Current interest in herb growing and adventurous cooking has led to increased use of edible flowers. Floral ingredients add flavor, texture, color and excitement to many recipes. The addition of vibrant nasturtiums or pansies can transform an ordinary salad.
There are several things to keep in mind however when cooking or garnishing with flowers:
- Be sure the flowers are not toxic and are safe to eat.
- Remember that "edible" does not always mean "palatable."
- Take care that the plants were not previously treated with pesticides.
To ensure that your plants are pesticide-free, grow them yourself from seed or buy organically grown plants. Edible flowers may also be found in the produce department at some grocery stores.
It will be easier to care for culinary flowers if they are grown in containers. If you are vigilant, you can eliminate the need for chemical applications. Common insect problems such as slugs or spittlebugs can be controlled by handpicking. Aphids and mites may be washed off with water from your hose.
Precautions: Many plants create toxins to discourage animal or insect damage. The same toxic chemicals can also injure humans. Never experiment by eating plant parts unless you are sure they are harmless. Often only a particular part of the plant is edible. For example, rhubarb stems may be eaten, but not its leaves, roots or flowers.
If you know one part of a plant is safe to eat, do not assume that all parts will be. Check a reliable reference such as those listed at the end of this Brief or the AMA Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants, published by the American Medical Association.
The source of flowers to be eaten is also very important. Garden center plants may have been treated with systemic pesticides to prevent insect damage or diseases. Older gardening books may not address previous chemical applications or may just suggest washing the flowers. Current recommendations are that flowers never be eaten unless the plant was grown "organically."
Serving suggestions: The word "edible" means you may safely consume the flower. Unfortunately it does not always mean the flavor is appealing. Some flowers (eg. lavender) have a bitter or astringent taste and are best used as a garnish.
When seasoning with edible flowers, taste test and try to match the flavor to the recipe. Sweet or floral scented blossoms can be used to decorate desserts or garnish cold drinks. Peppery nasturiums, cucumber- flavored burnet and chive blossoms add interest to salads.
Blossoms should be harvested the day they'll be used; try to pick no more than one day early. Wash the fresh flowers gently and set them aside to dry. Refrigerate them in plastic sandwich bags until you use them.
Remove interior flower parts such as stamens and styles of larger flowers (i.e. squash or tulips). These are tart tasting in some flowers. The white part at the base of hollyhocks (the calyx) is bitter and should also be removed. When serving flowers fresh, add them to your dish just before serving.
The flowers are edible on all of these plants
|Scientific name||Additional comments|
|Alpine Strawberry||Fragaria alpina||Leaves often used in tea|
|Anise Hyssop||Agastache foeniculum|
|Apple or plum||Malus species|
|Beebalm||Monarda didyma||Taste may differ by cultivar; avoid 'Panorama' as the taste is too astringent|
|Begonia||Begonia x tuberhybrida|
|Borage||Borage officinalis||Leaves also|
|Chamomile||Matricaria recutita||Flowers have an apple scent and flavor|
|Chives||Allium schoenoprasum||Blossoms and stems|
|Daylilies||Hemerocallis species||Buds are good stir-fried|
|Dill||Anethum graveolens||Flowers, seeds and foliage|
|English Daisy||Bellis perennis|
|Lavender||Lavandula angustifoliaor officinalis||Bitter taste to flowers, but wonderfully scented. Neither is fully hardy in Minnesota, but either may be grown as an annual.|
|Lemon Balm||Melissa officinalis||Leaves and flowers are scented|
|Marjoram||Origanum majorana||Leaves are often dried, but can also be served fresh.|
|Mint||Mentha species||Leaves can be used fresh or dried|
|Mustard||Brassica juncea||Leaves and young seed pods can be eaten.|
|Nasturtium||Tropaeloum majus||Both flowers and leaves have a peppery taste, so use sparingly.|
|Petunia||Petunia x hybrida or species|
|Rose||Rosa species||Use petals|
|Scarlet Runner Beans||Phaseolus coccineus||Bean pods toughen as they age, so make use of young pods as well as flowers. Please note: Sweet Pea flowers are not edible.|
|Sage||Salvia elegans||Leaves fresh or dried.|
|Squash||Curcurbita species||Flowers can be stuffed or fried. If female blossoms are picked, however, the fruit will not develop.|
|Tulip||Tulip species||Use petals|
Sources for further information or recipes:
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H104E Reviewed 2/99