The new trend in organic cooking is to use edible flowers to bring a delicate and creative touch to your dishes and to enhance the flavours. This is not a new idea but dates back to Roman times and became very popular in the Victoria era but knowing which flowers you should or should not use can be a complicated business.
So if you are not sure where to start or what to use – we have done a little research for you but before you begin our first tip is to use sparingly and keep it simple. Edible flowers can have a strong flavor so mixing to many can over power the taste of your dish.
Remember, not every flower is edible, so don’t use anything you are unsure of and never pick flowers that may have been contaminated by pesticides or traffic fumes.
Remove pistils and stamens from flowers before eating. Separate the flower petals from the rest of the flower just prior to use to keep wilting to a minimum.
Edible ‘Garden Flower’ Guide:
Alpine pinks (Dianthus):
Clove-like flavour ideal for adding to cakes as flavoured sugar, oils and vinegars
Bergamot (Monardia didyma):
Strong spicy scent, makes good tea and compliments bacon, poultry, rice and pasta
Petals flavour and colour cream soups, fish chowder and egg dishes in the same way as calendula
Daisy (Bellis perennis):
Not a strong flavour but petals make an interesting garnish for cakes and salads
Day lily (Hemerocallis):
Add buds and flowers to stir fry, salads and soups. Crunchy with a peppery after taste but may have a laxative effect. Avoid buds damaged by gall midge
Hibiscus (H. rosa-sinensis):
Refreshing citrus-flavoured tea enhanced by rosemary
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea):
Remove all traces of pollen and decorate cakes with crystallized petals
Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia):
Favoured sugar, honey or vinegar can be used to in cakes and biscuits while sprigs compliment roast pork, lamb and chicken
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus):
Brightly-coloured, peppery flowers are good in salads and pasta dishes. The whole flower, leaves, and buds can be used or just the petals for a milder flavour
Marigold (Calendula officinalis):
Intense colour and a peppery taste useful in soups, stews and puddings. Petals can be dried or pickled in vinegar or added to oil or butter
Primrose (Primula vulgaris):
Decorate cakes with crystallized or fresh primrose or cowslip flowers. They can be frozen in ice cubes
All roses are edible with the more fragrant roses being the best. Petals can be crystallized, used to flavour drinks, sugar and even icing for summer cakes
Scented geraniums (Pelagonium):
Flowers are milder than leaves and can be crystallized or frozen in ice cubes for summer cordials
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus):
Blanch whole buds and serve with garlic butter. Petals can be used in salads or stir fries
Sweet violet (Viola odorata):
Delicate flavour suitable for sweet or savoury dishes as well as tea. Use candy violets and pansies as a garnish on cakes and soufflés
Tiger lily (Lilium leucanthemum var. tigrinum):
Delicate fragrance and flavour enhances salads, omelettes and poultry, plus can be used to stuff fish
Edible ‘Herb Flower’ Guide
Herb flowers like basil, chives, lavender, mint, rosemary and thyme impart a more subtle flavour to food than the leaves. By adding sprigs of edible herb flowers like basil or marjoram to oils and butters the delicate flavours can be used over a longer period.
Most herb flowers are just as tasty as the foliage and very attractive when used in your salads. Add some petals to any dish you were already going to flavor with the herb.
Borage (Borago offincinalis):
The cucumber flavour of these attractive blue flowers adds interest to cakes, salads and pate. Flowers are easily removed and can be frozen in ice cubes or crystallized
Basil (Ocimum basilicum):
Sweet, clover-like flavour compliments tomato dishes as well as oils, salad dressings and soups. Use aromatic leaves of both green and purple in Mediterranean dishes
Dill (Anethum graveolens):
Aniseed flavour, ideal addition to salads, vegetables and fish dishes. Add flowers to mayonnaise, white sauce and pickles
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum):
Mild onion flavour, good in salads, egg dishes and sauces for fish
Clover (Trifolium pratense):
Both red and white clover flowers can be used to garnish fruit and green salads or make wine from whole red flowers
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare):
All parts are edible and enhance salmon, pâtés and salads. Flowers preserved in oil or vinegar can be used in winter
Mint (Mentha sp):
Apple, pineapple and ginger mint, plus peppermint and spearmint flowers can all be used in oil, vinegar and butter for both sweet and savoury dishes
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis):
A sweet flavour similar to the leaves can be used fresh to garnish salads and tomato dishes or to flavour butter or oil
Edible ‘Vegetable Flower’ Guide
Garlic Blossoms (Allium sativum):
The flowers can be white or pink, and the stems are flat instead of round. The flavor has a garlicky zing that brings out the flavor of your favorite food. Milder than the garlic bulb. Wonderful in salads.
Courgette (Cucurbita pepo) flowers:
Can be eaten hot in a tomato sauce or cold stuffed with cooked rice, cheese, nuts or meat. Use male flowers so as not to reduce yield
Garden pea (Pisum sativum):
Add flowers and young shoots to salad for a fresh pea taste
Salad rocket (Eruca vescaria):
Adds sharp flavour to salads or preserve in oil or butter to accompany meat
Radish Flowers (Raphanus sativus):
Depending on the variety, flowers may be pink, white or yellow, and will have a distinctive, spicy bite (has a radish flavor). Best used in salads. The Radish shoots with their bright red or white tender stalks are very tasty and are great sautd or in salads.
Edible ‘Fruit Blossom’ Guide:
Most fruit trees are usually sprayed just before and during the bloom. If you are using you own flowers that have not sprayed, use only the petals, not the pistils or stamen.
Apple Blossoms (Malus species):
Apple Blossoms have a delicate floral flavor and aroma. They are a nice accompaniment to fruit dishes and can easily be candied to use as a garnish. NOTE: Eat in moderation as the flowers may contain cyanide precursors. The seeds of the apple fruit and their wild relations are poisonous.
Citrus Blossoms (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, kumquat):
Use highly scented waxy petals sparingly. Distilled orange flower water is characteristic of Middle Eastern pastries and beverages.Citrus flavor and lemony.
Elderberry Blossoms (Sambucus nigra):
Used to make wine and cordials (see our Elderflower cordial recipe here), or place in a muslin bag to flavour tarts and jellies but removed before serving. Elderflowers can be dipped in batter and deep fried. The blossoms are a creamy color and have a sweet scent and sweet taste. When harvesting elderberry flowers, do not wash them as that removes much of the fragrance and flavor. Instead check them carefully for insects. The fruit is used to make wine. The flowers, leaves, berries, bark and roots have all been used in traditional folk medicine for centuries. NOTE: All other parts of this plant, except the berries, are mildly toxic! They contain a bitter alkaloid and glycoside that may change into cyanide. The cooked ripe berries of the edible elders are harmless. Eating uncooked berries may cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Cleaning Edible Flowers:
Shake each flower to dislodge insects hidden in the petal folds.
After having removed the stamen, wash the flowers under a fine jet of water or in a strainer placed in a large bowl of water.
Drain and allow to dry on absorbent paper. The flowers will retain their odor and color providing they dry quickly and that they are not exposed to direct sunlight.
We would love to see your photos of dishes you create with edible flowers, please do share them with us.