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May 16, 2024

Tips for Using Edible Flowers

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violets, white flower, gold flowers, purple flower

Whenever we garnish a dish with marigolds or drop a pansy into a cocktail drink, at least one guest will inevitably ask “Can we eat the flowers?”

The answer is “Yes! Yes, you can.”

In fact, you can do a lot more than eat these flowers, if you know what you’re doing!

We’ll show you how edible flowers can be a simple, sophisticated way to add color, flavor, and fun to any meal. But first, a little quirky history!

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A Brief History of Edible Flowers

If you grew up sipping the nectar from honeysuckles or daring your friends to eat a dandelion, you already know about edible flowers. But you might not know that the use of edible flowers is a tradition that goes back thousands of years.

In fact, flowers are featured in the world’s second oldest cookbook! The Art of Cooking, a collection of ancient Roman recipes, mentions violets, roses, mallows, and other flowers as key ingredients on Roman tables around 30 AD. Interestingly, the author of most of those recipes, Marcus Gavius Apicius, was a food enthusiast known for hosting lavish banquets and serving exotic dishes like flamingo, ostrich, gazelle, and a liquor made from fish. After partying away his enormous fortune, Apicius could no longer afford his accustomed lifestyle, so he deliberately poisoned himself with his final meal.

Apicius’ story leads us to two important warnings:

1. Not all flowers are edible.

We can’t stress this strongly enough! Many flowers are naturally toxic, and even the edible varieties are dangerous to consume if they’ve been treated with chemicals. That’s why we don’t advise anyone to forage for their own flowers unless they have extensive knowledge of the subject and are sure that the flowers they pick have not been treated with any kind of pesticide, herbicide, or other “cide.” Also, we recommend introducing an edible flower into your diet a little at a time to see if you have any allergies or adverse reactions.

2. When it comes to edible flowers, don’t overdo it.

There’s no need to break your budget to spice up your table with edible flowers. We’ll show you how to find them for a reasonable price…or even grow your own. Read on!

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Which edible flowers should I try?

It’s worth repeating that you need to be very careful when selecting which flowers to eat. We would never suggest ingesting any flowers you find alongside the road or in someone else’s garden. Grow your flowers yourself or buy them from a vendor you trust, and be sure to ask whether they’ve been chemically treated.

All that said, here are some of our favorite edible flowers:

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Calendula

These bright orange blossoms work especially well with savory dishes because they have a slightly peppery, tangy flavor.

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Pansies and Violets

You could be forgiven if you can’t tell the difference between a pansy and a violet. Technically, pansies are a type of violet. If it has four petals pointing up and one petal pointing down, it’s a pansy. True violets are generally a little smaller than pansies and have two petals pointing up with three petals pointing down.

Both pansies and violets are visually gorgeous and have a pleasant, faint aroma. They are slightly spicy, but really, they don’t affect taste much.

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Lavender

It doesn’t have the vivid color of some other edible flowers, but lavender is fantastic for the distinct aroma it adds to teas, cocktails, lemonades, and other drinks. We use lavender sprigs on panna cotta and other baked desserts. Be sure to use culinary lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) because other strains of lavender can taste or smell soapy.

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Nasturtium

If we could only grow one type of edible flower, we would probably choose nasturtium. Most edible flowers are mainly for looks and/or scent; they don’t have much of a flavor of their own. Nasturtium, on the other hand, has a distinct flavor that affects the overall dish. It adds a nice peppery bite similar to watercress or arugula.

Unlike most flowers, the whole nasturtium plant is edible! Its buds, flowers, and leaves can be eaten, and you can even use nasturtium seeds as a substitute for capers. This versatile flower works well in a wide range of recipes.

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Squash Blossoms

Always a crowd favorite, fried squash blossoms taste fantastic. Filled with whipped goat cheese or ricotta and then deep fried, they are out of this world!

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Butterfly Pea Blossoms

If you want to add edible flowers to a beverage, you won’t find one more fun (or more nutritious) than butterfly pea blossoms. Read here to learn about the magical color-changing properties of butterfly pea blossoms.

Where can I get safe, affordable edible flowers?

You can order edible flowers online, but the quality and freshness are likely going to suffer if you don’t get them directly from growers. That’s why your best bet is either to grow them yourself or buy them through local vendors and farmer’s markets.

Brickhouse Growers in Orem is an excellent supplier for anyone alone the Wasatch Front.

Vertical Harvest is another wonderful vendor in the Wyoming/Utah/Idaho area.

ice cubes with flowers, pansies, violets, in ice

Other tips for using edible flowers.

  • If you grow your own edible flowers, pick them at a cool time of the day when they are at their best, usually early in the morning.
  • For most types of edible flowers, you’ll need to remove the pistils, stamens, sepals, leaves, and stems.
  • Wash your flowers thoroughly.
  • Make sure there aren’t any pollinating insects lurking inside.
  • When using edible flowers in drinks, one fun option is to freeze the individual flowers in ice cube molds beforehand.
  • Your flowers will last much longer and will taste sweeter if you candy them first.
  • When using edible flowers to enhance the look of a dish, remember to not overdo it. Think “contrast, not clash.” While a colorful blossom can liven up a monochrome or dull-looking dish, piling flowers onto an already colorful dish makes the whole thing look messy and overly busy. Use a light touch.
  • Have fun!
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