Bright, cheery colors, delicate textures, and you can eat them!
Edible flowers have been part of the human diet since, well, since there have been people! Did you know that carnation petals have been used as one of the ingredients in the French liqueur, Chartreuse, since the 17th century?
Before we start, let me first share a story from my early trials with edible flowers. My dear sister decided to marry an Australian sailor and asked me to make her wedding cake. It was a lovely tiered white cake with yellow borders. I decided to add some stunning yellow flowers I saw outside. My sister’s reaction of horror was not what I expected - until she explained that the Angel’s Trumpet flowers I used were extremely poisonous. Needless to say, the flowers and the frosting came off. So…
When in doubt, don’t
Before you go popping random blossoms in your mouth, you need to know that some flowers can make you sick, and others can kill you. If you are even remotely unsure about a plant, do not eat it. Sometimes there is a fine line between edible and inedible. For example, regular garden variety pea flowers and shoots are edible and delicious, while fragrant sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) are poisonous. Some varieties of daylilies are edible and others are not. The same is true for phlox and geraniums. Make sure you know what you have before tasting it.
Also, chemical sprays and car fume residue can be toxic, too. Chemical pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides should not be used on flowers that will be eaten. Never eat flowers from commercially grown plants, as there is no way to know for sure what has been applied to or used in growing these plants. Now that I have reminded you to be careful, let’s see just how many flowers in your garden are edible!
All herb flowers are edible.
Basil, chives, cilantro, garlic, dill, lavender, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme flowers can all be used to add an extra depth and a touch of color to many different dishes. You can also eat the flowers of anise hyssop, angelica, bee balm, burnet, chervil, fennel, ginger, and lemon verbena.
There are a surprising number of edible flowers. All members of the viola family, which includes Johnny-jump-ups and pansies, and the dianthus family, or carnation fame, are edible.
Edible fruit tree flowers
The flowers of many fruit and nut trees are also edible. Apple, apricot, peach, pear, and plum blossoms can be used to add color and a delicate complexity to many dishes. When using these flowers, be sure to only use the petals, and not the stamens or pistils. Because they contain low levels of cyanide, apple blossoms should be eaten in moderation. Citrus blossoms are very pungent and should be used sparingly. Leftovers can be added to floral arrangements, so that you can still enjoy the aroma.
Edible vegetable flowers
Your probably already eat several vegetable flowers: artichoke, broccoli, and cauliflower, for example. While eating the flowers of your vegetable plants reduces your crop yield, it can be a nice way to try something new. There are several different vegetable plants with edible flowers:
Ways to use edible flowers
While it is easy to sprinkle petals into a salad for a splash of color and flavor, there are many other ways to incorporate edible flowers into your diet:
Preparing edible flowers
Edible flowers should be picked just before using and thoroughly rinsed off. This will help remove dust, frass, microorganisms, and any surface chemicals that may have blown in or been applied. Taste the flowers before using them, so that you know what flavor you are adding to your food.
Remove the pistils and stamens from most flowers. The only exceptions are violas and Johnny-jump-ups - in these cases, the other parts add good flavor. If you detect some bitterness in any edible flower, you may need to remove the white base of the petals. This is commonly needed when working with carnations, chrysanthemums, day lilies, and roses.
How many edible flowers do you have in your garden? Tell us in the comments!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!