Flowers have been used in culinary delicacies around the world for thousands of years, though it’s only in recent years that their popularity in the kitchen has been rekindled. Some of the flowers listed below are ornamental ones that are found in many gardens, so you won’t have too much difficulty finding them, but be sure to only eat those that you have grown yourself or that you’ve purchased from a source that you can trust (like an organic farmer’s market). Blooms that you can buy from a florist shop will have most likely been treated with pesticides and other toxic chemicals, and you really don’t want to ingest any of that. Additionally, don’t eat flowers that you’ve picked from the side of the road, as they’ve been exposed to a plethora of poisons via car exhaust fumes, spills, etc.
When it comes to incorporating flowers into various dishes, keep in mind that their flavours can range in taste from aromatic and sweet to spicy and earthy, so it’s important to taste them before deciding how you’re going to use them. It’s also good to ensure that the flowers you use are indeed edible ones, as there are some lookalikes out there that can make you quite ill if you eat them by mistake.
If you’ve never tried the stuffed, cooked blossoms of squash or zucchini, you’ve missed out on something rather exquisite: the flowers themselves have a beautiful, delicate flavour, and they hold fillings such as herbed rice, cheese and nuts, and ground meat exceptionally well. Once stuffed, the blossoms can be cooked in a variety of different ways, but frying them seems to yield the tastiest results.
Spicy and velvety, marigold petals were treasured as edible delicacies by the ancient Greeks, and are still used throughout India and the Middle East in a variety of different dishes. Fresh, they’re a gorgeous addition to salads, and they can be dried and used in drinks, soups, and when dried, as a baking spice with cinnamon and cloves. Brewed into a strong tea, they can colour rice dishes in lieu of saffron, but be sure to remove the white “heels” of the petals before using them as they can add an unpleasant note to your dish.
Violets, Violas, and Pansies
With their distinctive floral scent and delicate flavour, violets and pansies have been used in a variety of dishes since the early medieval period. Use candied violets as decorations for cupcakes, petit-fours, and other desserts, or use them raw in herb/flower salads; the raw blossoms go well with chervil and endives, as well as cress, arugula, pears, and raspberries.
All rose petals are edible, but the more fragrant the flower, the more flavour it will have. Dark red roses are particularly stunning, and can be used to dramatic effect when creating desserts. You can create your own rose water by steeping a few handfuls of petals in a clean jar of water for a few weeks and then use that to flavour desserts like crème brûlée, ice cream, jams, etc. You can also make candied rose petals with a bit of egg white and sugar, and then arrange them on cakes and tarts—just remember to remove the white “butts” that attach to the center, as they’re terribly bitter.
Originally from Peru, these vibrant flowers were brought to Europe by the conquistadores back in the 1500s, and they’ve been used to brighten up both gardens and dishes ever since. You can shred the young leaves and stems to add to dishes; they have a sharpness similar to that of watercress. The flowers, though still spicy, have a sweeter, more delicate flavour, and look spectacular in leafy green salads.
Though these plants seem to be the bane of lawn enthusiasts everywhere, dandelions are actually very useful little plants: they’re used as a cleansing tea, the young leaves can be used as a great, slightly bitter salad green, and the cheerful yellow blooms are startlingly delicious when cooked. Dandelion fritters are easy to make and beyond delicious, and you can enjoy them either savoury or sweet, dipped into either sour cream, mustard, or honey.
It’s likely that just about everyone has tasted sunflower seeds at some point, but before the flower heads transform into the dark, seed-laden moony faces most of us are familiar with, they’re edible in a variety of different ways. The petals can be used as a sweet/bitter additive to salads, and before it even unfolds into a petaled blossom, a sunflower bud can be steamed: it tastes much like an artichoke heart when cooked.
Remember that you can also use the flowering parts of many herbs in your cooking and baking: mint, dill, fennel, borage, chive, thyme, and rosemary flowers have a similar flavour to the fully-grown plant, only slightly more delicate, and can be used in the same way that you use the regular herb; just prettier versions thereof.
Consider breaking up chive blossom heads and tossing them into potato salad or egg dishes to add a spicy kick along with splashes of vibrant purple, and rosemary flowers are also great with potatoes. Borage flowers can be candied and used as decorations for cupcakes, while lavender blossoms—though a bit perfume-y and an acquired taste—can be used to make lavender sugar for desserts and teas. To make it (or any edible flower sugar) blend 1 cup of white, granulated sugar with 1 tablespoon of dried flowers. Leave the mixture in a dry, warm spot for a couple of weeks, then put through a sieve to get most of the petals out.
If you’re planning a garden this year, consider adding a few of these edible blooms along with the other plants you have in mind; not only will they add stunning colour and fragrance to your space, they’re also a rather exotic food source that you can pluck and enjoy all summer long.