Things to Consider Before You Harvest
- Not all flowers are edible. It’s important to be certain you’ve identified the correct plant. Get a good guide to help you safely locate and select new plants to add to your cooking.
- Be sure what you’re picking hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides. It’s wise to avoid flowers by roadsides and from nurseries, since it’s likely they’ve been treated with chemicals.
- Consume flowers in moderation. In some cases, eating too many edible flowers may cause stomach upset. If you have pollen or food allergies, it’s best to try a little of a flower at a time to make sure you don’t have a reaction.
- Remember to harvest responsibly, especially if foraging in a wild area. A good rule of thumb is to take less than thirty percent of what’s growing. This practice allows plants to continue to thrive and leaves food for our pollinators.
How to Use Edible Flowers in the Kitchen
A number of flowers work well in salads, and you may have even seen nasturtiums and pansies served up at restaurants. Others may be added to baked goods or used as decorative toppings, and many make delicious medicinal teas. You can also infuse flowers into vinegars for stunning homemade gifts.
Because picking them can be labor intensive, using smaller numbers of flowers as garnishes and add-ins is the simplest route. But if you have the time — or a lot of helpers — you can harvest enough flowers to make such treats as dandelion muffins or violet jelly.
Some flowers can be eaten whole, like dandelions, violets, daylily buds, and herb blossoms. Only the petals of larger flowers like roses are eaten. Their green bases can be bitter.
As an added bonus, many of these beautiful elements of your garden attract beneficial insects and repel unwanted ones. Consider adding these delicacies to your landscape if you don’t already have them there.
The delicate blue flower on otherwise somewhat rangy-looking borage plants make gorgeous decorations for cakes, iced teas, and dinner plates. They don’t have a lot of flavor, but they’re so lovely, no one cares! The leaves, which have a pleasant melon flavor, can be used to brew tasty teas or to lightly flavor ice water. The bees love borage flowers as well, so they’re a great way to bring pollinators to your yard. (A word of caution: Borage is a prolific self-seeder, so be prepared to find it growing all over your neighborhood if you plant it.)
Calendula is a beautiful addition to the summer garden — and to summer meals! Also called “poor man’s saffron,” the petals make a tasty and pretty addition to rice dishes, salads, soups, and eggs. If you like to make homemade salves, save some calendula for infusing in oil, which is often used for soothing a variety of skin conditions. Or add to lip balm for a healing sunburn remedy.
That icon of summer, the daylily, has tasty buds and flowers that can be used in stir-fries, soups, and even stuffed with fruit and served for dessert. The wild orange types are the ones used most commonly for culinary purposes, though other types of daylilies are edible. (Some lilies are not, so once again, consult a guide before consuming.) A small percentage of people don’t tolerate daylilies, particularly when raw. Try a little before cooking up a big pot of daylily soup and forego them if you experience nausea or other gastrointestinal distress.
The green base of the flower is typically discarded, since it has a strong, unpleasant flavor. Unopened buds taste similar to green beans and be used in dishes calling for that ingredient.
Perhaps one of the most undervalued — or unfairly detested — spring plants, dandelions are packed with nutrition. In addition to enjoying the greens in your salad, you can steam or fry unopened blossoms. If you have a good deal of time and patience, you can remove the sweet yellow petals and add them to baked goods, make a syrup, or brew your own dandelion wine. If you have less time, a smaller number of petals make a pretty addition to salads and sprinkled on baked goods, soups, and other cooked dishes. Try these Lavender and Dandelion Muffins.
A delicious medicinal herb, the beautiful purple flowers of hyssop share the licorice flavor of the leaves, and all can be used to brew teas that are thought to relieve pain, soothe respiratory complaints, and support digestion. Sometimes used in savory dishes, hyssop can also flavor ice creams and puddings. Other members of the mint family also have edible flowers that can add interest to fruit salads, cool summer drinks, and desserts.
A relatively common addition to salads at fancy restaurants, spicy nasturtium is a gorgeous garden flower and garnish. Flowers can be stuffed or chopped for adding to omelets or other dishes where some spice is welcome. The leaves taste similar and can be used in combination with the flowers. Some people pickle the seeds to transform them into something akin to a caper.
In addition to their soothing scent, lavender flowers make delicious additions to baked goods, ice cream, puddings, and teas. Lavender is often paired with lemon or blueberry in sweets, like scones and ice cream. It’s also a key ingredient in herbes de Provence, which makes a wonderful seasoning for vegetables and meats. Read our article 3 Recipes That Will Make You Love Cooking With Lavender.
Rose petals have a sweetness combined with a little spiciness. Flavors vary depending on the variety and growing conditions, but in general darker petals have more flavor. The white portion of the petal is more bitter, so most people remove them. Try using rose petals to flavor ice cream, jelly, scones, and other baked goods. Or infuse in liquid honey and use to top your favorite scone, cracker, or muffin.
Most violets are edible, though the yellow varieties have been known to cause stomach upset. (African violets aren’t actually true violets and are poisonous, so leave those alone!) North American violets have less flavor than the European sweet violet, which works best in dessert recipes like puddings, cakes, and candies. The less sweet types make nice additions to salads and smoothies, and all can be used to brew a lovely blue-green tea thought to help with pain relief, insomnia, and coughs. Johnny jump-ups and their cousin pansy can be used as well.
Many of your favorite herbs – including chives, basil, mint, rosemary, oregano, dill and cilantro — all have edible flowers. The flavor of herb flowers is usually somewhat milder than the leaves, so you can toss them in whole rather than chopping as fine as you would the leaves. Herb flowers can be added to vegetable and egg dishes and as a tasty garnish for soups. Toss some with other flowers for a show-stopping salad.
More Edible Flower Options
There are plenty more flowers you can experiment with in your kitchen. Lilac, bee balm, marigold, begonia, dianthus, tulip, and many more have culinary uses worth exploring. And of course, if you can spare the vegetables that won’t grow if you eat the flowers, squash blossom fritters are always an option.
Enliven your next meal with some of these surprising and beautiful blooms!
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