guide to edible flowers

Guide to Edible Flowers

The edible flowers are starting to pop up all over the Pacific Northwest! It’s no secret that I’m a lover of all things bright and floral, and that love naturally spills over to my work in the kitchen. Edible flowers are my absolute favorite way to transform an average-looking dish into a work of art. I created this guide as a jumping off point for anyone wanting to incorporate edible flowers into their dishes at home.

If you’ve spent any time browsing the Wu Haus recipe catalog, you know it’s not uncommon to see me use blooms and petals in salads, lattes, or as garnishes for desserts. I also love incorporating flowers in more creative ways like into handmade pasta, ice cubes, and infusions for syrups in iced drinks. The flavor variety of edible flowers is surprisingly diverse, making them a great way to add a delicate burst of flavor. The cool thing about edible flowers is that you can incorporate them into basically any dish.  Some are spicy, some herbaceous, while others are floral and fragrant. You can even pickle flower buds to make faux capers or stuff heartier varieties, like squash blossoms, for a complete savory meal.

Edible flowers are also a really fun reason to spend more time outside gardening, foraging, and learning about your region’s native plants. It is possible to buy a few select varieties of edible flowers at specialty grocery stores, but I much prefer to support my local farmers or grow/forage my own. If you want to grow you own from seed, Floret has an amazing selection of edible flower seeds. Never buy flowers from a florist or from the floral department of a grocery store for consumption. Most of those flowers are sprayed with a number of pesticides.

A tip for those foraging: as lovely as eating flowers can be, it can also be a little dangerous. Not all flowers are edible, so make sure you’re absolutely sure of the flower you’ve harvested before you eat it. I love this app to help me identify unknown plants. You also want to make sure you’re harvesting flowers from a place that hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides. Once you pick the bloom, give it a shake to remove any insects and rinse briefly in cold water before using.

Dried flowers are a fun alternative if you don’t have access or are in a season where fresh flowers aren’t available. Just keep in mind that when swapping out dried flowers for fresh, the flavors become more concentrated, so you’ll probably need less.

Besides being beautiful and delicious, some flowers are also medicinal! Like their leafy-green counterparts, many contain potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds and are highly nutrient dense. For example, one of my favorites, rose, has been shown to have compounds that may play a role in reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation. Not featured in this guide, but herbs and veggies also produce beautiful and delicious flowers. I especially love flowers of cilantro, dill, fava beans and chives.

Whatever your reason is for incorporating more flowers into your food, I’m into it.  Enjoy!

guide to edible flowers

Borage Blossoms

  • Tasting notes: Sweet and refreshing, like cucumber and honey
  • Uses: Best in salads, cocktail garnishes or candied
  • Season: Mid-April to November
  • Growing tips: A common self seeding herb, will return year after year. Sow seeds directly into the garden after the last date of frost and plant with strawberries to attract bees and increases the yield of fruit.
guide to edible flowers

Calendula

  • Tasting notes: Slightly spicy bitter, tangy to peppery.  Tastes similar to saffron when cooked.
  • Uses: Calendula is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, so great for the salves. Can be used in a tea, add zest as a garnish to dishes, or decocted in oil for cooking.
  • Season: April – November (although usually seeds in August in PNW)
  • Growing tips: Calendula can be started indoors under grow lights 6-8 weeks before the last frost or directly seeded outdoors after the last frost. They grow best in full sun to partial shade. They help repel insects so are great companion plants.
guide to edible flowers

Pansy/Viola

  • Tasting notes: Sweet and grassy
  • Uses: Cup for cup violet flowers have more vitamin C than oranges do. Both flowers don’t cook well but are a beautiful garnish either whole or just petals on salads, smoothies or baked goods. Work great in ice cubes.
  • Season: April – November
  • Growing tips: Pansies/violets perform best in cooler weather, and are therefore usually planted in spring or fall. They like rich, well-drained soil high in organic matter, and full sun or partial shade. Can also be planted in pots.
guide to edible flowers

Rose

  • Tasting notes: The petals of roses have a delicate flavor ranging from fruity to spicy over a sweet undertone. The more intense the color, the stronger the flavor, whites of petals are bitter and should be removed before using in dishes.
  • Uses: Dried in teas, made into jams, cooked into desserts or used in beverages. Rose water can be made to increase rose flavor in a dish.
  • Season: Blooms in spring and through the summer
  • Growing tips: Roses crave sun, at least six hours a day is ideal. Plant roses in rich, well-draining soil. Check roses frequently for insects or disease outbreaks. Regularly prune roses.
guide to edible flowers

Hibiscus

  • Tasting notes: Tart and sweet, with a cranberry-like flavor
  • Uses: Citrus-like teas, in champagne or prosecco, fruit salads
  • Season: Mid-to-late summer and fall
  • Growing tips: Grows well indoors and from cuts. Rich and well-draining soil. Container-grown plants are often grown in a soilless potting medium to prevent compaction. Keep moist, but don’t let it stand in water.
guide to edible flowers

Nasturtium

  • Tasting notes: Slightly peppery & tangy, like watercress.
  • Uses: Salads, carpaccio, spring rolls. Seed pods of nasturtium can be used as a “caper”.
  • Season: Spring – Summer
  • Growing tips: You can start the seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost. Plant nasturtium seeds in early spring in moist, well-drained soil in full sun. They can grow in partial shade, but they will not bloom as well. Do well in pots. When planted in the ground, may come back the next year.
guide to edible flowers

Zucchini Blossom

  • Tasting notes: Delicate and slightly sweet
  • Uses: Fried or stuffed and baked with herbs and cheese, as an Italian appetizer, used as a pizza topping, in a frittata or a quesadilla. Best when used day of picking.
  • Season: June-August
  • Growing tips: Zucchini and squash plants grow with two kinds of flowers: the male flower is large, bright orange and wrinkly, and the female flower is smaller and yellow. Both blossoms are edible.
guide to edible flowers

Lavender

  • Tasting notes: Sweet, floral, citrus flavor, with hints of minty and rosemary-like aromas
  • Uses: In the garden, lavender is often teamed up rosemary, and  it can be used in cooking wherever you might use rosemary. Roast rubs, desserts, cocktails and teas, distilled into vinegars, infused into syrup or milk, etc.
  • Season: June – July
  • Growing tips: Very drought resistant. Grows as tiny purple flowers along a stiff stalk. Rub the flowers off the stalk and discard most of the stalks, which contain essential oils that can be too pungent for cooking.
guide to edible flowers

Elderflower

  • Tasting notes: Floral, vanilla
  • Uses: Most commonly used to create elderflower cordial or syrups. Also makes a nice garnish for desserts or drinks. Flowers can also be dried out and steeped in hot water to make elderflower tea.
  • Season: May – Mid-June
  • Growing tips: Elder trees grow very well in the Pacific Northwest. Elderflowers turn into elderberries, which is a great immune-boosting berry. If you don’t have time or space to grow a tree, elderflowers are easy to forage. You can also find them at the farmer’s market. They’re best picked when the buds are freshly open on a warm, sunny day.
guide to edible flowers

Dandelion

  • Tasting notes: Young dandelion have a sweet and honey-like flavour, whilst the mature ones are more bitter and earthy with a nutty flavor. Dandelion buds taste better than the actual flower.
  • Uses: Use the petals as a garnish in desserts, salads or savory dishes. Leaves are an excellent addition to salads or sautéed. Also used to make dandelion wine.
  • Season: Spring/Summer
  • Growing tips: You won’t see dandelion flowers at the grocery store. As with violets, it’s easy to find dandelions in a grassy field or lawn. Don’t pick any for eating unless you are sure that the ground wasn’t treated with pesticides.
guide to edible flowers

Cornflower

  • Tasting notes: Slightly spicy, clove-like flavor with a subtle sweetness
  • Uses: They can add color to dishes when used as a garnish for desserts, soups, salads. Can even steep them in a glass of wine or use for mulled wine for an extra zesty taste.
  • Season: Spring/early Summer
  • Growing tips: Also called Bachelor’s Buttons, cornflowers can be found in shades of blue, pink, purple and white. In the wild, they tend to enjoy the company of poppies and will pop up to add a ​hint of blue or purple to fields of red flowers.
guide to edible flowers

Marigold

  • Tasting notes: Marigolds have a similar taste to saffron, pleasantly pungent and citrus-like with a hint of umami
  • Uses: Marigold are one of the few savory tasting edible flowers and can be used in place of mushrooms or as a garnish for roasted dishes.
  • Season: Summer
  • Growing tips: Marigolds need an area with full sun, and make good bedding and edging plants. They’re relatively drought resistant, self seeding and require minimal care.
guide to edible flowers

Forget-Me-Nots

  • Tasting notes: Mild, subtle
  • Uses: Forget-me-nots have very small flowers so they make a lovely garnish for beverages or placed in ice cubes for a playful, confetti-like touch. Great dried and used for tea.
  • Season: Spring
  • Growing tips: Forget-me-not is usually an annual or biennial herb with its success being based on its flexibility. The seeds can lay dormant in the soil until they deem it is a suitable time to sprout for up to thirty years and germinate when conditions become favorable.
guide to edible flowers

Chamomile

  • Tasting notes: Slightly sweet apple-like flavor
  • Uses: Chamomile is an age-old herbal remedy for many human ailments. It is used as a mild sedative to reduce stress. Use it in calming teas, honey infusions, bitters and as a garnish.
  • Season: Plant March – May and harvest June – November
  • Growing Tips: Chamomile is a great companion plant for leafy greens as it deters many pests.Young seedlings easily tolerate spring frosts, and may survive winters in mild climates. The easiest chamomile to grow is a cool-season annual.
guide to edible flowers

Dianthus (Carnations)

  • Tasting notes: A pleasant spicy, floral flavor, and a light clove and nutmeg-like taste. Remember to cut away the bitter white base of the flowers before eating.
  • Uses: Dianthus is a powerful healing plant in Chinese medicine and can be made into teas, essential oils or tinctures. They come in a variety of bright colors, making them wonderful as large garnishes on dishes.
  • Season: Sow in early spring and harvest in the fall.
  • Growing Tips: Dianthus love full sun and need a nutrient rich soil to flower. Encourage fast growth by mixing an organic fertilizer into the soil before planting.  When wild harvesting, it can be found at the hillside, meadow, forest edge, woodland or sub-alpine meadows.

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1 comment

Noah Boyer May 30, 2019 - 8:09 pm

Very informative, I never knew that those forget-me-nots I photographed in my yard are edible.

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