photo by Parade
As much as we love flowers for brightening up our living room or kitchen table, eating them is more of a thorny issue. They might look great on the plate, but they do come with some health concerns and questionable taste. Before you start using edible flowers, you want to learn the facts. Here’s a primer into the mysterious world of edible blooms.
What Makes a Flower Edible?
There are dozens of edible flowers that taste good and are actually good for you—but there are also plenty of poisonous ones that contain high doses of chemicals that don’t agree with the human body. The best rule of thumb to follow: Don’t assume it’s palatable just because it’s pretty. Consult a guide or a book to make sure the flower is safe to eat. (Keep in mind that even safe flowers may have strong allergens, making them off-limits for some.) Like when you’re shopping for produce, look for edible flowers that have been grown with safe pesticides and fertilizers. For best flavor, eat flowers that have been picked at peak ripeness, right after the bud opens.
What Are Good Flowers to Eat?
Edible flowers can come from perennial plants like Johnny jump-ups, dandelions, and calendula. Many decorative plants sprout edible flowers, too, from citrusy begonia, fancy hibiscus, fruity roses, nasturtiums, pansies, geraniums, and pink chrysanthemums. Even pots of herbs left to flower will produce white, purple, orange, or yellow blossoms that often taste like the herb’s leaves, only slightly sharper. You can eat chive, basil, marjoram, mint, chervil, and dill flowers. Another place to spot edible flowers: on fruit trees, like apple, citrus, plum, and elderberry. Be sure the tree hasn’t been sprayed (farmers often apply pesticides after flowers appear, but before fruit does) and eat only petals.
And remember that vegetables can flower, too: Zucchini blossoms are a well-known spring treat, but fennel, cauliflower, arugula, and broccoli also produce edible blossoms. Many vegetables flower after ripening, but the flowering makes the vegetable taste bitter—so you can have broccoli or broccoli flowers but not both.
How Do You Eat Edible Flowers?
Most edible flowers look prettier than they taste, so use them when you can really show off their beauty. For party punches and cocktails, freeze purple pansies or bright daisies in ice cubes, then pop them out to garnish drinks. Also, try experimenting with incredible-tasting vinegars made from flowers by infusing 4 sprigs with 1 cup vinegar for 3 to 6 weeks, until the liquid has a flavor you like. Edible flowers look charming on a cheese plate (their sharp flavors meld especially well with fresh cheeses) or on top of a green salad. And don’t forget confections. Instead of sugar flowers, you can candy violets and rose petals with sugar, then top them on cupcakes or cakes. When using edible flowers, avoid the white base of the petals, the stamens, and the center pistils, all of which can be bitter.