When most of us start tallying the ingredients we have on hand for dinner, edible flowers don’t tend to be the first (or second or third) things that come to mind. However, knowing the many flowers you can eat opens up a whole new world of foraging fun and expands your dining horizons.
Best of all, many (not all) edible flowers also have edible leaves and roots, so in many cases you’ll get not only delectable flowers for salads and sweets, but some tasty greens and tubers as well.
I first got interested in cooking with flowers when edible wild violets started growing in abundance in our permaculture yard, and our borage blossoms started adorning summer desserts. These edible flowers were sort of a fun add-in, rather than something I thought much about when taking stock of the edibles in our landscape.
But I got much more excited about the possibilities of cooking with flowers while I was researching my upcoming book on elderberries and elderflowers. Elderflowers have an incredible flavor that makes them a thoroughly delightful ingredient to play with in the kitchen, plus they’re abundant, easy to pick, and have potent medicinal properties.
As someone obsessed with free healthy food and the medicinal power of common plants, I was totally hooked.
WHY EAT FLOWERS?
Besides their beauty and delightful scent, many edible flowers are chock full of valuable anti-inflammatory and medicinal compounds.
More importantly, they’re an often-overlooked source of food growing freely all around us. How many people do you know take advantage of their edible daylilies, hostas, and begonias?
Even if you’re not much of a cook, adding some flowers you can eat to your salad or cheese plate adds a little something special to the humblest of dishes, and it’s an easy way to dip your toes in the exciting waters of foraging.
WHICH FLOWERS ARE EDIBLE?
While there are a pretty impressive number of flowers you can eat, not all flowers are edible, and many are toxic, so please be sure to use a good guide and positively identify your edible flower before sampling! Here’s a list of poisonous flowers worth checking out.
Note that some plants have alternate and often similar names, which can cause confusion. While hyacinths are poisonous, muscari– which some people call grape hyacinth — are edible. (I know, right?)
Always look up whatever you’re thinking about eating, and pay close attention to the botanical name to make sure you have an edible plant.
And while in some cases other parts of the plant are safe to eat, there are also many that have edible flowers but toxic leaves, berries, roots, or seeds. Please do your homework before deciding to consume a new plant. (More on that below.)
In most cases, only the petals of edible flowers are used.
When trying a plant for the first time, start with a little nibble to make sure you don’t have an adverse reaction. I got an unpleasant tingling in my mouth when I tried a small bite of daylily, so I leave them alone. Daylily tubers, however, are among the many perennial vegetables to consider harvesting from your edible landscape.
Also be aware that if you have allergies to certain plants, some of their cousins may flare up your symptoms. People with ragweed allergies, for instance, should steer clear of daisies and chamomile, which are in the same family.
TIPS ON FORAGING & GROWING EDIBLE FLOWERS
- Remember that picking the flowers means you’re likely reducing the yield of the plant, especially in the case of fruit blossoms, when you want to get plenty of fruit as well, such as elderberries. But many fruiting shrubs and trees have many more blossoms than you will need for fruit, so as long as you don’t overdo it, your fruit harvest should still be fine. Apple trees, for example, are typically thinned so they produce larger, better quality apples than they would otherwise.
- Flowers are very delicate and perishable, so you should use them as soon as possible after picking. Some will manage OK in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Only use flowers you know were grown without chemical pesticides. Flowers from florists are typically treated and should not be consumed.
- VERY IMPORTANT: Just because a startling number of flowers you didn’t realize were edible actually are does not mean all flowers are edible! Some are quite toxic and can make you very sick.
- Not all parts of edible flowers are safe to eat. Before eating any flower, check which parts are edible.
ALWAYS make sure to correctly identify a plant before foraging. Consult a good field guide before foraging any plant for the first time. Peterson’s Guide to Edible Wild Plants and John Kallas’s Edible Wild Plants are two excellent choices.
I also love the wealth of information you can find on Steve Brill’s foraging website and at Eat the Weeds. I’ve learned so much from these foraging experts about all kinds of wild edibles.
You might consider taking a foraging class, like the Herbal Academy’s online foraging course, which teaches plant identification and ethical wildcrafting practices.
HOW TO USE FLOWERS YOU CAN EAT
Some of the simplest ways to use edible flowers are as beautiful garnishes or as colorful additions to salads.
Using edible flowers for cake toppings is another popular way to use for flowers you can eat. I love to top summer birthday cakes with star-shaped borage flowers. Candied or fresh violets are another popular option, or you can place fresh rose petals or elderflowers around the cake.
Steer clear of spicy flowers like nasturtium or oregano for desserts — though beautiful, they won’t taste great with a chocolate cake! Save them for salads and cooking.
Some edible flowers, like daylilies and squash blossoms, can be stuffed with savory or sweet fillings, while others are commonly candied or made into syrups for sodas and cocktails.
Many edible flowers make delicious teas, using either dried or fresh flowers, alone or in combination with other flowers and herbs. I’ve made some deliciously floral sun tea using lemon balm, borage, and elderflower.
Other ways to use flowers you can eat:
Infuse edible flowers in vinegar to add something special to your homemade salad dressing or to give as easy homemade gifts.
Many edible flowers can be dried for tea. Elderflower, chamomile, rose petals, lavender, clover, and apple blossoms all make lovely floral tea ingredients.
Ready to have some fun? Below are some of my favorite flowers you can eat, followed by a lengthy list of edible flowers you can explore.
There are simply too many flowers to include recipe links and foraging information for all of them, so I highly recommend using your web skills and searching for the flower you’re interested in, plus the word “recipes.” You can also follow my Edible Flower Pinterest board, where I’ve collected some of my favorites.
Hank Shaw at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook is a fantastic resource for inventive recipes using foraged ingredients, floral or otherwise. You’ll also find mouth-watering recipes using flowers you can eat at Forager Chef.
WHICH FLOWERS ARE EDIBLE? HERE ARE MORE THAN 150 FLOWERS YOU CAN EAT!
EDIBLE FLOWERS OF HERBS
The flowers of mints, basil, oregano, thyme, dill, chervil, cilantro, rosemary, savory, and sage can add the herb’s flavor as well as beauty to your next meal. In addition to adding some extra beauty, the herb flavor for a number of these flowers is a bit milder.
Chive flowers are also edible, and make gorgeous additions to any dish where you’d normally use chives, such as eggs, potatoes, or fish dishes.
Lemon balm flowers can go in your favorite lemon balm recipe or can be added to your lemon balm tea. They would make a tasty addition to a fruit salad.
Catnip flowers get added to my favorite herbal tea for sleep, along with lemon balm, yarrow, and violet leaves and flowers.
Many of these herbs are among those that can tolerate shade. Here’s a list of herbs for shade if you’re dealing with a less sunny garden.
FLOWERS OF EDIBLE WEEDS
Numerous edible weeds have edible flowers. Wood sorrel, Virginia waterleaf, pineapple weed, clover, and dames rocket are some of the many tasty flowering “weeds” you might enjoy eating this season. Below are some other favorites.
Violets are among the first flowers we can enjoy in spring, and they have medicinal properties as well as culinary ones. Throw some in salad along with some violet leaves and other wild greens or make a simple tea. Common violets don’t have a lot of flavor, but if you’re lucky enough to have sweet violets, consider using them in dessert. More on wild violets and how to use them here.
Related violas, pansies and johnny jump-ups are also edible.
Dandelions are abundant and rich in nutrients. You can use the petals, leaves, and roots in everything from baked goods to wine. Here are more than 35 ways to use dandelions.
Purslane is a superstar edible weed, and its little yellow flowers are edible as well. More on foraging and using purslane here.
Yarrow is both a useful medicinal plant and a culinary herb that’s sometimes used as an alternative to tarragon. The flowers are often included in teas considered especially useful for lowering fever. Here’s more on the uses for yarrow.
FLOWERS OF FRUITING SHRUBS AND TREES
Many fruiting trees and shrubs have flowers you can eat. Apple, plum, and citrus blossoms are all edible.
Apple blossoms make a lovely floral tea, or you can add them to fruit salads. Just eat in moderation, as they contain some cyanide precursors that may not be safe in large amounts.
Elderflower is one of my all-time favorite flowers to use in the kitchen. Like the berries they turn into, elderflowers are rich in medicinal compounds, but more importantly they are SO delicious! If you’ve ever enjoyed an elderflower soda, you’ll understand what the fuss is about. Here’s lots more on how to forage and use elderflower.
Remember not to overharvest your fruit blossoms or you won’t get any fruit.
One interesting exception to this rule comes in the case of my beloved rhubarb, which doesn’t grow fruit — it’s the stalks we use in yummy rhubarb sauce and homemade fruit leathers. Every year we pull off the flowers so the plant doesn’t waste energy we want to go to growing stalks. I’ve always tossed them, but in researching this article, I learned the flowers are actually considered a delicacy. Read more on how to properly prepare rhubarb flowers at Scottish Forest Garden.
FLOWERS OF COMMON GARDEN PLANTS
I plant gorgeous nasturtiums in my garden beds every year to beautify the garden and attract pollinators. The spicy leaves and edible flowers also make a beautiful addition to salads. These tasty flowers are easy to grow, and also work as a companion plant for your veggies.
Borage is an easy-to grow annual that’s great for pollinators and works well as a companion plant for strawberries and other garden crops. Its delicate blue flowers make a beautiful topping for cakes or floating in drinks, while the leaves make a fantastic infused water. Here’s more on growing and using borage.
Most of us don’t realize that those ubiquitous hostas are edible, starting with the shoots in spring. The stalks, leaves, and flowers are edible as well.
A drought-tolerant native plant, bee balm is a smart addition to the ecological landscape as a useful natural remedy you can grow in your yard. Considered helpful for addressing stress, colds, and digestive complaints, bee balm can also be used in cooking. Different varieties taste quite different; some have a pronounced oregano flavor, while others have a more bergamot taste (hence their other name, bergamot, though they’re not in any way related to the fruit bergamot).
Peony flowers are not only utterly gorgeous in the garden, their petals can be used in cocktails, as salad garnishes, or in all sorts of sweet treats, like ice cream and jelly.
Honeysuckle is another medicinal flower that makes delightfully-flavored sweets. Here’s how to make honeysuckle syrup and other honeysuckle recipes. Note that there are many types of honeysuckle, and some are toxic, so do your homework before foraging.
A little late to your broccoli harvest? No worries! Those little yellow flowers are edible, too. Go ahead and cook your flowered broccoli just as you would if it hadn’t flowered. Make the most of your broccoli harvest by using the delicious broccoli leaves and stems as well. The leaves can be added to stir-fries or added to your next batch of baked kale chips. The stems are one my favorite ingredients for root to stem eating to reduce food waste.
Has your early arugula bolted in the summer heat? You can use the little flowers to add interest and that yummy arugula bite to your salads. Let some go to seed and you may get a second crop without planting.
While you don’t want to pick too many pea flowers off your snap pea plants, you can plant some peas to grow as pea shoots and pick the flowers as well. They have a delightful fresh pea flavor, and are terrific in salads and stirfried. Pea shoots are also one of the fastest-growing vegetable options.
Not all hibiscus is edible, but a number of varieties are popularly grown for their beauty as well as their edible leaves and petals. It’s actually the calyx, not the petals, of a certain type of hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) that’s most often used to make hibiscus tea. Here’s more on the benefits of hibiscus.
LIST OF EDIBLE FLOWERS — 150+ FLOWERS YOU CAN EAT!
A note on how to use this list: This list of edible flowers is meant to be a quick overview of the many possibilities and a jumping-off point for further research. Be sure to do your homework before consuming. Because plants sometimes go by many different names, you want to be sure
- Apple blossoms
- Balloon flower
- Bee Balm
- Birch catkins
- Blue porterweed
- Black Locust
- Canadian honewort
- Carambola (starfruit)
- Clary sage
- Coral Vine
- Cornflower/ bachelors buttons
- Corn poppy
- Cow slips
- Creeping charlie
- Dame’s rocket
- Dianthus (also known as pinks)
- Evening primrose
- Garden sorrel
- Garlic chives
- Golden Alexanders
- Gunnison mariposa
- Indian paintbrush
- Johnny jump-ups
- King’s spear
- Lemon balm
- Lemon blossom
- Lemon verbena
- Lesser calamint
- Lime blossom
- Mallow, common
- Mimosa silk tree
- Mints (peppermint, apple mint, orange mint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, e.g.)
- Muscari (also known as grape hyacinth, but it’s not a hyacinth — they’re poisonous!)
- Nodding onion
- Okra blossoms
- Orange blossom
- Pea flowers
- Pineapple weed
- Phlox (Phlox paniculata, not creeping or annual phlox)
- Plum blossom
- Prunella/self heal
- Queen Anne’s lace
- Redbud/forest pansy
- Rosy garlic
- Scented geranium
- Scarlet runner beans
- Spring beauty
- Squash blossoms
- Strawberry blossom
- Society garlic
- Strangler Vine
- Summer savory
- Sweet mace
- Sweet olive
- Sweet woodruff
- Szechuan buttons
- False roselle
- Sweet Cicely
- Sweet William
- Water lily
- Winter savory
- Wood sorrel
If you know of others, please leave a comment so I can add it. I found additional references to edible flowers, but in many cases it seemed that only the leaves of the plant were consumed, or the flowers weren’t really considered worth eating or were not found widely in North America. Let me know if there are more to add to the list 🙂
That’s a whole lot of flowers you can eat! Which are you going to try first?
Pin to save this list of flowers you can eat for later!
Photo credits: couleur, Mammiya, pasja1000, NatachaUnicorn, Susannah Shmurak, kathas_Fotos, John Lodder, Bru-nO, Yvonne Huijbens