Every now and again I’ll see a flower on my plate at a restaurant. I’ve learned that any flower served at a restaurant with any dish is edible. Unfortunately, I usually forget to ask what kind of flower I’m eating.
The fact of the matter is that there are dozens of edible flowers that grow in our yards and gardens, but be careful out there. Some can make you sick or even kill you. Adding flowers to a dish needs some attention to detail.
You’ll also want to stay close to home for your harvesting. Flowers on the roadside may have been sprayed or polluted by car exhaust. Many flowers from florists or in public gardens are sprayed with both pesticides and fungicides after they’ve bloomed. Buy them when they’re still budding or only eat your own flowers! Hopefully you’ll remember which have been sprayed in your yard and which have not. Avoid eating any flower in your yard that you have treated with a pesticide.
All of the flowers I’ve identified are fairly common and should be easy to recognize. If you’re not 100% sure about a flower, skip it or find a field guide to flowers so you can be sure. An example of a particularly poisonous flower is Foxglove or Digitalis. It can cause a heart attack. Lily of the Valley can make you very sick as well.
On the other hand, Lilacs are not only fragrant but safe to eat and add a subtle citrus, sweetness to food. They also make a great garnish.
So let’s get started. Here’s a list of 12 flowers that are fairly common, easy to identify and have been defined as “food safe.”
You’ll only want to eat the petals. The green base is tough and doesn’t taste good. The petals are somewhat sweet and have the unique carnation aroma.
Also known as Mums, they’re a bit strong with some peppery and mildly bitter flavors. Great in Asian cuisine where bitterness is sometimes a flavor accent, and once again, you only want to use the petals.
Well roll me over. Before you mow down the clover you might want to pick a cup. The flowers have a sweet anise like or licorice flavor that is great with pork, lamb or to top a fruit salad.
It’s not just for tea anymore. Don’t add too many petals. They have a strong, cranberry flavor that can dominate a dish. Great on top of poultry as a garnish or sprinkle over stuffing or rice.
You won’t taste much but they seem to grow everywhere and they sure look good on the plate. A good all purpose garnish. You can use the whole flower too, so float them on top of a bowl of soup or crown a salad with a few.
Here again, a little goes a long way. Very flavorful with a citrus/sweetness that’s great on seafood, Greek cuisine or as a garnish for game and poultry on a serving platter.
This is another flower where you can eat the whole flowertop. No need to strip the petals. Great on top of desserts, ice-cream or centered on a slice of pie.
Eat the petals only. The base like most other flowers is fibrous and bitter and might actually have some small thorns. The perfumy flavor of the rose carries over to the petals and look great in cocktails, scattered across desserts or as a border around a serving platter. The more intense the color, the more intense the flavor.
10. Pumpkin and Squash
Yeah, they’re big flowers but you can actually stuff them. They have a subtle flavor of pumpkin or squash. Use an icing bag to fill them with a cheese or mousse filling and bake them for about 10 minutes at 325. Beyond a garnish, they’re a side-dish.
Another great flower to float in a drink, on soups or desserts. They have a floral aroma and are sweet.
Violets are also very easy to identify and often grow wild.
Surprise, surprise. You can eat the flowers from herbs and there’s more than one. Many herbs flower and their flavors are often concentrated in their flowers. Make sure you taste them first. Too much can overwhelm a dish. Here are some common herbs that are fragrant, colorful and packed with their flavor:
Basil, Chamomile, Chervil, Cilantro, Dill, Fennel, Lavender, Mint, Oregano, Rosemary, and Sage. There are others like Lemon Verbena and Anise Hyssop but many folks don’t plant those or know what they look like so I’m trying to keep it simple.
Once you start incorporating flowers into your cooking style you’ll be hooked and you’ll actually miss them as the seasons or the first frosts take them from our reach. All the more reason to do some research and take some time to eat the roses.