Flowers you can eat
Flowers can be used to enhance food flavors
Penn State Master Gardener &
Master Food Preserver
Roses. Lavender. Daylilies. Bee balm. Their colorful flowers grace
our gardens. Besides being a feast for our eyes, all of their
flowers can be used to
enhance the flavor
of baked goods, meat
dishes, salads, beverages, jams, and jellies. Edible flowers are as
versatile in the kitchen as they are in the garden.
You may already have edible flowers in your garden. Woody or
herbaceous, many plants have edible flowers that can be
incorporated into the landscape. Redbud trees (Cercis
canadensis) are classic ornamental plants whose flowers were
used by Native Americans as a food source. The buds can be
pickled and used like capers. The flowers have a sour taste and
are rich in vitamin C.
Where space is limited, lemon or orange trees can be grown in
containers and overwintered indoors. Orange blossoms steeped in
distilled water have been used in Moroccan cooking for
centuries. Shrubs (lilac, rose, elderberry), perennials (bee
balm, daylilies, bachelor buttons), herbs (lavender, anise
hyssop, chamomile, chives), annual vegetables (broccoli,
Brussels sprouts, radish, arugula, squash blossoms), bulbs
(onions, tulips), annuals (nasturtiums, pot marigold), and even
weeds (wild violets and dandelions) have flowers that are
you’d like to experiment with adding flowers to your cooking
repertoire you must follow several guidelines:
First and foremost, know what flowers are edible
versus those unpalatable or poisonous. It is a pre-requisite
to correctly identify the plants you plan to ingest and know
their botanical names- not to mention you’ll dazzle
your non-gardening friends. For instance, daylilies (Hemerocallis
spp.) are edible but belladonna lily (Amaryllis belladonna),
gloriosa lily (Gloriosa spp.), and lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria
majalis) are poisonous. The flowers from common garden peas
(Pisum sativum) are edible, but flowers from sweet peas (Lathyrus
spp.) are not. Simply knowing that a plant is a lily or a
pea will not suffice if you intend to eat the flowers!
Know and trust the source of the flower.
Flowers must be organically grown. It is best to eat
what you have grown yourself or have purchased from a
trusted source. It is possible to find some flowers in
the market – dried culinary lavender can be found in
specialty spice stores. Do not eat flowers from garden
centers or florists. They may have been sprayed with
pesticides. Do not eat flowers harvested from the side
of the road or a neighbor’s front path – dogs may have
Introduce this new food category into your diet judiciously.
Like any food, flowers can be allergens. Individuals
with asthma, allergies, or hay fever should avoid flowers
from the daisy family.
Within a genus, cultivars may have different flavors
and some may be more appealing than others. The deep
red varieties of bee balm, such as Monarda ‘Jacob Kline’, have
large delicate petals with a spicy but sweet flavor.
Freshly harvested edible flowers can be used in a myriad of
sweet or savory recipes. Start by adding a mixture of petals
(nasturtiums, borage, violets) into a salad of mixed greens.
Top a hot vegetable dish with chive or onion blossoms.
The following books are excellent sources for expanding your
palate using edible flowers:
The Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasy
Edible Flowers: From Garden to Palate by Cathy Wilkinson
Eat Your Roses:…Pansies, Lavender, and 49 Other Delicious
Edible Flowers by Denise Schreiber (a Pittsburgher!)
The best time to harvest edible flowers is, as with herbs, in
the morning after the dew has dried but before the blooms are
wilted by the heat of the day. Remove the stamen and pistil.
It is the flower petal that you want to eat. Gently rinse the
petals in cool water and drain. A few flowers require extra
effort. Roses and tulips have a lovely flavor, but the white
base tends to be bitter, so it must be removed. Pinch or cut it
While many recipes call for fresh flowers, petals can also be
preserved for later use. There are many methods of preserving.
It is critical to know which methods are safe and to implement
them correctly. Drying is a safe, simple method, although some
flowers lose their delicate flavor when dried. Store dried
flowers in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place for
up to one year.
“Candy” rose petals and violets to embellish your favorite
dessert. Even the most skilled baker would be hard-pressed to
improve on a glistening, natural flower. Candying is
accomplished by painting frothed, pasteurized egg whites onto
the entire flower or petal. Next, superfine sugar is gently
dusted on the flowers. Air-drying, on a rack, is the final step.
Sugared petals can be stored in single layers in an airtight
container for up to one year.
Many flowers freeze well: violets in ice cubes are an elegant
addition to lemonade. You can safely infuse the flavor of
edible flowers in water, sugar, sugar syrups, and butter
(refrigerate and use within a few days). Do not infuse edible
flowers in oil or honey as this method poses a risk of botulism.
If you want to preserve flowers in jams or jellies use a
reputable source for instructions and recipes. Reliable,
research-based sources include:
Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving by the USDA
Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Publications released from a university cooperative
extension, such as So Easy to Preserve from the Cooperative
Extension of the University of Georgia or “Let’s Preserve”,
a series of brochures issued by Penn State University. The
Penn State brochures can be obtained at:
The 13th annual Edible Flowers Food Fest was held on July 18,
2003 at the Buffalo Inn in South Park. It was co-sponsored by
Allegheny County Parks and the Penn State Master Gardeners of
Allegheny County, and all proceeds benefited Allegheny County
Almonds & Pecans
Pickling the Harvest