“A flower is a weed with an advertising budget”

Rory Sutherland, The Spectator

 

Not all flowers are edible, but some are and these can be used in food either as a flavouring (like the peppery nasturtium for example); or because the make convenient containers (for example the courgette flower is a perfect container for cream cheese); or because they give a bit of visual impact as a garnish (a hibiscus can transform a crostini).

Don’t use flowers just for the sake of it – be clear of their purpose – otherwise leave them to grow, to feed bees and other insects, and brighten a garden, forest, or hedgerow.

Make sure the flowers are clean and free of pesticides – don’t use flowers from roadside verges, or from anywhere where you don’t know how they have been treated. One of the best and easiest ways of making sure you have a constant supply of clean and healthy flowers is to grow your own. Go to The Edible Flower Shop to buy seeds and for more information.

Bear in mind that some people may be allergic to flowers, sometimes without knowing this.

Saucy Dressings takes no responsibility for any reaction experienced by anyone eating any of the flowers listed in this post. Saucy Dressings cannot be held responsible for any adverse reaction to the flowers. In case of doubt please consult your doctor.

 

basil flowerBasil: Osimum basilicum

Taste: Again, impossible to describe. The taste of the flowers is not as strong as the leaves

Use: Anything where you would use basil, but want some visual impact and don’t want such a strong taste

Preparation: Just pluck them off. But don’t go wild – I once denuded a plant and was told by a gardener friend that I had nearly killed the plant!

Measure: about sixty flowers will fill a cup

When: throughout the summer

 

fried black locust flowersBlack Locust Flowers: Robinia Pseudoacacia – NB parts of this flower are toxic

Taste: somewhere between jasmine and fresh pea, also a crispy texture which adds to the interest

Use: follow this link for the full post on these blossoms

Preparation: NB parts of this flower are toxic

Measure: depends on size of the bloom

When: only about a week towards the end of May

Did you know? To find out more about using these flowers go to Black Locust Flowers.

 

Add borage flowers a la Pimms to make your water truly beautiful... and add taste of cucumber

and add taste of cucumber

Borage: Borago Officinalis (NB Pregnant and lactating women should avoid borage flowers which can cause milk to flow.) 

Taste: Milder than the leaves which have a cucumber flavour

Use: The main use is in a Pimms cocktail, but they give a bright splash of colour to a salad. Some people freeze the flowers in ice cubes. I discovered at last year’s Food Bloggers Connect conference that the leaves are used widely in Italian cooking!

Preparation: just pluck off, wash delicately if necessary.

Measure: about sixty flowers will fill a cup

When: I find my plant flowers for only a couple of weeks in June. That is because I only have one plant. I understand now that if you sow seeds every four weeks you’ll get a steady supply of flowers through the summer.

 

camomileCamomile (or chamomile): German – Matricaria chamomilla (an annual plant) or English, Roman or Garden (a perennial plant, the type used to create a chamomile lawn) – Chamaemelum nobile

Taste: Delicate, slightly dried apply flavour

Use: a very popular infusion is made with dried camomile flowers which is supposed to have a soporific effect

Preparation: dry the flowers in the sun

When: mid-July – early August

Did you know? Mary Wesley wrote a pretty steamy novel set just before the outbreak of World War II entitled The Chamomile Lawn. The lawn in question stretches from the back of a large Cornish house to the cliffs below and represents the halcyon days before the war. Dried German camomile flowers are hollow.

 

eating chive flowersChive: allium

Taste: as you would expect, a sort of mild oniony-garlicy sort of taste

Use: you can add the flowers to salads or use them to flavour vinegars. You can also make butter with them – go to the edible flower shop to find out how.

Preparation: pluck out and use

When: late April to June

 

guide to edible flowersCornflower:  Centaurea cyanus (aka Batchelor’s Button)

Taste: a bit like cloves – mostly used because of their startling blue colour

Use: for colour in salads. Twinings use cornflowers in their Lady Grey tea.

Preparation: wash carefully and dry gently

When: summer

 

stuffed courgette flowers recipeCourgette (zucchini) flowers: Cucurbita

Taste: a bit like courgettes only milder

Use: Fantastic stuffed with cream cheese and then fried – go here for the method

Preparation: go to this post for full details

Measure: These are big, blousy generous blooms – one might take up a whole cup

When: May to September

Did you know: “Courgettes are the most substantial of the annual edible flowers, delicate and salad-like when eaten raw, and taking on a morish savoury crunch when fried in butter and topped in lemon juice and salt. Sow a selection of different courgettes now [May], so that each flower you pick comes with a different shaped and coloured miniature courgette attached” – Lia Leendertz, in The Times

 

can you eat cowslipsCowslip: Primula veris

Taste: slight taste of anise

Use: Very effective for insomniacs! Combine the flowers in an infusion with camomile and lemon verbena. Can be made into a country wine (follow this link to find out how). An infusion of the flowers in oil is said to reduce wrinkles and blotches on skin. The leaves are sometimes added to salads or stuffings.

Preparation: use the crown of yellow petals only – no stalk, or the green calyx.

Measure: Flower sizes vary

When: End of April, beginning of May

Did you know? Cowslips have a calming, sedative effect. They come from the same family as primroses.

 

can you eat dandelionsDandelion; Taraxacum officinale

Taste: sweet, honey

Use: In Greece they make a wonderful salad of young (the older leaves are tougher and more bitter, also avoid any with a touch of red), boiled leaves known as ‘horta’. Jane Grigson stresses the importance of blanching the leaves and suggests a salad of leaves, bacon, boiled egg and vinegar.

The flowers are more usually used to make wine. It’s also been mixed with burdock since the middle ages – nowadays Fentimans makes a very lightly alcoholic mix of dandelion, burdock and ginger, and Dr Adam Elmegirab has created a dandelion and burdock bitters which he recommends mixing into a cocktail of tequila, green tea infused syrup, and white grapefruit zest. Can’t wait to try that!

Preparation: use immediately after picking. Leave head whole for making wine

When: best in March and April, but they will keep going until autumn

Did you know? The name comes from the French dent de lion, lion’s teeth.

 

 

daylily1 Daylily: Hemerocallis fulva – NB not all lilies are edible – you need this type

Taste: buds have a fresh taste, mature flowers are a bit like cross between floppy English lettuce and green beans, with a slightly peppery, radishy freshness..

Use: use the buds in stir fries. The dried petals of mature flowers are used commonly in Chinese cooking – you can buy them on Amazon.  Petals can be added to salads, or to garnish soups. Alternatively you can coat the entire flower in batter and fry, in the same way as elderflowers. Or you can stuff as per courgette flowers.

Preparation: ideally use the day of picking, but robust flowers may keep in the fridge for two or three days.

Measure: six flowers will give you a cup of petals

When: These are summer flowers

Did you know? They’re called daylilies because each flower lasts for only one day.

 

 

food for a week in juneElderflower: Sambucus Nigra

Taste: Almost impossible to describe! Heavenly. I know it’s not much help but it tastes of summer. Strong flavour, so go easy.

Use: makes a fantastic cordial, and also a liqueur (St Germain). Like daylilies, they work well covered in batter and fried, served with maple syrup. The cordial makes a damn good cocktail. Follow this link for how to make the cordial.

Elderflower and gooseberry is a good pairing. David Everitt-Matthias, chef at Le Champignon Sauvage serves elderflower mousse with roasted red gooseberries; he also infuses them in a light dashi to make a perfumed stock for turbot.

Elderflower jelly goes well with strawberries. At Gelupo they mix elderflower with kiwi and gin (the mind boggles) to make a very notable ice cream. Chef Anthony Demetre (Arbutus) and chefs at The Ubiquitous Chip are unanimous in thinking that elderflower goes well with crab. Or you could make a syllabub with elderflower cordial, lemon zest, caster sugar, sherry and double cream.

Use elderflower cordial in salad dressings in the place of honey and vinegar.

Elderflower pressé is now Marks & Spencer’s top selling soft drink.

Preparation: NB flowers must be cooked – don’t eat raw. Wash carefully to get rid of insects.

When: a couple of weeks only, end May to beginning of June

Did you know? Standing under an elder tree on Midsummer Eve guarantees visions of fairies. More practically, hanging elder leaves in windows repels flies.

 

Electric flowers - like eating a nine volt batteryElectric Flowers (aka Electric Buttons, or Szechuan buttons): Acmella Oleracea

Taste: A grassy taste, but these incredible flowers are not so much about flavour as effect. Eating them results in a tingling sensation, a numbness and increased salivation on the tongue. The effect is, apparently, like eating a nine volt battery, only, sort of, nice.
Use: They are used to wake up the jaded eater, to encourage more mindful eating – go to To Hack or Not to Hack to find out more about this.
Preparation: mostly eaten raw in drinks, salads and sorbets
When: I’m trying to grow these little thumbnail-sized beauties…. I will revise this post when I know!
Did you know? See these extraordinary flowers in action on The Garden Larder blog.

 

guide to edible flowersGeranium: Pelargonium

Taste: NB – don’t use ordinary geraniums – you need the scented type. There are all kinds of flavours but my favourites are the orange, the lemon, the nutmeg and the chocolate mint – yes, really! There’s a rose flavour, but I prefer real rose. Most of the flavour comes from the leaf, not the flower; don’t eat either. Simply use the leaves to infuse.

Use: Use the leaves to infuse jellies and jams – Jessica Koslow (Sqirl) makes raspberry and rose geranium jam.

Preparation: cut the leaves, wash delicately, dry and use to infuse

When: May to September

 

 

hibiscusHibiscus: Hibiscus Rosa-sinensis

Taste: mild, slightly tangy

Use: in cocktails, and to decorate canapés and hors d’oeuvres. Wild Hibiscus, the main suppliers, suggest preheating the oven to about 210ºC. Drain the flowers from the jar, reserving the syrup, and cut each flower in two. Cut a brie into ¼” thick slices – a bit smaller than the size of a baguette. Spread flaked almonds on a plate, press the cheese into the slices of baguette, and then press the cheese down onto the almonds. Put bread bottommost on a greased baking tray. Bake about five minutes. Top with half a flower. Drizzle with reserved syrup. Snip over herbs.

Preparation:  holding the flower at its base, pull out the central spine (the pistil) that holds the stamens, then pull away the individual petals (or leave whole).

Measure: 1 cup = petals from about eight flowers

When: This is a summer flower

Did you know? In India they use the petals to shine shoes

 

 

eat hollyhock

image credited to Zachi-Evenor

Hollyhock: Alcea

Taste: From the same mallow family as the hibiscus – also mild tasting

Use: garnish for salads

Preparation: take hold of the green base of the flower and pull the petals out individually. Use immediately – they don’t last longer than a few hours.

Measure: 1 cup = petals from about eight flowers

When: early to mid-summer

Did you know? This flower was imported into England from China by the crusaders. The name means holy mallow (‘hoc’ was the Old English word for mallow).

 

eat honeysuckleHoneysuckle: Lonicera

Some parts of certain species can, apparently, be eaten. The berries of all species are poisonous. Do not attempt to eat honeysuckle unless you absolutely know what you are doing. Species listed in Jekka McVicar’s Complete Herb Book which she lists as having a ‘direct herbal input’ are:

Lonicera x Americana, Lonicera Caprifolium, Lonicera Etrusca, Lonicera Japonica, Lonicera Perclymenumm

Taste: sweet, honeyed

Use: throw onto salads

Preparation: rinse and pat dry with a teacloth, gently

When: Early to mid-summer through to September

Did you know? Honeysuckle is also known as woodbine and it has inspired both Shakespeare

“…where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine”

And Alfred Lord Tennyson

“Come into the garden, Maud,
I am here at the gate alone;
and the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
and the musk of the rose is blown”

 

 

how to cook jasmine rice

Jasmine: Jasminium

Taste: strong and heady. Use with caution.

Use: Dried flowers can be used as an infusion – a teaspoonful or two in a cup of boiling water – but whereas the scent of the fresh flowers is overwhelming, the oil that contains the scent molecules is incredibly volatile – the taste you get from dried flowers is a mere shadow of the fresh.

Jasmine is NOT used to flavour white jasmine rice (see how to cook jasmine rice) which has a slightly scented jasmine-like odour resulting entirely from natural compounds in the rice itself.

Jasmine pairs well with lime.

When: Jasmine blooms from spring to autumn.

Did you know? Jasmine comes originally from the Himalayas, and in India it is the sacred flower of Kama, god of love.

 

 

lavender2Lavender: Lavandula

Taste: sweet, scented

Use: in cakes and biscuits but also good in wild rice. For much more about cooking with lavender go to the excellent Long Barn site.

Preparation: pick when dry. Just pull the stems in the opposite direction and they will fall off. Only the petals are edible.

Measure: tbc

When: depends on the type – about a month midsummer

Did you know?  Go here for Alan Titchmarsh’s tips for growing lavender.

 

 

eating lilac bloomsLilac: Srynga vulgaris

Taste: like the smell, quite heady and sweet

Use: in salads, or make a syrup and pour over cakes and meringues; flavour cream; make sorbets and jams

Preparation: bit fiddly. Pick the flower clusters. Wash the clusters and separate them out. Pull each floret away from the green part at the bottom.

When: late spring

Did you know? It’s bad luck to bring lilac inside

 

 

marigold1Marigolds: Calendula oficinalis

Taste: spicy, peppery

Use: not so much for its taste as for its colour. Chicken farms feed their hens with these flowers to turn the yolks a deeper yellow, and they can be used instead of saffron or turmeric to colour rice or custards.

Preparation: wash and disengage the petals, pulling several out at once. Only the petals are edible.

Measure: one cup petals = petals from approximately fifty flowers

When: April to September

Did you know? In Mexico they are a symbol of the Day of the Dead – the flowers arose, watered by the blood of Aztecs massacred by the Spanish. The name comes from the concept that it blooms every month – not true – in fact it blooms from late April to September.

 

 

nasturtiumNasturtium: Tropaeolum

Taste: peppery, a bit like watercress

Use: All kinds of uses – follow this link for the full post on nasturtiums. Fantastic in a peppery rocket salad; their colour makes them an eye-catching garnish

Odilon Redon - nasturtiums

Odilon Redon – nasturtiums

Preparation: You can just use the flowers whole

Measure: 1 cup = about twenty flowers

When: summer into autumn

Did you know? Monet loved these flowers, and so, I discovered at the recent Delacroix exhibition at the National Gallery in London, did a painter I had never heard of, but thought was terrific – Odilon Redon.

For a full post on the nasturtium, go here.

 

 

vanilla flowerOrchids: Vanilla, Dendrobum and cymbidium are the types you can eat

Taste: the petals have a delicate cucumbery flavour. The flavour of the vanilla type of orchid comes from the fruit of the plant, the seed pods.

Use: the flowers can be used to decorate cakes, or added to stir fries

Preparation: take the flowers off the stem and use whole

Measure: depends on size

When: If you are Rex Stout’s redoubtable detective, Nero Wolfe, you can grow these all year round in a special orchid house. If you buy them, get them from a culinary source as florists tend to spray them with insecticides.

Did you know? The name is derived from the Greek, ‘orchis’ meaning testicle – the roots apparently bring this item of the male anatomy to mind.

 

 

orange-blossomOrange blossom: Citrus x sinensis. Seville oranges are the best to use.

Taste: slightly bitter orange taste

Use: to make orange blossom, or orange flower water, which in turn is used liberally in both sweet and savoury recipes in Moroccan cuisine; and is also added to cocktails such as gin fizz or martini. Add to chocolate mousse, madeleines, or sweet puff pastry.

Preparation: blossoms are pounded in a pestle and mortar and then steeped in distilled water

When: Around Christmas

 

 

Oregano: Oreganum vulgare

Taste: as the leaves, but milder

Use: as per the herb

Preparation: simply wash and eat whole

When: mid to late summer

 

 

can you eat pansiesPansies and Violas: Viola

Taste: slightly lemony but mild

Use: as for nasturtiums – their colour makes them a great garnish especially in salads. Some people use them to garnish cottage cheese or soft goats’ cheese. They are often crystallised and used as cake decorations.

Preparation: pluck out of the green base and use whole

Measure: 1 cup = about 60 flowers

When: these are some of the first flowers to appear in spring, but they are a stalwart, keeping going through the summer and into autumn. There are even some winter flowering varieties.

Did you know? What is the difference between pansies and violas (they are the same genus). Pansies have four petals pointing upwards and one pointing down. Violas have three petals pointing up and two down.

 

 

can you eat pinksPink (also known as Sweet William): Dianthus

Taste: Sweet, cloves

Use: for making chartreuse. Scatter the petals in salads

Preparation: wash flowers gently. Take hold of the green base of the flower and pull the petals out. Cut off the bitter, white part of the petal with scissors

Measure: You will need masses of flowers to achieve much – about sixty flowers for one cups of petals.

When: May to July

Did you know? One of the secret ingredients of making chartreuse.

 

 

roseRose: Rosa

Taste: Sweet, scented. The stronger the smell, the stronger the taste

Use: Especially popular in Persia, and in Middle Eastern cuisine in general. Good in biscuits, cakes and jams. Also for making rose water (in the same way as orange blossom water – see above)

Preparation: pull off the individual petals (only the petals are edible), wash carefully ensuring there are no insects, leave to dry. Cut off any white at the base which, like pinks, is bitter.

Measure: depends on size

When: The flowers start to appear in June… some go on until late autumn

Did you know? The rose symbolises love of course, but within that different colours symbolise different types of love: Red is for deep longing or devotion; white is for chastity and purity; yellow is for friendship; pink is for admiration, joy or gratitude; orange is for flaming passion. In the Bach Flower Remedy system wild rose is used to treat a sense of drifting, resignation, apathy.

 

 

rosemary-flowersRosemary: Rosmarinis officinalis

Taste: same as the leaves but milder

Use: good to use as skewers, good pairing with lamb

Preparation: Use the stems (as skewers – see above), the leaves, and the flowers whole

Measure: they are tiny – you need many!

When: April to June and sometimes again in September

 

 

eating sage flowers Sage: Salvia Officinalis

Taste: same as leaves but milder

Use: use as for the leaf

Preparation: use whole

When: early to mid-summer

 

 

 

society-garlicSociety Garlic: Tulbaghia violacea

Taste: garlicky – but not as strong as garlic – hence its name, it’s a bit more socially acceptable! It belongs to the same family as garlic but a different genus

Use: adds a bit of zing to a salad

Preparation: break off the small florets

Measure: tbc

When: July to September in full sun

 

 

sunflowerSunflowers: Helianthus annus

Taste: the petals have a grassy, slightly bitter taste. Seeds are good toasted as a snack.

Use: good in breads, use the petals in salads. There’s a variety called Key Lime Pie… perhaps to garnish a key lime pie?

Preparation: wash the petals carefully to get rid of the pollen to which many people are highly allergic.

Measure: 1 cup = petals from about three flowers.

When: midsummer to autumn

Did you know? Like the florets of the beautiful romanesco, the petals of the sunflower go around in an Fibonacci spiral.

 

 

can you eat thyme bloomsThyme: Thymus vulgaris

Taste: as for thyme, but not so strong

Use: on salads

Preparation: check the flowers are clean

When: throughout the summer

 

 

tulipTulips: Tulipa

Taste: the taste depends on the colour – the paler the better the flavour – cucumbery, lettucey

Use: perfect for stuffing – stuff with ice cream for example.

Preparation: grow your own – don’t buy from a florist/supermarket because these will have been sprayed. Take out the pistils and stamens inside the petals and use whole, or as individual petals. Only the petals are edible.

Measure: 1 cup = petals from about five flowers

When: spring

Did you know? The national flower of Turkey – the name comes from the Turkish word for turban for obvious reasons.

 

 

Violets: Viola (the same genus as pansies and violas)

Taste: sweet…can be rather over-perfumed

Use: as for pansies and violets: good in salads, often crystallised and used as cake decorations

Preparation: use whole

Measure: 1 cup = about 50 flowers

When: one of the earliest spring flowers – continue to bloom until late May. Often found at the foot of a tree.

 

 

wisteriaWisteria: Wisteria sinensis  NB the pea pods and seeds are highly toxic – a couple of raw seeds can kill a child.

Measure: depends on size

When:  May

Did you know? From the same genus, fabaceae, as the Black Locust Flower

 

 

eating yucca flowersYucca: Agavoideae

Taste: avoid older flowers which can be bitter. Taste depends on the species but it’s a slightly artichoke, slightly green bean, slightly asparagus sort of taste. The petals have a firm, succulent, almost crunchy texture.

Use: they go well with eggs (see the clip at the very bottom of the post for a method for a yucca flower omelette) or with tomatoes – fry briefly and use to liven up tomato soup. You can also try deep frying in a tempura batter. The petals have a delicate flavour so avoid combining with chillies etc. They also apparently make a good pesto when combined with coriander and parsley.

Preparation: check carefully for insects who are irresistibly attracted to the nectar. Only eat the petals. Boil the petals – a lot of people have a minor allergic reaction in their throats to the raw petals.  See also the video, How to Make a Yucca Omelette, at the bottom of this post.

When: grows in hot, dry climates – eg not the UK! Flowers are sporadic, usually in the warmest period in the growing season.

Did you know? Don’t get this flower confused with the one-c-only yuca which is also known as cassava or manioc, and which has flowers which are NOT edible. The root of the cassava is edible, the root of the yucca is not.

 

 

This post is dedicated to Iris Bedford

What else to listen to, and watch, as you read this guide, but  Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers

and then there’s Nina Simone singing Lilac Wine

How to make a yucca omelette

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