How to (Safely) Enjoy Edible Flowers
With their vibrant, eye-catching colors and alluring aromas, flowers add beauty to landscapes, brighten rooms and can lift mood with a glance or quick sniff. They've also been known to dress up a dinner plate — not just as an elegant decorative garnish, but as a source of subtle, yet exquisite flavor.
Edible flowers have been enjoyed by cultures around the world for centuries. Ancient Romans used violets and roses both in cooking and to flavor wines; daylilies and chrysanthemums dressed up Asian cuisine. But it was during Victorian times that edible flowers peaked in popularity, moving beyond salad bowls and stir-frys to high atop elegant wedding cakes and tucked, crystallized, into candy dishes.
Today, you'll see edible flowers used in everything from mixed-greens salads to high-end cocktails. Adding them to your own culinary creations is easy — but before you start plucking petals from a tabletop arrangement for tonight's dinner, keep the following safety guidelines in mind.
Pick Your Petals
While all flowers are beautiful, there are some that don't belong on your plate. Plants contain many chemicals, some of which can be toxic when ingested, with effects ranging from mild stomach aches to dangerous heart rate elevations, convulsions or even a coma. As pretty as they may be, steer clear of garden favorites such as daffodils, hydrangeas, oleander, azaleas, lilies of the valley and wisteria, which are not safe for consumption. Of course, there are other varieties that shouldn't be eaten. If you're ever unsure about a flower's safety, don't eat it.
Grow Your Own
For the safest edible flowers, it's best to plant a patch in your own garden. This way, you'll know the blooms you eat were grown organically, without the use of harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides. A few easy-to-grow edible flowers recommended for beginners include pansies, roses, marigolds, violets, nasturtiums and calendula. Some herbs, such as sage and chives, and vegetables, such as squash and zucchini, also produce flowers that can be eaten.
Buy Them to Try Them
Don't have a green thumb? No space to grow a garden? You can still enjoy edible flowers — just look for pre-packaged containers in gourmet markets or the organic produce section of your local supermarket. Farmers' markets also sell safe-to-eat flowers, but make sure any bunches you buy are labeled organic. Never use flowers from florist bouquets, nurseries or garden centers.
Snip and Stow
Whether homegrown or store-bought, edible flowers should be washed thoroughly; next, remove the pollen-containing stamens and pistils, as these parts taste bitter and can trigger allergy symptoms in sensitive people. Ideally, you'll eat the flowers soon after they're picked; but they can be stored in the fridge for several days. Either wrap them gently in a damp paper towel and place in a zipper-lock bag, or tuck them in an airtight container with a damp paper towel lining the bottom.
Dress Your Dish
Yes, you can transform an ordinary spinach salad into a breathtaking gourmet creation with edible flowers. But don't stop there! Here are a few easy ways to incorporate them into everyday dishes and drinks:
- Add to omelets (try calendula, which has a slightly spicy flavor, or squash or zucchini blossoms)
- Stir into soups and dips (peppery-tasting chrysanthemums are a good choice)
- Add to pasta or vegetable dishes (also peppery, nasturtiums are perfect)
- Mix chopped petals into flavored butters (try tangy-with-a-hint-of-bitter marigolds)
- Garnish cakes and desserts (sweet pansies and candied rose petals are favorites)
- Make flower-infused syrup (sweet violet syrup is great on pancakes or ice cream)
- Steep in hot (not boiling) water for tea (try classic chamomile or hibiscus)
- Stir petals into cocktails or float whole blossoms in punch bowls
- Freeze fresh, whole flowers into ice cubes