals and stigma reduces the bitter flavor in some flowers. If using roses, daisies or calendula, remove the petals and do not use the interior of the flower. Dianthus petals are most flavorful if the white part of the petal is removed.
Pair edible flowers and food according to taste: floral, sweet undertones are best with desserts and cakes whereas oniony, herbal flavors are better with savory foods such as salads and cheeses.
For instance, pair apple (Malus sp.), plum (Prunus sp.) or cherry (Prunus cerasus) blossoms with cakes. Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) flowers are fragrant and sweet as well and can be candied.
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), dill (Anethum graveolens), nasturtium and borage (Borago officinalis) may be best used in salads or to adorn cheeses and meats. Vegetable flowers like squash blossoms can be filled and eaten raw or cooked.
The most important thing to keep in mind when growing, collecting or buying edible flowers is: Are they actually edible? Always refer to a reputable source to ensure that flowers are safe to eat and are not poisonous.
Books and online guides that include common name, proper name and photos of the edible flower are preferable. Like any new food, introduce edible flowers slowly to see how they are tolerated.
When we think of flowers in our salads, we often think of nasturtium, violets, pansies or calendula. Here are a few other flowers that we don’t commonly think of as edible but are interesting and delicious.
So, as we enjoy spring’s arrival, consider adding plants that bear edible flowers to your garden palette this season. Not only are the flowers attractive, they also attract pollinators and add a fun dimension to seasonal foods and beverages.
- Only eat plants that can be identified as edible. Many flowers are NOT edible. Lily of the valley, sweet pea, lupine and foxglove are just a few flowers that are not edible. Always refer to a guide before sampling flowers.
- Do not collect flowers from roads or public places. Do not eat flowers from a floral bouquet. These plants may have been treated with chemicals. Florists and farmers may sell edible flowers, but only use what’s approved.
- Not all edible flowers are tasty. Gladiolas, chrysanthemum, African marigolds and red clover can be eaten but aren’t considered delicious.