Flowers that look (and are!) good enough to eat

Posted on Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Centurea cyanus cultivarForget the veg patch – why not try foraging for food in your ornamental borders?! Edible flowers abound in the garden year round, but the summer is the best time to find little gems to brighten up your salads and other dishes. Here’s our guide to some of the best floral fodder and suggestions on how to prepare it:

  • Alcea rosea (hollyhocks) – eat the petals only.
  • Allium schoenoprasum (chives) – flowerheads can be eaten whole, add to salads for a less overpowering onion flavour.
  • Borago officinalis (borage) – eat the petals only, which can be added to salads or crystallised for cake decorations (please note they will turn from violet to pink on contact with acid such as lemon juice or vinegar). The cucumber-flavour leaves are often added to drinks of Pimms, and the flowers can be floated on top as decoration.
  • Calendula officinalis (pot marigolds) – eat the petals only, useful in salads where the wide variety of available colours means you can colour-coordinate it! The bright petals can also be used to colour rice (instead of saffron) or infused to give colour to butters, cheeses, milk puddings or cakes.
  • Centaurea cyanus, C. scabiosa, C. nigra and C. montana (cornflowers) – eat the petals only, use the blue colour to great effect in salads (yes, there really is a blue food!). Also good for pot-pourri when dried.
  • Chrysanthemum x grandiflorum (syn. C. x morifolium) (florists’ chrysanthemums) – eat the petals only. Used in Chinese cuisine to make chrysanthemum tea.
  • Cucurbita pepo (courgettes/zucchini) – flowerheads can be eaten whole (but remove the stamen or style/stigma). They are often deep fried in a light/tempura batter, stuffed and baked, or used in soups.
  • Dianthus (pinks and carnations) – eat the petals only, they look pretty in salads and can be dried for pot-pourri.
  • Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William) – eat the petals only.
  • Helianthus anuus (sunflowers) – the flowerbuds can be eaten whole (try frying them in butter) or enjoy the flowers in the garden then munch on the seeds, either raw or roasted.
  • Lavendula (lavender) – eat the petals only, crystallise them for decorations or add them to fresh to jams, vinegars or ice creams. Dried flowers can be used for pot-pourri.
  • Mentha (mint) – flowerheads can be eaten whole, try including in salads or popping into your drink of Pimms.
  • Monarda didyma (bergamot) – eat the petals only, they are bright red or mauve and effective at adding a splash of colour to salads. They can also be used in pot-pourri. The leaves can be infused as a tea (bergamot is one of the main flavours of Earl Grey tea).
  • Nepeta cataria (catmint) – flowerheads can be eaten whole, use as a garnish or alongside the leaves to make tea.
  • Ocimum basilicum (basil) – flowerheads can be eaten whole and are a useful garnish, especially for Mediterranean style dishes.
  • Primula vulgaris (primroses) – flowerheads can be eaten whole. The flowers and young leaves are both useful for salads and the flowers make a good garnish for desserts. You can also use the flowers to make desserts such as primrose pottage.
  • Rosa (roses) – eat the petals only, they can be crystallised for cake decorations or used in salads.
  • Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) – flowerheads can be eaten whole, simply use along with the rest of the sprig in flavouring meals such as lamb dishes, or use them separately as a garnish.
  • Sambucus nigra (elder) – flowerheads can be eaten whole. The flowers can be deep fried in a light/tempura batter, orĀ  added to stewed fruit, jellies and jam for a muscatel flavour. The adventurous can also try using the flowers to make elderflower cordial or wine.
  • Tropaeolum majus (nasturtiums) – flowerheads can be eaten whole, including flower buds, they are great for adding colour to a salad or for cakes and desserts if crystallised. Alternatively, infuse them to make nasturtium vinegar. The peppery flavoured leaves can also be used in salads.
  • Viola odorata (violets) – flowerheads can be eaten whole, use them fresh to garnish salads and desserts or crystallise to make lovely cake decorations.

In many cases where only the petals of the flower are edible, you should be able to remove the central, inedible, parts while leaving the petals intact and still joined together.

Always ensure you wash flowers thoroughly in cold water before using them in food, particularly if you have animals (eg foxes, dogs or cats) visiting your garden.

Use flowers as freshly as possible as they rarely keep well.

Don’t use flowers which have been sprayed with pesticides or fertilisers (unless they are suitable for use on food produce).

Consume edible flowers in moderation.

Please remember: not all flowers are edible. Make sure you check that you know what the flower is and whether it is edible before you eat it, and ensure that children also understand that they should only eat parts of plants which a responsible adult has told them they can.