Home Gardening Center Tip Sheet: Edible Flowers

By Sonia Uyterhoeven

·· Flowers ··

Delectable Delights: Edible Flowers

Edible flowers are not to everyone’s taste. Some are wonderfully fragrant and delicious; others are lemony; some are spicy and tangy; others taste green and weedy; and some even taste fishy. Edible flowers are a good way to add color and seasoning to your summer salads. They brighten up herb butters and dress up a dessert. When added to a bowl of sugar or a bottle of vinegar and left to steep for several weeks, they create inventive, tasty combinations.

Some flowers need a little bit of preparation before they are ready to tickle your tongue. For many edible flowers you should only eat the petals. The stamens and pistils (the central bit) of some flowers should be removed before eating.

You only eat the petals of some of the following flowers: bee balm (Monarda), borage (Borago), daylilies (Hemerocallis), pot marigold (Calendula), tuberous begonias (Begonia x tuberhybridia), chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum), safflower (Carthamus), and tulips (Tulipa).

If you are stuffing tulips or daylilies remove the stamens and pistils before adding your filling. For a complicated flower such as borage it is actually quite simple; to separate borage’s star-shaped flower from its hairy stem hold the stem with one hand, pinch the middle of the star-shaped flower and pull.

Other flowers such as pinks (Dianthus) and roses (Rosa) can have a bitter white edge at the base of the petal. If it is bitter, the edge should be cut off before using. Some marigolds (Tagetes) are divine; others are not--try the lemon-flavored Tagetes tenuifolia ‘Tangerine Gem’ and ‘Lemon Gem’.

Whichever edible flowers you choose make sure you taste them before preparing them. Different cultivars will have a wide range of flavors and some will be appealing while others can be quite astringent. For example, the petals of fragrant tulips are said to have a superior flavor over tulips that lack in fragrance.

For the best flavor, harvest flowers either when they are in bud or have just opened. Harvest on a dry day, mid morning after the dew has evaporated and before it gets too hot. It is best to use flowers when they are fresh. They can be refrigerated for several days, but do not dry or freeze well. Below are some tips for preserving edible flowers.

Candied or Crystallized Flowers:
In fancy pastry shops, you’ll sometimes find cakes and cookies adorned with crystallized flowers. It is a simple yet time-consuming process. Rose petals, violas, scented geraniums, borage, and edible pea blossoms (sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus, are not edible) are all easily candied.

Collect newly opened flowers in the morning on a dry day. Keep part of the stem on so that they are easy to work with. Wash the flowers and let them dry. Slightly beat one egg white in a bowl. Using a small paint brush, paint both sides of the flower with the egg white. For less delicate flowers, simply dip them in the egg white. Then sprinkle with finely ground (superfine) granulated sugar.

Lay flowers on a cake rack; move them occasionally so they don’t stick to the rack. Put the flowers in a warm, dry place (e.g., oven with pilot light on) and let dry for several days. Store flowers in a sealed tin.

Floral Vinegars:
Place several flowers in a clean glass bottle and fill with white wine, red wine, or cider vinegar. Place the bottle out of direct sunlight and let it steep for 3 to 6 weeks. Shake the bottle at least once a week to mix the vinegar. If the flowers are small, you can strain them out before using the vinegar with cheesecloth. Apple blossoms (Malus), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), nasturtiums (Tropaeolum), pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), redbud (Cercis), and roses (Rosa) all work well in vinegars.

The rule of thumb is that you add 3 to 4 sprigs of herbs or flowers per cup of vinegar. When adding garlic and hot pepper 1 per cup is the recommendation. Some people heat the vinegar slightly before adding herbs (do not boil), others just keep the vinegar at room temperature. Use a cork or plastic lid--vinegars corrode metal.

Colorful Cubes:
Jazz up a summer iced tea or punch bowl with edible flowers frozen in ice cubes. Pansies and violas (Viola), borage (Borago) and roses (Rosa) all make colorful additions to the punch bowl.

Warning: Not all plants are edible. In many cases, only certain parts of plants are edible. Many plants are poisonous. Please make sure that you identify your plants correctly. Many nursery-bought plants and florist’s flowers are sprayed with fertilizers and pesticides.

It’s better to buy organically grown flowers or better yet, grow your own. Many plants with edible flowers are beautiful and easy to grow. Always wash leaves and flowers well before eating or cooking with them. If you use flowers and leaves as decorative garnish on platters of food, make sure they are edible and well washed.

Below is a list of some edible favorites:
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Apple blossoms (Malus)
Arugula flowers (Eruca)
Bee balm (Monarda)--the red varieties taste the best (‘Cambridge Scarlet’, ‘Firecracker’, and ‘Jacob Klein’)
Tuberous begonias (Begonia x tuberhybridia)
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Broccoli flowers (Brassica)
Pot-marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Daylilies (Hemerocallis)
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Lavender--English or French (Lavandula)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum)
Edible peas (Pisum sativum) not Sweet Peas (Lathyrus odoratus)
Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Roses (Rosa)--heirloom roses such as R. gallica, R. centifolia, and R. damascena are very fragrant and are some of the most flavorful varieties
Squash blossoms (Cucurbita)
Strawberries (Fragaria)
Violas or pansies (Viola)

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Generous support for the Home Gardening Center has been provided by Kenneth and Ellen Roman.