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Edible Flowers

By: James A. Baggett
Edible flowers are a fun way to add color and flavor to all sorts of dishes from cookies and cakes to salads and stir-fries. And they’re even better when you pick them right from your garden!

Beautiful salad with edible flowers: Edible flowers like the phlox, nasturtium, pansies and marigold petals are a beautiful addition to a simple salad.

Beautiful & edible flowers

To be honest, I’m the kind of guy who is always trying to convince people to eat their daylilies. Really. And redbud blossoms and sweet violets and nasturtiums. Even as a kid: My brothers and I used to suck on purple clover blossoms, snack on the dainty yellow wood sorrel flowers (which taste like dill pickles), and pluck honeysuckle blossoms off their stems, pinch the bottom of each blossom, pull out the stamen and lick the sweet drops of nectar that comes with it.

Pick edible flowers at their peak freshness

My enthusiasm for edible flowers only increased when I became friends with edible flower maven Cathy Wilkinson Barash, author of Edible Flowers: From Garden to Palate. Over the years she has shared many of her favorite recipes featuring edible flowers, dishes like lilac tea sandwiches and stuffed nasturtiums. But enjoying edible flowers can be as easy as tearing up a handful and tossing them on top of fresh greens, like you see above.

“Choose flowers that are at their peak,” she advises. “Flowers that are not fully open, those that are past their prime and flowers that are starting to wilt should be passed.” And remove pistils and stamens from the flower petals before eating.

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A matter of taste

In terms of flavor, herb flowers tend to have the same flavor as the leaves but less intense. Other flowers might be sweet, floral, citrusy or even pealike in flavor. In the gallery below you’ll find 10 of my favorite edible flowers. I’ll let you know how they taste, plus some tips for using them in the kitchen. Take a look around your garden and see what you already have growing that you can harvest to try out in a new recipe. I hope these whet your appetite for edible flowers.

Alaska-nasturtium-flower-closeup: 'Alaska' Nasturtium is not only beautiful in the garden but you can eat the flowers and the leaves for a subtle peppery flavor to many dishes.

4 Rules to know before you eat a flower

1. Know what your are eating!

Eat flowers only when you are certain they are edible. If you’re not sure, consult a reliable reference book. Avoid using nonedible flowers as a garnish because many people believe that anything they find on their plate can be eaten.

2. Make sure the flowers were grown chemical-free

Eat only flowers that have been grown organically. If pesticides are necessary, use only those products labeled for use on edible crops. Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centers. In many cases these flowers have been treated with chemicals not intended for food crops.

3. Avoid flowers affected by pollution

Do not eat flowers picked from the side of the road. Once again, possible herbicide use and contamination from car emissions eliminates these flowers as a possible choice for culinary use.

4. Start slowly when trying new edible flowers

Introduce new flowers into your diet one at a time in small quantities. Too much of a good thing may cause problems for your digestive system. And if you have hay fever, allergies or asthma, introduce new flowers gradually, as they may aggravate some conditions.

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Edible flowers you should grow in your garden

Edible flowers are a fun and easy way to add color and flavor to all sorts of dishes — especially when you can pick them right from your own garden. Here are some that you should consider adding to your garden menu.

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)

Nasturtiums are certainly the most well-known edible flowers. ‘Alaska Mix’ is a dwarf heirloom that stays under a foot tall and is not only prized for its sweet-spicy flavor but also for its intriguing cream-and-green-variegated leaves. All nasturtiums have spicy-scented blossoms with a distinct peppery tang that can be added to salads as a garnish. The leaves are also edible (also with a peppery taste) and look great when used as doilies under cakes, cheese plates and dishes featuring the blossoms. The immature seeds can be pickled and used like capers.

Type Annual Blooms Showy, funnel-shaped blossoms in shades of red, yellow, orange, and cream in midsummer to frost Light Full sun Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 6 to 15 in. tall, 12 to 120 in. wide

Marigold (Tagetes spp. and hybrids)

The spicy, herbal flavor of marigolds may be an acquired taste. Some can be tangy to almost bitter, so not all marigold flowers are tasty even though they are all edible. For the best flavor, grow French marigold (Tagates patula), Gem marigolds (Tagates tenufolia) or Mexican mint marigold (Tagates lucida).

To harvest the petals, simply pull the flowers apart and remove any green or white parts. Marigold petals look pretty sprinkled on ice cream, frozen in ice cubes or as a garnish atop strawberry shortcake. Hot Pak Harmony, above is an extra dwarf French marigold variety and stays compact at just a few inches tall, making it great for any garden!

Type Annual Blooms Ruffled yellow blossoms with red-orange centers in summer to frost Light Full sun Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 6 to 8 in. tall, 6 to 8 in. wide

Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana)

Although one of the most uncommonly-used edible flower, impatiens are probably the handiest edible flower. Most of us have them growing somewhere in our garden or decorating a shady porch. Also known as bizzy lizzy, we’re talking here about Impatiens walleriana, not the New Guinea impatiens. Although the flowers no not have much flavor, the look great as a garnish or for candying. They can also be torn into a salad or mixed into an herbal cocktail. Rockapulco® Coral Reef above features beautiful double blossoms that resemble miniature rosebuds.

Type Annual Blooms Showy, slender-spurred, five-petaled (some double) white, pink, purple, red or orange flowers in spring to frost Light Part shade Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 6 to 18 in. tall, 6 to 18 in. wide

Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata)

The perennial or garden phlox is the only type of phlox that is edible. These familiar cottage garden favorites have an intoxicating scent and look especially pretty sugared on cakes and desserts or floating in summer cocktails. Their flavor is sometimes described as slightly spicy and sweet and also a bit like sugarsnap peas. As the flowers are small, they are superb when candied and added as a decoration to cakes or desserts. Dwarf ‘Peppermint Twist’ above has a confectionary appeal with clusters of pink flowers with contrasting white stripes that look like spokes on a wheel.

Type Perennial Blooms Fragrant, tubular pink, red, magenta, lavender, purple or white flowers in clusters in midsummer to fall Light Full sun to part shade Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 12 to 48 in. tall, 12 to 36 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Also known as “poor man’s saffron,” calendula flavor ranges from spicy to bitter and tangy to peppery. Calendula’s color can vary greatly in a diverse range of cheerful reds, yellows and oranges. The petals add a yellow tint to food and a saffronlike flavor. This easy-to-grow annual responds to frequent harvest: The more you pick, the more flowers it will produce. The daisylike petals are easy to separate from the flower head and can be scattered over salads. The petals can also be used to color and flavor butter, cheese and rice dishes. Dried petals also make for a colorful addition to winter soups.

Type Annual Blooms Bright yellow to deep orange daisylike petals in spring to frost Light Full sun to part shade  Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 6 to 30 in. tall, 12 to 18 in. wide

Sunflower (Helianthus anuus)

Did you can eat almost the entire sunflower plant? You can enjoy it as a nutritious food in all its stages of life, from seedlings eaten as sprouts to dried seeds.

The flower buds are best cooked; try them lightly steamed and tossed with butter and garlic for a dish that tastes like artichoke. The petals are also edible with a flavor described as bittersweet and a little nutty. Be sure to eat the petals raw so they don’t lose their flavor and delicate texture. The leaves are delicious, whether they’re boiled, steamed or sautéed. Be sure to remove the center rib before cooking as it can be tough. The stalks should be peeled before eaten and taste similar to celery. Even the sunflower roots can be roasted, fried, steamed or eaten raw in slaw.

Type Annual Blooms Large blossoms in shades of red, yellow, gold, brown, white and burgundy in summer into fall Light Full sun Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 1 to 15 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide

Dianthus (Dianthus spp. and hybrids)

Most dianthus (including carnations, pinks and Sweet William) have a pleasant spicy, floral, clove- or nutmeg-like taste, especially the more fragrant varieties. They are great for decorating cakes and make a colorful garnish to soups, salads and the punch bowl. The petals of Sweet Williams will add zest to ice cream, sorbets, salads, fruit salad, dessert sauces, seafood and stir-fries. Carnation petals are one of the secret ingredients in the French liqueur Chartreuse. To use the surprisingly sweet petals, cut them away from the bitter white base of the flower. SunFlor® Charmy above is fragrant and has purple-pink flowers with paler spots that almost look like hearts.

Type Annual Blooms Single, semidouble and double white, pink, lavender or red flowers with fringed petals in spring to summer Light Full sun Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 3 to 24 in. tall, 8 to 24 in. wide

Rose (Rosa spp. and hybrids)

All roses are edible. Lucky for us, many of the old-fashioned heirloom roses are especially delicious. But when considering modern hybrid roses to eat, remember that only fragrant roses have flavorful petals. And, whatever the flavor, it is more pronounced in the darker varieties. The flavors vary but are all on the sweet side with overtones ranging from apple and strawberry to cinnamon and minty, depending on the rose.

Use miniature varieties to garnish ice cream and desserts or sprinkle larger petals on salads. Freeze rose petals in ice cubes and float them in punches. Petals can also be used in syrups, jellies, perfumed butters and sweet spreads. Just be sure to remove the bitter white portion of the petals before using them in a recipe. Carefree Celebration above is a tall, upright shrub rose with great disease resistance and fragrance. The flavor of the pretty orange petals is slightly sweet.

Type Shrub Blooms Beautiful, often fragrant, single, semidouble or double flowers borne singly or in clusters on often prickly stems in late spring to frost Light Full sun Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 1 to 30 ft. tall, 2 to 15 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 2 to 10

Pansy (Viola spp. and hybrids)

Pansies and their viola relatives like Johnny Jump Ups are the most popular edible flowers, perhaps because they come in such a wide array of colors. They are all edible and have a mild, slightly minty flavor or a more prominent wintergreen taste depending on the variety and how many you eat; an entire flower tastes stronger than just the petals alone. Yes, unlike many edible flowers, you can eat the entire pansy flower — sepals and all. Pansies are popular eaten both fresh in salads and candied in desserts. Really, they work well as a garnish for any meal, savory or sweet. Some pansies have a delicate fragrance, primarily the blue-flowered ones, which have a mild wintergreen flavor.

Type Perennial Blooms White, blue, purple, red, rose, yellow, apricot, maroon and bicolor petals in early spring and fall Light Full sun Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 4 to 12 in. tall, 6 to 30 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 10

Daylily (Hemerocallis spp. and hybrids)

Daylily blossoms are almost succulent and have a mildly sweet flavor, maybe a little like romaine lettuce. One of the tastiest is the common daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, sometimes called ditch lily because it has escaped gardens and naturalized along roadsides and ditches. Be sure to sample the flavor of hybrid daylilies before harvesting a bunch for eating, as some daylilies taste better than others. Consider tossing a handful of colorful petals into your dinner salad. After all, they only bloom for one day and you shouldn’t let them go to waste! EveryDaylily® Cerise above is a compact rebloomer with 6-inch-long tasty blossoms all season long.

Type Perennial Blooms Yellow, orange, rust, pink, purple petals in an assortment of patterns open for one day from early summer into fall Light Full sun to part shade  Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 12 to 72 in. tall, 9 to 40 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9 

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)

Nasturtiums are certainly the most well-known edible flowers. ‘Alaska Mix’ is a dwarf heirloom that stays under a foot tall and is not only prized for its sweet-spicy flavor but also for its intriguing cream-and-green-variegated leaves. All nasturtiums have spicy-scented blossoms with a distinct peppery tang that can be added to salads as a garnish. The leaves are also edible (also with a peppery taste) and look great when used as doilies under cakes, cheese plates and dishes featuring the blossoms. The immature seeds can be pickled and used like capers.

Type Annual Blooms Showy, funnel-shaped blossoms in shades of red, yellow, orange, and cream in midsummer to frost Light Full sun Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 6 to 15 in. tall, 12 to 120 in. wide

Sunflower (Helianthus anuus)

Did you can eat almost the entire sunflower plant? You can enjoy it as a nutritious food in all its stages of life, from seedlings eaten as sprouts to dried seeds.

The flower buds are best cooked; try them lightly steamed and tossed with butter and garlic for a dish that tastes like artichoke. The petals are also edible with a flavor described as bittersweet and a little nutty. Be sure to eat the petals raw so they don’t lose their flavor and delicate texture. The leaves are delicious, whether they’re boiled, steamed or sautéed. Be sure to remove the center rib before cooking as it can be tough. The stalks should be peeled before eaten and taste similar to celery. Even the sunflower roots can be roasted, fried, steamed or eaten raw in slaw.

Type Annual Blooms Large blossoms in shades of red, yellow, gold, brown, white and burgundy in summer into fall Light Full sun Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 1 to 15 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide

Marigold (Tagetes spp. and hybrids)

The spicy, herbal flavor of marigolds may be an acquired taste. Some can be tangy to almost bitter, so not all marigold flowers are tasty even though they are all edible. For the best flavor, grow French marigold (Tagates patula), Gem marigolds (Tagates tenufolia) or Mexican mint marigold (Tagates lucida).

To harvest the petals, simply pull the flowers apart and remove any green or white parts. Marigold petals look pretty sprinkled on ice cream, frozen in ice cubes or as a garnish atop strawberry shortcake. Hot Pak Harmony, above is an extra dwarf French marigold variety and stays compact at just a few inches tall, making it great for any garden!

Type Annual Blooms Ruffled yellow blossoms with red-orange centers in summer to frost Light Full sun Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 6 to 8 in. tall, 6 to 8 in. wide

Dianthus (Dianthus spp. and hybrids)

Most dianthus (including carnations, pinks and Sweet William) have a pleasant spicy, floral, clove- or nutmeg-like taste, especially the more fragrant varieties. They are great for decorating cakes and make a colorful garnish to soups, salads and the punch bowl. The petals of Sweet Williams will add zest to ice cream, sorbets, salads, fruit salad, dessert sauces, seafood and stir-fries. Carnation petals are one of the secret ingredients in the French liqueur Chartreuse. To use the surprisingly sweet petals, cut them away from the bitter white base of the flower. SunFlor® Charmy above is fragrant and has purple-pink flowers with paler spots that almost look like hearts.

Type Annual Blooms Single, semidouble and double white, pink, lavender or red flowers with fringed petals in spring to summer Light Full sun Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 3 to 24 in. tall, 8 to 24 in. wide

Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana)

Although one of the most uncommonly-used edible flower, impatiens are probably the handiest edible flower. Most of us have them growing somewhere in our garden or decorating a shady porch. Also known as bizzy lizzy, we’re talking here about Impatiens walleriana, not the New Guinea impatiens. Although the flowers no not have much flavor, the look great as a garnish or for candying. They can also be torn into a salad or mixed into an herbal cocktail. Rockapulco® Coral Reef above features beautiful double blossoms that resemble miniature rosebuds.

Type Annual Blooms Showy, slender-spurred, five-petaled (some double) white, pink, purple, red or orange flowers in spring to frost Light Part shade Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 6 to 18 in. tall, 6 to 18 in. wide

Rose (Rosa spp. and hybrids)

All roses are edible. Lucky for us, many of the old-fashioned heirloom roses are especially delicious. But when considering modern hybrid roses to eat, remember that only fragrant roses have flavorful petals. And, whatever the flavor, it is more pronounced in the darker varieties. The flavors vary but are all on the sweet side with overtones ranging from apple and strawberry to cinnamon and minty, depending on the rose.

Use miniature varieties to garnish ice cream and desserts or sprinkle larger petals on salads. Freeze rose petals in ice cubes and float them in punches. Petals can also be used in syrups, jellies, perfumed butters and sweet spreads. Just be sure to remove the bitter white portion of the petals before using them in a recipe. Carefree Celebration above is a tall, upright shrub rose with great disease resistance and fragrance. The flavor of the pretty orange petals is slightly sweet.

Type Shrub Blooms Beautiful, often fragrant, single, semidouble or double flowers borne singly or in clusters on often prickly stems in late spring to frost Light Full sun Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 1 to 30 ft. tall, 2 to 15 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 2 to 10

Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata)

The perennial or garden phlox is the only type of phlox that is edible. These familiar cottage garden favorites have an intoxicating scent and look especially pretty sugared on cakes and desserts or floating in summer cocktails. Their flavor is sometimes described as slightly spicy and sweet and also a bit like sugarsnap peas. As the flowers are small, they are superb when candied and added as a decoration to cakes or desserts. Dwarf ‘Peppermint Twist’ above has a confectionary appeal with clusters of pink flowers with contrasting white stripes that look like spokes on a wheel.

Type Perennial Blooms Fragrant, tubular pink, red, magenta, lavender, purple or white flowers in clusters in midsummer to fall Light Full sun to part shade Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 12 to 48 in. tall, 12 to 36 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Pansy (Viola spp. and hybrids)

Pansies and their viola relatives like Johnny Jump Ups are the most popular edible flowers, perhaps because they come in such a wide array of colors. They are all edible and have a mild, slightly minty flavor or a more prominent wintergreen taste depending on the variety and how many you eat; an entire flower tastes stronger than just the petals alone. Yes, unlike many edible flowers, you can eat the entire pansy flower — sepals and all. Pansies are popular eaten both fresh in salads and candied in desserts. Really, they work well as a garnish for any meal, savory or sweet. Some pansies have a delicate fragrance, primarily the blue-flowered ones, which have a mild wintergreen flavor.

Type Perennial Blooms White, blue, purple, red, rose, yellow, apricot, maroon and bicolor petals in early spring and fall Light Full sun Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 4 to 12 in. tall, 6 to 30 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 10

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Also known as “poor man’s saffron,” calendula flavor ranges from spicy to bitter and tangy to peppery. Calendula’s color can vary greatly in a diverse range of cheerful reds, yellows and oranges. The petals add a yellow tint to food and a saffronlike flavor. This easy-to-grow annual responds to frequent harvest: The more you pick, the more flowers it will produce. The daisylike petals are easy to separate from the flower head and can be scattered over salads. The petals can also be used to color and flavor butter, cheese and rice dishes. Dried petals also make for a colorful addition to winter soups.

Type Annual Blooms Bright yellow to deep orange daisylike petals in spring to frost Light Full sun to part shade  Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 6 to 30 in. tall, 12 to 18 in. wide

Daylily (Hemerocallis spp. and hybrids)

Daylily blossoms are almost succulent and have a mildly sweet flavor, maybe a little like romaine lettuce. One of the tastiest is the common daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, sometimes called ditch lily because it has escaped gardens and naturalized along roadsides and ditches. Be sure to sample the flavor of hybrid daylilies before harvesting a bunch for eating, as some daylilies taste better than others. Consider tossing a handful of colorful petals into your dinner salad. After all, they only bloom for one day and you shouldn’t let them go to waste! EveryDaylily® Cerise above is a compact rebloomer with 6-inch-long tasty blossoms all season long.

Type Perennial Blooms Yellow, orange, rust, pink, purple petals in an assortment of patterns open for one day from early summer into fall Light Full sun to part shade  Soil Average or moist, well-drained Size 12 to 72 in. tall, 9 to 40 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9 

Published: Jan. 20, 2021
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