Flowers aren’t just beautiful to look at—many of them are delicious and nutritious! Why not add style, taste and nutrition to your meals at home with buds and blossoms?
But watch out!
Not all flowers are edible—and some varieties even can send you to the emergency room.
I put in a call to Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the nonprofit American Botanical Council in Austin, Texas, to pick his brain about which flowers to avoid, which flowers to eat and how to easily incorporate them into delicious dishes…
Let’s tackle the big questions—which flowers are safe to eat, and which are dangerous? Some common vegetables are actually flowers (or more precisely, flower buds) Blumenthal reminded me, citing artichokes, broccoli and cauliflower as examples. But if you want to get a little more adventurous, follow his guidelines…
- Pick properly. To be sure that they are free of pesticides and herbicides, grow edible flowers yourself from seed or buy organically-raised plants from a nursery or market. Or buy edible blossoms found in produce sections in some food markets. Do not consume flowers purchased from non-organic florists, garden centers or nurseries. It’s also not usually a good idea to harvest wild flowers, because you typically don’t know what chemicals those flowers have been exposed to. Plus, some flowers are beautiful but poisonous if eaten, potentially causing nasty reactions such as skin rashes or even dangerous heart disturbances (more on those flowers in a minute). Harvest or purchase flowers the day you plan to use them, so they are fresh. Avoid any that are sticky, shriveling or shiny, because those are signs of decay.
- Prepare the flower. Remove stems, leaves and interior parts, such as stamens (the rodlike structures that stick out in the middle of the blossom), and wash the remaining flower gently. You may want to snip off the white tips at the base of the petals, because they sometimes taste bitter.
- Start slowly. If you are new to eating flowers, try one variety at a time in small amounts (either a few petals or one blossom or bud) just in case you have a sensibility or allergy. If you are allergic to pollen or ragweed, then you should be especially cautious, because you might also be allergic to flowers. When in doubt, consult your physician first.
- Try these edible flowers: Borage, carnation, chamomile, chive, chrysanthemum, dandelion buds, honeysuckle, jasmine, lavender, marigold, mint, nasturtium, pansy, red clover, rose, rosemary, violet.
- Never eat these flowers: Angel’s trumpet, azalea, buttercup, daffodil, daphne, delphinium, foxglove, hyacinth, lily of the valley, oleander, rhododendron.
HOW TO USE FLOWERS IN YOUR FOOD
Now, as for how to mix flowers into your meals, here’s what Blumenthal had to say. Since they’re natural plant foods, many flowers not only taste good—they often contain nutrients that enhance health. Blumenthal said that for premium taste, try matching certain flowers with certain recipes…
- Chamomile: Most often the dried flowers are used in tea, but you can also sprinkle fresh chamomile flowers, which have a lovely apple aroma, on your salad. Online, you can find recipes for chamomile pies and custards, too. Chamomile tends to blend well in any lemon-flavored dishes. The daisylike blooms contain volatile oils that act as a mild sedative as well as muscle relaxants and tummy soothers.
- Chive: The oniony, peppery purple blossoms of this herb add punch to potato dishes or risottos. Chive flowers give your immune system a boost with vitamin C, iron and sulfur.
- Dandelion: Dandelion buds (which are tight and firm before they bloom) are packed with antioxidants (such as vitamin C, B vitamins and beta-carotene) that help reduce your risk for cancer and heart disease. Enjoy their sweetness raw or steamed on their own, or add them to soups or scrambled eggs. If you’re feeling extra creative, search online for recipes for pickled dandelion buds. Just avoid the mature yellow flowers, because they’re bitter.
- Nasturtium: Like its close relative watercress, nasturtium has a tang that livens up pasta dishes. You can even make your own nasturtium pesto. These flowers are rich in vitamin C and iron, as well as lycopene and lutein, vitamin-A related carotenoid compounds that help reduce cancer and cardiovascular risk, protect skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays and help prevent age-related eye disease.
Source: Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council (ABC), an Austin, Texas-based independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to disseminating accurate, reliable and responsible information about herbs and medicinal plants. He is the editor/publisher of the quarterly journal HerbalGram.