An Introduction to Edible Flowers

Please eat the daisies! Many flowers are not only edible, but full of phytonutrients that promote health and general well-being.

  • The petals of Calendula flowers make a tasty substitute for saffron. Sasha is holding a posy that includes Calendula ‘Pink Surprise.’
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  • Jamaican Roselle makes a wonderful tea, whether alone or in concert with other herbal tastes and fragrances.
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  • Thai Red Roselle--The calyx (the leaf-like structure that encloses the developing seeds) is the part most used for tea, although the flowers are equally good.
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  • The dramatic color of the flowers and bracts of ‘Siam Queen’ basil add a crisp snap of flavor in salads or when used as a garnish on curries or stir fries.
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  • Shungiku Edible Chrysanthemum has lovely yellow flowers.
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  • Artichoke "Cardoon" is a familiar edible flower.
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  • Gladiola "Peter Pears" would add a pop of color to salads.
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  • Cauliflower "Purple Of Sicily" is a lovely variant of the traditional white cauliflower.
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  • "Blue Monday" Salvia is a good pollinator plant as well as being edible.
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Please pass the daisies! And while you’re at it, please pass the violets, nasturtiums and roses as well. Folks are starting to realize that many flowers, so long considered fine to look at but off-limits in the kitchen, are not only delicious but actually good for you. Edible flowers have become all the rage in home kitchens and upscale restaurants alike. They provide a pop of brilliant color, often a subtle aroma or sweetness and sometimes a hefty dose of anti-oxidants as well.

 An in-depth chart of commonly available edible flowers

Before we delve into whys and wherefores, let’s pause for a solemn note of caution: Never eat ANY flower without a reliable positive identification. No matter how pretty and no matter how delicious a culinary candidate may taste, do not take internally until and unless you are absolutely certain that you know what it is and that it is safe and wholesome to eat. Never eat flowers harvested from roadsides, where they could conceivably pick up contamination from passing traffic or roadside herbicide applications. And never eat commercially-grown flowers unless you are certain they have been grown organically. Commercially-produced flowers are not intended for human consumption, and may have been treated with really toxic chemicals, often much worse than those used in conventional food production.

Flowers-as-food no doubt predates historic times. Surely our ancestors, all too often only one step ahead of hunger, would not scruple to nibble on tasty, colorful blooms, especially if it included a sweet drop of nectar into the bargain. Perhaps some local flower-eating traditions around the globe date back to ancient times: choy sum (the tangy blooms of a pak choi relative) in China, or the sweetly scented flowers of the drumstick tree (Moringa) in India are two possible examples. Another, perhaps, is alluded to in ancient Greek literature. The lotus eaters seduced returning Homeric heroes into joining them, with a preternatural forgetfulness as the result. (Ironically, the Asian lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, is eminently edible — flower, seed pod, seed and root — and not in the least narcotic. So perhaps this legend referred to some other plant — an object lesson in the importance of correct identification!)

Ancient civilizations enjoyed a floral tidbit now and again. Egyptians and Romans both employed flowers in cooking, but there is more in the record about Chinese flower-eating. And in Korea, there is made Hwaejeon nori — traditional small Korean pancakes consisting of glutinous rice cakes and flowers of chrysanthemum or azalea; other versions have been made with pear or cherry blossoms, violets and roses.

Some flowers never went out of fashion. Even the most conservative cooks have used a number of flower types for ages, right up to the present. Artichokes are nothing more than the immature bud of a particular, purple-flowered thistle. Broccoli and cauliflower are in reality the very undeveloped flower heads of plants of the same names. The star-like, sky-blue flowers of borage have long been candied and stored, to grace cakes and confections at some later time. Baby corn is nothing but the female flower of the corn plant, after all. And then there are capers, which are the immature flower buds of the caper bush, usually pickled--they are used as a flavorful condiment. Finally, lavender is one herb always harvested for its flowers.

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