The culinary use of flowers dates back thousands of years to the Chinese, Greeks and Romans. Many cultures use flowers in their traditional cooking — think of squash blossoms in Italian food and rose petals in Indian food.
Today, it’s not uncommon to see flower petals used in salads, teas, as well as garnish for desserts. The possibilities are endless. Your imagination is your only limit.
With the festive season upon us, delight your guests with colourful, fresh flower accents or crystallized flowers.
Here are a selection of 20 flowers which will add flavour and color to any festive table.
Apple blossoms have a slightly floral taste and the petals are lovely in salads. Infuse petals in whipped cream or ice cream to go over an apple tart. Blossoms look attractive when floated in a fruit punch.
Basil Flowers can be used as a substitute for leaves in any dish requiring basil. The flowers should be used more sparingly due to their very intense flavour. Delicious when added to salads, soups or pasta.
Chive flowers have a mild onion flavour and are surprisingly crunchy. They are widely used tossed in salads, pasta, omelettes and scrambled eggs. Or you can add a few to white fish dishes or to cheese sauce to give that extra bite. As tempting as it may be to pop the whole flower into your mouth, refrain from doing so as the pungency in that quantity can be overwhelming. For garnish and cooking, break the flower into individual florets .
Pull the flowers apart for a mass of small quill petals ideal for creating a colourful garnish on desserts or soups, in salads or with savoury dishes. Also makes useful decorations for cakes, biscuits, mousses and pâtés.
Dandelions are sweetest when picked young. They have a sweet, honey-like flavor. Mature flowers are bitter. Dandelion buds are tastier than the flowers. It is best to pick these when they are very close to the ground, tightly bunched in the center, and about the size of a small gumball. Dandelion flowers are good both raw or steamed. Young leaves taste good steamed, or tossed in salads. When serving a rice dish use dandelion petals like confetti over the rice.
6. Day Lily
Day lily petals are great in salads, hot and cold soups, cooked and served as a vegetable or chopped and added to stir-fries. Try sautéing the buds or flowers, which can then be stuffed with almost any filling.
Infuse the flowers to make a popular, mildly citrus-flavoured tea. Add strips of vibrant coloured petals to fruit salads. It is best to use the petals from the flower heads. If you use them whole, beware of the pollen.
The flowers are intensely fragrant and are traditionally used for scenting tea but can also be added to shellfish dishes.
There are many ways to use lavender flowers in sweet or savoury dishes. Make a delicious lavender sugar and add to biscuits, sorbets, jams or jellies. Add flowers to vegetable stock and create a tasty sauce for duck, chicken or lamb dishes.
Mix fresh fragrant flowers with a little cream cheese and serve on crackers or stir flowers into yogurt to add a hint of lemon. Also useful as a garnish for cakes, scones or sweets.
The flowers and leaves have a citrus taste, making them ideal for adding to salads, sandwiches, seafood dishes or hot desserts.
The fresh leaves and flowers have a peppery flavour similar to watercress. The flowers will add a spicy touch to salads and the green seeds can be chopped and used with parsley as a garnish or made into capers. Try them combined with cream cheese, butter in canapés, or in a cheese and tomato sandwich. Nasturtium flowers can also be used to garnish steaks or casseroles.
Pansy flowers have a lettuce-like flavour and make a decorative addition to a green salad, garnish. a pâté or dessert. They can be crystallised and used to decorate cakes, cookies or creamy desserts.
As a general rule, if a rose smells good, it will taste good. Petals have a delicate flavour which will improve cool drinks and fruit dishes, or why not try rose petal jam? Rose hips and petals can both be used in jellies. If the flowers are crystallised, they will make attractive cake decorations. It is best to remove the white heel from the base of the petals before eating.
Rosemary flowers and leaves can be used with poultry or pork – try adding a few flowers to biscuit dough to add flavour.
All squash flowers have a slightly sweet nectar taste. These can be stuffed with cheeses and other fillings, battered and deep fried, or sautéed and added to pasta. Thinly sliced blossoms can be added to soups, omelettes, scrambled eggs or used to add colour to salads.
The buds, petals and seeds are all edible. Add the petals to a green salad for a colour contrast and a mild nutty taste. The green buds can be blanched, then tossed in garlic butter. They are similar in flavour to a Jerusalem artichoke. The kernels inside the seeds can be eaten raw or toasted as a snack.
Tulip petals have a sweet, pea-like flavour and a tender crisp texture. Try stuffing whole flowers with a shrimp or chicken salad. Add strips of petals to salads or sandwiches for that added touch of colour. Carefully remove pollen and stigmas from the base of the flower before stuffing. Some people have had strong allergic reactions to tulips.
Viola flowers have a lettuce-like flavour and make a decorative addition to a green salad, garnish, pâté or dessert. They can be crystallised and used on cakes, cookies or creamy desserts.
20. Yucca Petals
The white Yucca flower is crunchy with a mildly sweet taste (a hint of artichoke). In the spring, they can be used in salads and as a garnish.
Featured photo credit: Vegetables with salad dish with spring edible flowers via shutterstock.com