Edible Flowers: 20 of the Tastiest and Most Versatile
Flowers have been used as a delicate food among many cultures for thousands of years. Romans commonly used violets in their dishes, Hispanic cultures ate stuffed squash blossoms, Asian Indians used rose petals, and the French liqueur Chartreuse contains carnation petals.
Edible flowers are gaining popularity in restaurants, but you can use them at home, too.
Today, edible flowers are usually reserved for chic restaurants and wedding cakes, not your typical meal at home. But, edible flowers can be quite tasty, and they make a welcome addition raw in salads, cooked with an appetizer or main course, infused into sauces or added to desserts.
Because edible flowers are so delicate, they don’t keep well in the refrigerator (if you must store them, put them between two moist paper towels, wrap the package in plastic wrap, the put it in the fridge). Instead, they’re best cooked as soon as you get them home, after carefully rinsing them in cold water.
Edible flowers can be found at gourmet food shops, specialty markets and farmers’ markets (or in your own backyard, if you grow them). You should not eat flowers from a florist or that you pick on the side of the road, as they may have been treated with pesticides (nor should you eat flowers you’ve grown if you’ve treated them with pesticides). Generally speaking, only the petals of the flower (not the stems, pistil or leaves) should be eaten (and avoid eating flowers if you have allergies, as they could aggravate your symptoms).
If, like many Americans, you’re not sure where to start when it comes to edible flowers, here’s a great primer of 20 tasty, edible flowers you can incorporate into your meals.
Bee Balm petals taste like oregano and mint, and make a great substitute for oregano in many dishes.
- Bee Balm: Has a taste similar to oregano and mint, with slight citrus undertones. Excellent for dishes that use oregano, or in fruit and vegetable salads.
- Calendula (Marigolds): A spicy, peppery flavor that turns foods a golden color. Also known as “Poor Man’s Saffron” because of their flavor. Use them in soups, pasta, herb-butters, rice dishes or salads, or even try them in scrambled eggs.
- Carnation: A clove-like flavor, with a spicy/sweet kick. They can be steeped in wine or candy, or used to decorate baked goods.
- Chrysanthemum: A pungent, slightly bitter flavor, similar to mild cauliflower. These petals should be blanched before using, then make great salad toppers or stir-fry additions.
- Dandelion: Best when picked young, dandelions have a sweet, honey flavor. They can be made into a potent wine, eaten steamed with rice, or served raw over a salad.
- Hibiscus: A flavor similar to cranberry and citrus, the petals are slightly acidic. They can be used in salads or boiled to make a tea.
- Lilac: A pungent, lemon-like flavor with a strong perfume and floral taste. Excellent in salads.
- Nasturtium: One of the most common edible flowers, they have a sweet, spicy, peppery flavor similar to watercress. The flowers can be used on sandwiches, appetizers or salads, or can be stuffed. Pickled nasturtium seedpods are often used as an inexpensive alternative to capers.
- Pansy: A mild, grassy, sweet flavor. Excellent for garnishes and added to fruit or vegetable salads, desserts and soups.
- Queen Anne’s Lace: A mild, carrot-like flavor that’s best used in salads.
- Radish Flowers: A spicy, radish-like flavor that makes an excellent salad topper.
- Roses: The flavor is subtle, but similar to green apples and strawberries with fruity, spicy or minty undertones (darker varieties have stronger flavors). Use them in desserts or salads, syrups and jellies, or to make flavored punches or butters. (For an impressive display, try freezing them in ice cube trays and serving the cubes in a punch.)
- Snap Dragon: With flavors ranging from bland to bitter, depending on variety, try them sparingly on salads or as a garnish.
- Squash Blossoms: The blossoms from squash and pumpkin have a flavor similar to raw squash and are often served breaded and fried, or stuffed whole.
- Sunflower: The petals have a slightly bitter flavor and should be blanched before eating, then are great on salads. The sunflower bud has a flavor similar to an artichoke, and can be steamed.
- Sweet Woodruff: A sweet and grassy flavor with nutty, vanilla undertones. Use them in appetizers, soups, stews and salads.
- Thyme Flowers: The flowers taste like a mild version of the herb and can be used anywhere thyme would be, such as in soups, stews and on vegetables.
- Tulip: A sweet, cucumber-like flavor that’s excellent on salads. (Only the petals, NOT the bulbs, are edible.)
- Violet: A sweet, fragrant flavor that works well on salads. Also great for garnishes, desserts and punches.
- Yucca Flower: A crunchy texture and sweet taste similar to an artichoke. Use them in salads and as a garnish.
Chrysanthemum petals should be blanched before using, then add a slightly bitter flavor to salads.
Nasturtiums, one of the most common edible flowers, have a sweet, peppery flavor similar to watercress.
Violets have a sweet, fragrant flavor and can be used in salads, desserts and punches.