by S.E. Newman and A. Stoven O’Connor *(10/20)
- Proper identification of edible flowers is important.
- Use flowers that are grown without pesticides.
- For best flavor, use flowers at their peak.
- Introduce new flowers into the diet slowly to be able to pinpoint allergic reactions or stomach upset.
- Edible flowers also may be preserved in oils or vinegars.
Edible flowers have been used in the culinary arts for flavor and garnish for hundreds of years. Early reports indicate that the Romans used flowers in cooking, as did the Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Indian cultures. During Queen Victoria’s reign, edible flowers were popular. They have maintained their popularity today.
Many flowers are edible and the flowers of most culinary herbs are safe. However, proper identification of the plant is essential because some flowers are poisonous and should not be eaten (Table 1). Many plants have similar common names, which may cause added confusion. Always use the scientific name when choosing a flower.
Pick flowers early in the day. Use them at their peak for the best flavor. Avoid unopened blossoms (except daylilies) and wilted or faded flowers, which may have a bitter or unappealing flavor. Do not use flowers that have been sprayed with pesticides or collect flowers from plants that have been fertilized with raw manure. Generally avoid purchasing flowers from florists, garden centers, or nurseries since these flowers are not grown for consumption. Table 2 lists many plants that can be added to food for flavor, aroma, color, or garnish.
Fresh flowers also can be preserved for later use. Choose flowers with larger petals, like pansies, and paint the petals with an egg-white wash. Use a soft brush and pasteurized dehydrated egg whites to avoid food-borne illness. After painting, dust the petal with super-fine granulated sugar and dry it. Store preserved flowers in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Avoid dark-colored petals; they turn even darker with this treatment.
|Figure 1: Flower parts.|
Using Edible Flowers
To avoid stomach upset or to determine if there is an allergic reaction, limit consumption to small tastes. Slowly incorporate large quantities into the diet. Edible petals or entire flowers can be eaten. However, remove stems, anthers and pistils because they may be bitter (Figure 1). Use flowers that are free of insects and disease. Many edible flowers are high in vitamin C and/or vitamin A, along with other essential nutrients. Use them as garnishes and in salads. Recipes for flowers may be found in the following areas: baking, sauces, jelly, syrup, vinegars, honey, oil, tea, flower-scented sugars, candied flowers, wine, and flavored liquors. Flavored vinegars and oils prepared at home have a limited shelf-life and should be stored in the refrigerator (Kendall and Rausch, 2012). Pick fresh flowers and gently rinse with cool running water. Placed washed flowers between damp paper towels. Refrigerate until ready to use. Some flowers may have an extended shelf life if washed just before use. Flowers and herbs may also be dried. Refer to “Herbs: Preserving and Using”for more information.
Kendall, P. and J. Rausch. 2012. CSU Extension Fact Sheet 9.340, Flavored Vinegars and Oils.
Knight A.P. A Guide to Poisonous House and Garden Plants. Teton New Media. 2006.
Lampe, Kenneth F. AMA Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants, 1985. American Medical Association
|Table 1: Some common house and garden plants with toxic plant parts or toxic flowers (not a complete list, if in doubt, consult a poisonous plant reference).|
|Achillea millefolium||Yarrow, milfoil||Lantana camara||Lantana, red sage, shrub verbena|
|Anconitum spp.||Monkshood||Lathyrus spp.||Sweet pea (seeds)|
|Cestrum spp.||Day blooming jasmine, Night blooming jasmine|
|Clematis spp.||Clematis, virgin’s bower||Lobelia spp.||Cardinal flower|
|Colchicum spp.||Crocus||Narcissus spp.||Daffodil, jonquil|
|Convallaria majalis||Lily of the Valley||Nerium oleander||Oleander|
|Daphne mezereum||Daphne||Nicotiana spp.||Flowering tobacco|
|Datura spp.||Jimson weed||Papaver somniferum||Opium poppy, common poppy|
|Delphinium spp.||Larkspur||Phoradendron spp.||Mistletoe|
|Dicentra formosa||Bleeding heart||Physalis spp.||Chinese or Japanese lantern|
|Digitalis purpurea||Foxglove, digitalis||Rhododendron spp.||Azaleas, rhododendrons, rose bay|
|Euphorbia spp.1||Euphorbia||Ricinus communis||Castor bean, African coffee tree|
|Hippeastum spp.||Amaryllis||Zantedeschia aethiopica||Calla lily|
|Hyaninthus spp.||Hyacinth||Zigadenus spp.||Death camas, alkaligrass, wild onion|
1Poinsettias are not considered poisonous, but they are not edible. If eaten, all plant parts may cause varying degrees of mouth irritation and vomiting, but not death. The cultivated rubber tree Heavea brasiliensis, Manioc or cassava (Manihot), and Castor bean (Rincinus) are close relatives, which are poisonous. With its close genetic ties to the rubber tree, which is where natural latex is derived, those who are sensitive may also be sensitive to the latex from poinsettias.
|Table 2: Recommended plants with edible flowers.|
Okra, gumbo, gombo
|A||Yellow, red||Mid-July to August||Mild, sweet and slightly mucilaginous||—||Full sun, hot weather; prefers clay to clay loam.|
|P||Lavender||July to frost||Strong anise, sweet, licorice||—||May die back to the ground;readily resows; full sun to light shade; well-drained soil.|
|Alcea rosea Hollyhock||P||Various||July to frost||Little, slightly bitter||—||Best as a garnish or container for dip. Full sun to light shade.|
|Allium schoenoprasum Chive||P||Lavender, red to purple||May to June||Onion, strong||Onion||Separate florets to serve. Forms clumps; part shade to full sun; indoors.|
|Allium tuberosum Garlic chive||P||White||August to frost||Onion, strong||Onion||Separate florets to serve. Partial shade to full sun; also indoors.|
|A||Yellow||June to frost||Stronger than leaves||Dill||Resows readily, tolerates poor soil but prefers well-drained soil; full sun.|
|Anthemis nobilis English chamomile||P||White petals; yellow center||Late June to frost||Sweet apple flavor||—||Ragweed sufferers may be allergic to chamomile; drink no more than one cup of tea per day. Prefers moist, well- drained soil; full sun to part shade.|
|Anthriscus cerefoliumChervil||A||White||May to June||Parsley-like, hint of citrus, tarragon||—||Start in cold frame.|
|Begonia x tuberhybrida Tuberous begonia||TP||White, pink, yellow, red, orange and combinations||July to August||Citrus||—||Grow indoors or out; dig tubers each fall, just after frost and store; prefers moist, fertile soil; part to full shade. Only hybrids are edible.|
|Bellis perennis English daisy||P||White to purple petals||April to September||Mild to bitter||—||Use as garnish or in salads. Thrives incold weather; prefers full sun, moist soil.|
|Borago officinalis Borage||A||Blue, purple to lavender||June to July||Cucumber||—||Use as garnish; may be candied. Full sun; light, poor, dry soil. Attracts bees.|
|Brassica spp. Broccoli, cauliflower||B (grown as A)||Buds: blue-green; yellow flower, white buds in cauliflower||June to August||Broccoli||—||Vegetable. Prefers full sun; rich, well-drained soil. Sow indoors six weeks prior to transplant.|
|Brassica spp. Mustard||A||Yellow||April to May||Mustard, hot||—||Salad garnish. Watch for allergies.|
Calendula, pot marigold
|A||Yellow, gold/orange||June to August||Tangy and peppery||—||Ornamental. Dries well. Prefers cool weather; rich loam; direct sow.|
|Carthamus tinctorius Safflower, American
|A||Yellow to deep red||August||Bitter flavor||—||May impart yellow color to cooked foods. Full sun; light, dry, well-drained soil; start indoors and transplant.|
|Cercis canadensis Redbud||P||Pink||April||Beanlike to tart apple||—||Native tree to U.S. ; may be marginal in Colorado. Full sun to part shade; sandy loam; difficult to transplant.|
|Chrysanthemum coronariumGarden chrysanthemum, shungiku||P||Yellow to white||August to October||Mild||—||Ornamental. Full sun; rich, moist, well-drained soil.|
|Chrysanthemum leucanthemum Oxeye daisy||P||White/yellow center||April to August||Mild||—||Use as garnish or in salad. Full sun; rich, moist, well-drained soil, invasive.|
|P||Blue to lavender||July to frost||Pleasant, mild-bitter similar to endive||—||Considered a weed. Grows in most soils; sun to shade; invasive.|
|P||White||Varies with variety||Citrus, slightly bitter||Sweet floral||Subtropical tree but may be grown indoors.|
|P||White||Varies||Citrus, sweet/strong||Perfume,sweet||Subtropical tree but may be grown indoors.|
|A||White||June to frost||Like leaf but milder||Fragrant||Herb. Sow continuously for several harvests; sun; rich, well-drained soil.|
Squash or pumpkin
|A||Orange, yellow||July to August||Mild, raw squash||Slightly floral||Vegetable. Enrich soil with compost; prefers full sun.|
|A||Immature head: green||Fall||Artichoke||—||Prefers rich soil, abundant moisture; propagate from division for annual harvest.|
|Dendranthema x grandiflorum
|P||Red, yellow, pink, orange, purple, white||August to October||Varieties differ, strong to bitter||Pungent||Ornamental. Full sun; rich, moist, well-drained soil.|
Dianthus or pinks
|P||Pink, white and red||June to August||Spicy, cloves||Some varieties are spicier||Ornamental.Tolerates wide range of soils; full sun.|
|A||White||May to frost||Nutty, smoky, less piquant than leaves||—||Salad green. Sow continuously for harvest; full sun to light shade; well-drained soil.|
|P||White to deep pink||Grow indoors||Floral flavor; papaya or exotic melon||—||Grow indoors in a greenhouse. Rich,well-drained soil; full sun-light shade.|
|P||Pale yellow||July to August||Licorice, milder than leaves, sweet||—||Tolerates wide range of soils; part shade to full sun.|
|Galium odoratum Sweet woodruff||P||White||May||Sweet, grassy, vanilla||Vanilla||Herb or ground cover. May be invasive; prefers shade. Can have a blood thinning effect if eaten in large quantities. It is considered liver toxic.|
|TP||Various except true blue||6-8 weeks after planting||Mediocre||—||Best as a container for garnish or dips or spreads.|
|P||Tawny orange||June to July||Cooked, combination of asparagus/zucchini||—||All parts are edible. Full to part shade; easy to grow. Many Lilies contain alkaloids and are NOT edible. Day Lilies may act as a diuretic or laxative; eat in moderation.|
Hibiscus, China rose, Rose-of-China
|P||Orange, red or purplish red||Late summer||Citrus/cranberry flavor||—||Subtropical tree but may be grown indoors. Used in many tea flavorings.|
|P||Red, white, purple, violet||July to August||Mild, nutty||—||Shrub. Prefers well-drained soil; full sun to part shade; deadhead to keep blooming.|
|P||Blue, pink, white||July to October||Bitter; similar to tonic||—||Used to flavor chartreuse, a liqueur; strong flavor. Prefers part shade and well-drained soil.|
|P||Lavender, purple, pink, white||June to early August||Highly perfumed||Floral||Taste may be very strong depending on the plant.|
|B||Yellow, white||August||Mild celery||—||Herb.|
Apple or crabapple
|P||White to pink||May||Slightly floral to sour||Sweet floral||Petals may be candied. Seeds are poisonous. Specimen tree, prefers full sun, fertile soil.|
|P||Creamy white||July to August||Lemony, sweet||Lemon||Herb. May be invasive.|
|P||Lavender, pink to white||July to September||Minty; milder than leaves||Fresh, minty||Herb. May be invasive; tolerates a wide range of soils; prefers part shade.|
Bergamot, bee balm, Oswego tea
|P||Red, pink,white, lavender||July to August||Tea-like, more aromatic than leaves||Sweet, perfumed||Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies; part shade to full sun; prefers moist, rich soil. Powdery mildew when grown in part shade.|
|Muscari atlanticum, M. botryoides,
|P||Pink, blue||April to May||Grapey, slightly sour with bitter aftertaste.||Grapey||Bulb.|
|A||White to pale pink||July to frost||Milder than leaves, spicy||—||Sow continuously for several harvests; well-drained rich soil; full sun.|
|Origanum majoranaMarjoram||TP||Pale pink||June to August||Spicy, sweet||—||Herb. Prefers full sun and dry, alkaline, well-drained soil.|
|P||White||June to August||Spicy, pungent-like leaves||—||Herb. Prefers full sun and dry, alkaline, well-drained soil.|
|TP||White, red, pink, purple||Varies||Like variety selected, e.g., rose, lemon; varies||Mild||Ornamental. Prefers full sun; light, dry well-drained soil.|
|Phaseolus coccineus Scarlet runner bean||TP||Bright orange to scarlet||July to August||Raw bean but milder||—||Vegetable. Flower crunchy; use in salad.|
|A||White, tinged pink||May to June||Raw peas||—||Vegetable. Prefers full sun; sandy, well-drained soil.|
|P||Red||July to August||Cucumber||—||Salad herb. May be invasive; tolerates
wide range of soil; sun or part shade.
|P||Pink to white||April to May||Mild, like flower nectar||Sweet||Petals candy well. Pits of mature fruit are poisonous.|
|A||White, pink, yellow after planting||One month||Spicy||—||Prefers full sun; well-drained, sandy soil but will grow in almost any soil.|
|P||White, pink, yellow, red, orange||May to June, September||Highly perfumed; sweet to bitter||Rose||Ornamental. Remove sour petal base. Full sun; rich, well-drained soil.|
|TP||Pale blue, dark blue, pink, white||Depends on cultivar||Mild rosemary||Delicate||Herb. Do not cook flower. Tolerates full sun to part shade; well-drained, evenly moist soil.|
|TP||Scarlet||September||Pineapple/sage overtones||—||Herb. Prefers full sun; light, well-drained soil; may be invasive.|
|P||Blue, purple, white, pink||May to July||Flowery sage, slightly musky||—||Herb. Full sun to light shade; sandy, well-drained soil; may be invasive.|
|A||Pink||July to August||Mildly peppery, spicy||—||Herb. Prefers full sun; light, sandy soil.|
|P||Pale blue to purple||July to August||Mildly peppery, spicy||—||Herb. Prefers full sun; light, sandy soil.|
|P||White, pink, purple, lilac||April to May||Perfume, slightly bitter||Lilac||Candies well. Prefers well-drained, alkaline soil; sun to part shade.|
|A||White, gold, yellow, red||May to September||Variable; some cultivars are strong and bitter||Strong, pungent||Ornamental. Prefers full sun; well-drained soil.|
|A||White, gold, yellow, red||May to September||Citrus; milder than T. erecta||—||Ornamental. Prefers full sun; well-drained soil but tolerates many soils.|
|P||Yellow||May to June; fall||Bitter||—||Eat cooked only. Cool weather; full sun; tolerates wide range of soils.|
|P||Pink, purple, white||July to August||Milder than leaves||—||Herb. Most creeping thymes have little flavor.|
|Trifolium pratense Red clover||P||Pink, lilac||June to September||Hay||Hay||Scatter florets on salad. Tolerates most soils; self sows.|
|A||Varies||July to August||Watercress, peppery||—||Container or in salads. Grow in full sun and well-drained soil.|
|A or TP||Lilac||Spring||Onion flavor||—||Best in full sun; tolerates part shade; prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil.|
|P||Violet, pink, white||April to May||Sweet||Sweet||Ornamental. Candies well. Sun to part shade; moist, well-drained soil.|
|Viola x wittrockiana
Pansy or Johnny Jump-Up
|A||Violet, white, pink, yellow, multi-colored||May to July||Stronger than violets||—||Ornamental. Prefers cool weather; moist, rich, loamy soil but tolerates many soils.|
|P||Creamy white with purple tinge||July||Hint of artichoke, slightly bitter||—||Ornamental. Full sun; well-drained, sandy soil.|
|1A = annual; B = biennial; P = periennial; TP = tender periennial|
*S. E. Newman, Colorado State University Extension greenhouse crops specialist and professor, horticulture and landscape architechture; and A. Stoven O’Connor, Extension horticulture agent, Larimer County. 12/96. Revised 10/20.
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