I’m harvesting my garden bounty again, but this time I’m harvesting flowers! No, I’m not going to put them in a vase, I’m going to eat them!
Flowers are often overlooked as a food source. We look at them in gardens, near walkways, in the woods, and think, “Gee, they’re pretty.” We might even pick some to take home and put in water. When the blooms fade, we toss them in the compost so they can do more good. But not many of us think of flowers as something to eat. Sure, you might toss some nasturtiums in a salad or candy some violets for a dessert, but there’s a lot more out there than that!
The benefits of eating flowers
Flowers, especially those with deeper colors, are very high in antioxidants. They also contain Vitamins A, C and E. Some even have Vitamin D. Others contain beta-carotene. And some even have pollen in them that when eaten, can lessen allergy attacks. Some are sweet, some bitter, and some are salty. All of them have some fiber to them. Some even have substances that are good for your stomach. Let’s get started and find out what the best ones are.
Finding edible flowers
Get them from the garden
In your vegetable garden you may not want to eat many of the flowers, because this will lessen the outcome of your crops. But a few won’t hurt. All of the cruciferous veggies, like cauliflower, broccoli and kale have flowers that can be eaten. Many times I’ve gotten too busy to harvest all of my broccoli and it flowers on me. You can steam these flowers, stir fry or eat them raw.
Squash and cucumber blossoms are good too. Eat them raw or batter them and deep fry in a healthy oil of your choice. Bean and pea blooms are great in salads.
Chive, onion and garlic blooms all have a more delicate flavor than the vegetable itself. I take chive blossoms and put them in a quart jar. Add a bit of lime basil and cover with vinegar. Let steep in the sun for a few days and strain. This makes the best salad dressing I’ve ever had! And though I’m not too fond of okra, the blooms are great, especially in salad. They have that same mucilaginous quality that okra does. It’s a great aid for your stomach.
Use flowering herbs
All of your herbs, no matter which ones, can be used. I’ve used the flowers of lavender, rosemary and dill. Dill flowers are much stronger than the fronds. Basil, thyme and mint flowers are great additions to any dish. And, if you use the flowers, many times it can help keep the plants from “bolting”, or growing wild and weedy too fast. Cilantro is well know for that. I pinch it back when it flowers, using the flowers for stir fry, and get a few more weeks out of it.
Use flowers from ornamental plants
How about your ornamentals? Chrysanthemum tea is well known in Chinese cooking. It was one of the things that helped me get through my first season of the orange groves blooming in Florida. It helps tremendously with allergies. The petals can be used in cooking as well. Dianthus, or carnations, add a spicy note. Daylilies can be battered like squash blossoms, and steaming works well too. I love rose petals on my salad, along with calendula petals – and if I don’t have those, sunflower petals will work too.
And there are many wild flowers that are great to eat, and good for you too. Monarda, or bee balm, tastes a bit minty, a bit like oregano. Honeysuckle and jasmine flowers are sweet, as well as columbine. Violet flowers are often used to make candied flowers. Brush on some beaten egg white, dip in superfine sugar (I use organic turbinado sugar that I grind up very finely) and allow to dry. Passionflowers grow wild here in North Carolina. They make a great treat.
Use weeds too!
Don’t forget your weeds! Clover may not be liked by anyone trying to have a nice lawn, but it’s a really nutritious flower to eat. Try it in salad or stir fry. Traditionally it’s been made into tea for women’s problems. It contains phytoestrogens that can be helpful to women suffering from hot flashes. Dandelion petals can be added to muffins and breads.
Purselane can be found as a weed in many lawns. It’s related to moss roses, which are also edible. Don’t forget my favorite weed, chickweed. The flowers are small, but still edible. They make a more tender meal once the rest of the plant has gone tough in the warmer weather. Chicory has been grown for it’s root that can be used as a coffee substitute. But the flowers are edible too. And elderberries! I harvest the berries in the fall, but if I can get to them around June, the flower heads make a great treat. You can simply batter them up and fry them. Top with a bit of cinnamon sugar (I use stevia) and dip in lingonberry jam. I had this when I was in Denmark a few years ago. I thought they were nuts – until I tried it.
Always practice caution
It’s important to point out there are flowers that are not edible. In fact, some can be quite dangerous. Never eat any flower unless you know it’s safe to consume.
This article contains only a partial list of edible flowers. There are a great many more that exist. Get a good book on flowers (like this or this one) or take a hike with someone who can point out the right things to you. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
So the next time you cut flowers for the kitchen table, take a second look to see if you can eat some too! Have you tried it before?