Edible flowers are ordinarily associated with haute cuisine and wedding cakes, but you may have several tasty varieties right in your own backyard.
Adding flowers to your meals will not only make an ordinary dish look gourmet, they can be quite flavorful and nutritious.
Historically speaking, many different cultures valued fresh flowers in their culinary endeavors; rose petals were popular among Asian Indians, daylily buds often appear in oriental dishes, Romans used violets, and stuffed squash blossoms were popular in Italian and Hispanic cultures.1
If you’re used to adding fresh herbs to your food, adding in a sprinkling of fresh flowers is not much different, but there are some unique guidelines to be aware of.
Not Every Flower is Edible
Before eating any flower, you need to make sure it is edible. As a general rule, assume any flower from a florist, nursery or garden center is not edible, as these are nearly always heavily treated with pesticides. The same goes for flowers you find near a roadside or in any garden that has been treated with chemicals. Stick to organically grown flowers, or those you grow yourself (without pesticides/herbicides).
Some flowers, however, even organic ones, can make you very sick if eaten. Daphne, foxglove, daffodils, and hyacinths are just a few examples of poisonous flowers that should not be used for food purposes. The slideshow above contains 42 examples of flowers that are safe to eat, but there are many others. Consult a reference book on edible flowers, or ask an expert in this area, before branching out further, and if you’re not sure, don’t eat it.
Flower Power: Are Flowers Good for You?
Flowers are natural plant foods, and like many plant foods in nature often contain valuable nutrients for your health. For instance, dandelions contain numerous antioxidant properties and flavonoids, including FOUR times the beta carotene of broccoli, as well as lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin. They’re also a rich source of vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, pyroxidine, niacin, and vitamins E and C. Other examples include:
- Violets contain rutin, a phytochemical with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that ay help strengthen capillary walls
- Rose petals contain bioflavonoids and antioxidants, as well as vitamins A, B3, C and E
- Nasturtiums contain cancer-fighting lycopene and lutein, a carotenoid found in vegetables and fruits that is important for vision health
- Lavender contains vitamin A, calcium and iron, and is said to benefit your central nervous system
- Chive blossoms (the purple flower of the chive herb) contain vitamin C, iron and sulfur, and have traditionally been used to help support healthy blood pressure levels
Flowers are Fragile, Handle with Care
Flowers are extremely perishable and do not do well when stored in the refrigerator. Ideally, pick them fresh and serve them as soon as possible (store them upright in a glass of water while preparing). If you must store them, place them carefully between two moist paper towels, wrap in plastic or place in an airtight container, and put them in the fridge. When ready to use, rinse each flower gently with water, and blot it carefully dry. You can use a knife or tweezers to remove the stem, leaves and pistil, then separate the petals (generally only the petals are eaten).
Flowers can be eaten raw in salads (nasturtiums, dandelion and primrose are popular for this purpose), added to appetizers or infused into sauces and other dishes. Every flower has a unique taste, so you will find the ones that appeal to you most just like any other herb or spice. For instance, bee balm tastes similar to oregano, carnations have a clove-like flavor, and marigolds are sometimes called “poor man’s saffron” because of their peppery, saffron-like flavor.
If they’re not available for free in your own backyard, you can find edible flowers at gourmet food shops, farmers’ markets and other specialty food shops.
Start Slowly When Eating Flowers
Flowers are tiny but they can pack a powerful punch, especially if they’re new to your diet. Introduce them sparingly at first to avoid any potential digestive upset or allergic reactions. This is especially important if you have allergies to pollen, as eating flowers may exacerbate your symptoms. Even high-quality, nutritious edible flowers can cause an unexpected reaction in some people. Try them one at a time and in SMALL amounts to see how your body is going to react.