My biggest delight at this trip to Ithaca was edible flowers. There's just something about the idea of eating flowers that makes me happy. I don't know what it is. Flowers are just so pretty, and they smell beautiful, and in a weird sort of way eating flowers make me feel beautiful. It's right up there with getting a manicure or a facial. That would be a perfect indulgence wouldn't it? Get a massage, a facial, a manicure, then eat a big salad full of fresh greens and flowers. And meat of course. But that's not the point...
Lots of flowers are edible- probably more than you think. More than I thought even. Seriously, dozens. What's surprising is how many you can eat right out of your own back yard. Dandelion, lavender, rose, violets and even gladiolus! Similarly, many of your favorite kitchen herbs have edible flowers, including basil, oregano, cilantro and mint.
Flowers can be eaten raw in salads or as garnishes for desserts, and can be made into delicious teas. Others are better cooked, or like dandelions downright inedible until they're cooked. I don't recommend eating dandelion flowers raw. They're not tasty. Other flowers, like squash, day lily and gladiolus are delicious when cooked and can be stuffed and fried. I've even heard of them being pickled! Flower flavors range from almost sweet to peppery, so they can be used for practically any kind of dish. The possibilities are almost endless.
Before you eat flowers, there are a few safety tips you should remember.
1) Only eat flowers that you KNOW are edible. If you're not sure, find out!
2) Know where your flowers came from. Please don't eat flowers from a florist or nursery. They have probably been treated with chemicals or pesticide.
3) Also, don't eat flowers from the roadside or in public parks for the same reason. A good rule is generally to avoid anything within 50 feet of the road. Roadside flowers may also be polluted by car exhaust.
4) It's recommended to eat only the petals and that pistils and stamens are removed before eating. It can cause the flowers to taste bitter otherwise.
5) If you have allergies you may want to start slowly and gradually introduce edible flowers into your diet.
Here is a list of all of the flowers I've found to be edible, according to the internet. I've personally only tried a few, but I'm hoping that will soon change.
Allium: All blossoms from the allium family (leeks, chives, garlic, garlic chives) are edible and flavorful. Flavors vary from delicate (leek) to robust (garlic.) All parts of these plants are edible.
Angelica: Depending on the variety, flowers range from pale lavender-blue to deep rose and have a licorice-like flavor.
Anise Hyssop: Both flowers and leaves have a subtle anise or licorice flavor.
Arugula: Blossoms are small with dark centers and with a peppery flavor much like the leaves. They range in color from white to yellow with dark purple streaks.
Bachelor's Button: Grassy in flavor, the petals are edible but avoid the bitter calyx.
Basil: Blossoms come in a variety of colors, from white to pink to lavender; flavor is similar to the leaves, but milder.
Bee Balm: The red flowers have a minty flavor.
Borage: Blossoms are a lovely blue hue and taste like cucumber!
Calendula / Marigold: A great flower for eating, calendula blossoms are peppery, tangy, and spicy--and their vibrant golden color adds dash to any dish.
Carnations / Dianthus: Petals are sweet, once trimmed away from the base. The blossoms taste like their sweet, perfumed aroma.
Chamomile: Small and daisy-like, the flowers have a sweet flavor and are often used in tea. Ragweed sufferers may be allergic to chamomile.
Chervil: Delicate blossoms and flavor, which is anise-tinged.
Chicory: Mildly bitter earthiness of chicory is evident in the petals and buds, which can be pickled.
Chrysanthemum: A little bitter, mums come in a rainbow of colors and a range of flavors from peppery to pungent. Use only the petals.
Cilantro: Like the leaves, people either love the blossoms or hate them. The flowers share the grassy flavor of the herb. Use them fresh as they lose their charm when heated.
Citrus (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, kumquat): Citrus blossoms are sweet and highly-scented. Use frugally or they will over-perfume a dish.
Clover: Flowers are sweet with a hint of licorice.
Dandelion: Excellent when cooked. Very mild flavor.
Dill: Yellow dill flowers taste much like the herb's leaves.
English Daisy: These aren't the best-tasting petals--they are somewhat bitter, but they look great!
Fennel: Yellow fennel flowers are eye candy with a subtle licorice flavor, much like the herb itself.
Fuchsia: Tangy fuchsia flowers make a beautiful garnish.
Gladiolus: Who knew? Although gladioli are bland, they can be stuffed, or their petals removed for an interesting salad garnish.
Hibiscus: Famously used in hibiscus tea, the vibrant cranberry flavor is tart and can be used sparingly.
Hollyhock: Bland and vegetal in flavor, hollyhock blossoms make a showy, edible garnish.
Impatiens: Flowers don't have much flavor--best as a pretty garnish or for candying.
Jasmine: These super-fragrant blooms are used in tea; you can also use them in sweet dishes, but sparingly.
Johnny-Jump-Up: Adorable and delicious, the flowers have a subtle mint flavor great for salads, pastas, fruit dishes, and drinks.
Lavender: Sweet, spicy, and perfumed, the flowers are a great addition to both savory and sweet dishes.
Lemon Verbena: The diminutive off-white blossoms are redolent of lemon--and great for teas and desserts.
Lilac: The blooms are pungent, but the floral citrusy aroma translates to its flavor as well.
Mint: The flowers are--surprise!--minty. Their intensity varies among varieties.
Nasturtium: One of the most popular edible flowers, nasturtium blossoms are brilliantly colored with a sweet, floral flavor bursting with a spicy pepper finish. When the flowers go to seed, the seed pod is a marvel of sweet and spicy. You can stuff flowers, add leaves to salads, pickle buds like capers, and garnish to your heart's content.
Oregano: The flowers are a pretty, subtle version of the leaf.
Pansy: The petals are somewhat nondescript, but if you eat the whole flower you get more taste.
Radish: Varying in color, radish flowers have a distinctive, peppery bite.
Rose: Remove the white, bitter base and the remaining petals have a strongly perfumed flavor perfect for floating in drinks or scattering across desserts, and for a variety of jams. All roses are edible, with flavor more pronounced in darker varieties.
Rosemary: Flowers taste like a milder version of the herb; nice used as a garnish on dishes that incorporate rosemary.
Sage: Blossoms have a subtle flavor similar to the leaves.
Squash and Pumpkin: Blossoms from both are wonderful vehicles for stuffing, each having a slight squash flavor. Remove stamens before using.
Sunflower: Petals can be eaten, the bud steamed like an artichoke.
Violets: Another famous edible flower, violets are floral, sweet, and beautiful as garnishes. Use the flowers in salads and to garnish desserts and drinks.
I'm really starting to look at ways I can eat more flowers. A friend recently asked me "Have you tried violet candy?" I haven't! But now I must. I also just made some green tea with jasmine. How delicious! Next time I make a salad, I'm picking a bunch of red clover flowers from the back yard to add to it.
It's so neat how much more festive food is when you add a little floral enhancement. Go out and give them a try! And if your neighbor gives you a weird look when he catches you snacking on your roses or nibbling on your yard, just wave, smile, and keep on snacking.