Spring is here. Flowers are blooming everywhere, filling the world with their sweet scents and brilliant colors. Many of those blooms are more than just the pretty floral face of nature. They are food too. Cooking and garnishing with edible flowers can be traced back to ancient civilizations in China, Rome, and India. They add subtle flavors to food and create beautiful presentations that make your meals feel more exciting.
There are a few guidelines to know before you start tearing into your garden or picking through the bushes lining your street. Eat only flowers you know are safe. Eat only flowers you know were grown organically, without pesticides or herbicides. Growing them yourself is the best way to know for sure. Eat only the blossoms and petals, not the other parts of the flower or plant which includes the stamen and pistil unless you know for sure those are safe. If you have allergies, use caution trying plants that might be related to the ones that cause you problems. Try a small amount first to see if you like it or have any reactions to it. Cutting the white base off the petals will cut down on any bitterness they may hold. Lastly, enjoy the distinct flavors that these flowers hold.
Allium – (leeks, onion, garlic, shallots, and chives) These pretty, spiky little flowers tend to be white or purple and have a light onion or garlicky flavor. Add them to salads and soups or sauté them with other vegetables.
Basil – The tiny purple or white flowers have a mild basil flavor, some with hints of lemon or mint. These petals add interest and subtle flavor to salads, soups, pasta, and much more.
Carnation – Carnations come in a flurry of feathery colors and supply a sweet floral flavor. Add a splash of color and excitement to your salads today. They also work well for decorations, garnishes, and in desserts.
Chamomile – This beautiful, daisy-like flower is well-known for its use for tea. It is mildly sweet and relaxing. If you are allergic to ragweed, you will want to avoid this one though.
Chrysanthemum – These vibrant, multi-colored flowers have a tangy, peppery, and slightly bitter flavor that works well in many savory dishes and teas. Use only the petals though.
Cilantro – The flowers carry a similar grassy flavor as the leaves that some of us love and some of us don’t. Toss the delicate, white flowers into salads, over veggie tacos, and in more for a more attractive way to liven up your meals.
Citrus – (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, and kumquat) These flowers naturally have a lemony, citrus flavor. The petals have a waxy texture, so they are best used sparingly as a garnish or to flavor water.
Clover – Clover flowers have a sweet anise flavor, similar to licorice. Raw flowers can be difficult to chew and digest, but can be tender and delicious cooked. Stir-fry or sauté them with vegetables. You can also batter them and fry them.
Dandelion – This pesky weed is highly healthy and edible with a sweet honey-like flavor. Dandelion flowers can be eaten raw or steamed, added to salads, or sprinkled as tiny petals over rice and pasta. They are at their best young or as buds. You can use dandelion flowers to make pancakes, syrup, and even wine. The young greens are also a great addition to salads or cooked like spinach and the root can be roasted and used as a caffeine free coffee replacement.
Fennel – The bright yellow fennel flowers have a soft licorice flavor. Use them in both savory and sweet dishes.
Hibiscus – These multi-colored petals have a cranberry flavor with hints of citrus. Use them to make tea or use their slight acidic flavor sparingly in salads for some major visual enhancement and a little bite.
Honeysuckle – Honeysuckle flowers come with a delicate, sweet honey flavor. Eat them raw or sprinkle them over sorbet or dark chocolate desserts. Like dandelion, honeysuckle petals can be used to make syrup, wine, and pastries. Use caution though as only the flower is edible. Do not eat the berries or leaves as they are quite poisonous.
Lavender – A sweet perfume flavor with notes of citrus is what you get from lavender. The aromatic blossoms can be used to enhance sweet or savory dishes. Sprinkle them over dark chocolate cupcakes and sorbet or add them to soups, sauces, and reductions.
Lemon Verbena – The herby and citrusy flavor of these flowers works really well with desserts and teas.
Marigold – Marigolds have a spicy, bitter, tangy, or peppery flavor similar to saffron and they can be used in place of saffron in cooking. Use only the petals and cut off the white ends. Sprinkle them over soup, pasta, rice, spreads, or salads for added flavor their stunning yellow color.
Marjoram – Marjoram flowers are subtle flavor clones of the leaves. Use them in sauces, soups, salads, and as garnishes.
Mint – Mint flowers surprisingly enough taste a little minty, though usually more mild than the leaves. Use them to add soft hints of mint to just about anything. Try them to flavor your water for a stunningly delicious and refreshing spring beverage.
Oregano – Oregano flowers taste similar to the leaves, just a little more mild. You can use them in any recipe you would use oregano or toss them into a salad.
Radish – The flowers of this spicy root vegetable have a peppery flavor that is great in salads.
Rose – The velvety rose petal is a favorite in many cake decorations. The perfumed, floral flavor works well in desserts and beverages. Make sure you remove the white base of the petals to avoid any bitterness.
Rosemary – The tiny purple flowers of rosemary are milder than the leaves. They especially bring out the flavor of Mediterranean dishes. Sprinkle them into stir-fry, over sweet potatoes, or even on sorbet.
Sage – Purple, blue, and red sage flowers have a subtle sage flavor and they look amazing in salads.
Squash – Squash flowers like pumpkin, crookneck, and zucchini are some of the best flowers to stuff and then bake or fry. Fill them with your favorite savory goodness and enjoy the light squash flavor that doesn’t interfere too much. You can also use them in place of the more delicate pastas for a low calorie meal or add them to soups.
Sunflower – The unopened buds can be steamed and eaten much like an artichoke. Surprisingly, they also have a mild artichoke flavor. They are delicious and everyone should try them. The petals of the opened flower can be used in salads.
Thyme – Thyme flowers are mild versions of the leaves. They are especially good as garnish, tea enhancers, and in salads, but they work in sauces, soups, and savory dishes too. Try lemon thyme flowers, you won’t regret it.
Flowers bring a touch of spring to your dinner table, adding excitement and flavor to boring salads or subtle seasoning to soups, sautés, sauces, and desserts. These twenty flowers are definitely not the only ones you should be trying. As you feel more comfortable with floral food, try pansy, jasmine, mustard, nasturtium, violet, ginger, or lilac flowers too.