Manataka American Indian Council





Eating Flowers
By Cyndi Lauderdale


Flowers have traditionally been used in many types of cooking: European, Asian, East Indian, Victorian English, and Middle Eastern. American Indians and early American settlers also used flowers as food. Today, there is a renewed interest in edible flowers for their taste, color, and fragrance. Edible flowers can be used fresh as a garnish or as an integral part of a dish, such as a salad. Squash flowers can be fried in light batter or cornmeal. Some flowers can be stuffed or used in stir-fry dishes. Edible flowers can be candied; frozen in ice cubes and added to beverages; made into jellies and jams; used to make teas or wines; minced and added to cheese spreads, herbal butters, pancakes, crepes, and waffles. Many flowers can be used to make vinegar for cooking, marinades, or dressings for salad. Herbal flowers normally have the same flavor as their leaves, with the exceptions of chamomile and lavender blossoms, where the flavor is usually more subtle.

Not all flowers are edible; some may taste bad and some are poisonous. Eat flowers only if you are certain they are edible. Consult a good reference book.

A flower is not necessarily edible because it is served with food. A partial list of edible flowers can be found in Table 1. The flowers of most culinary herbs are safe to use.

Pesticides for use on fruits and vegetables have undergone extensive testing to determine the waiting period between treatment and harvest and potential residuals on food. Pesticides used on flowers and ornamentals have not been evaluated to determine their safety on food crops. Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries, garden centers, or flowers found on the side of the road. Consume only flowers that you or someone else have grown specifically for that purpose. If you have hay fever, asthma or allergies, it best not to eat flowers since many allergies are due to sensitivity to pollen of specific plants. It's best to introduce flowers into your diet one at a time and in small quantities.

Growing Edible Flowers
Growing edible flowers is essentially the same as growing flowers for ornamental purposes. Most flowers require a well-drained soil with a pH around 5.5 to 6. Soil test. Use a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch to reduce weeds, conserve soil moisture, maintain uniform soil temperatures, and reduce the amount of soil splashed onto the plant during a heavy rain. Irrigate to keep plants actively growing and flowering; most plants will need 1 inch of water per week. If possible, avoid overhead irrigation because moisture on the leaf surface for extended periods of time can increase the chances of disease development. Irrigating with a soaker hose works well.

Chemicals for pest control should be avoided, if possible. Hand-pick harmful insects. Beneficial insects, such as lady beetles and praying mantids, can be used to decrease insect populations. Growing different flowers together provides diversity to support a good beneficial insect population and keeps pest problems low. Many gardeners locate their edible flower garden away from other plants to avoid chemical spray drift. Many edible flowers can be successfully grown in containers.

Harvesting Flowers
Flavor can vary with growing conditions and cultivars. Conduct a taste test before harvesting large amounts of a particular flower. Flowers should be picked in the cool of the day, after the dew has evaporated. For maximum flavor choose flowers at their peak. Avoid flowers that are not fully open or that are past their prime.

To maintain maximum freshness, keep flowers cool after harvest. Long-stem flowers should be placed in a container of water. Short-stemmed flowers, such as borage and orange blossoms, should be harvested within 3 to 4 hours of use, placed in a plastic bag, and stored in a refrigerator. Damp paper towels placed in the plastic bag will help maintain high humidity.  Irrigating with a Gilmour soaker hose works well.

Because pollen can distract from the flavor, it's best to remove the pistils and stamens. Pollen may cause an allergic reaction for some people. Remove the sepals of all flowers except violas, Johnny-jump-ups, and pansies. For flowers such as calendula, chrysanthemum, lavender, rose, tulip, and yucca, only the flower petals are edible. The white base of the petal of many flowers may have a bitter taste and should be removed from flowers such as chrysanthemums, dianthus, marigolds, and roses.

Anise hyssop Anise Lilac
Apple Agastache foeniculum Floral White to pink
Arugula Eruca vesicaria sativa Spicy White
Basil Ocimum basilicum Herbal White, purple
Bachelor's Button Centaurea cyanus Vegetal White, pink
Bee Balm Monarda didyma Minty, sweet, hot Wide range
Borage Borago officinalis Herbal Blue
Broccoli Brassica officinalis Spicy Green
Calendula Calendula officinalis Slightly bitter Yellow-orange
Chamomile Chamaemelum noblis Sweet apple White
Chervil Anthriscus cerefolium Herbal White
Chicory Cichorium intybus Herbal Blue
Chives Allium schoeonoprasum Onion Lavender-pink
Chrysanthemum Chysanthemum spp. Onion Perennial
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale Strong Yellow
Daylily Hemerocallis spp. Sweet, honey Wide range
Dianthus Dianthus spp. Vegetal, sweet Wide range
Dill Anethum graveolens Sweet clove Yellow-green
Elderberry Sambucus canadensis Herbal White
English Daisy Bellis perennis Sweet Pink
Fennel Foeniculum vulgare Mildly bitter Yellow-green
Hibiscus Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Mildly anise Rose, red
Hollyhock Althea rosea Mildly citrus White, pink
Honeysuckle Lonicera japonica Vegetal White  Yellow
Johnny-jump-up Viola tricolor Sweet Purple, yellow
Lavender Lavendula spp. Wintergreen Lavender
Lilac Syringa vulgaris Sweet, perfumed Lavender
Linden Tilia spp. Varies White
Lovage Levisticum officinale Honey-like White
Marigold Tagetes patula Celery Yellow
Mint Mentha spp. Minty Purple
Nasturtium Tropaeolum majus Spicy, peppery Wide range
Okra Abelmoschus esculentus Vegetal Yellow
Pansy Viola x wittrockiana Vegetal Wide range
Passion flower Passiflora spp. Vegetal Purple
Pineapple Sage Salvia elegans Sweet, fruity Red
Red Clover Trifolium pratense Sweet Red
Rose Rosa spp. Perfumed Wide range
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis Herbal Blue
Sage Salvia officinalis Herbal Purple-blue
Scarlet Runner Phaseolus vulgaris Vegetal Purple
Scented Geraniums Pelargonium spp. Varies Wide range
Signet Marigold Tagetes signata Spicy, Herbal Yellow
Snapdragon Anthirrhinum majus Bitter Wide range
Squash Curcubita pepo Vegetal Yellow
Sunflower Helianthus annuus Varies Yellow
Sweet Woodruff Galium odoratum Sweet, nutty White
Thyme Thymus spp. Herbal White
Tulip Tulipa spp. Vegetal Wide range
Violet Viola odorata Sweet, perfumed Violet


Violet Jelly Recipe:

4 cups violets flowers

3 cups boiling water in quart jar

steep 24 hrs. Strain flowers.

2 cups of juice bring to boil.

Stir in 1 pkg Sur-jell 1/4 cup lemon juice boil again stir in 4 cups sugar boil hard 1 minute.

Skim foam pour in sterile jars. Seal completely with paraffin. Makes 4 cups jelly

~Submitted by Connie

Additional flowers that have been reported to be edible include: Black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia; Cattails, Typha spp.; Clary sage, Salvia sclarea; Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca; Coriander, Coriander sarivum; Fuchsia, Fushia x hybrida; Gardenia, Gardenia jasminoides; Garlic, Allium sativum; Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum; Gladiolus, Gladiolus hortulanus; Hyssop, Hyssopus officalis; Leek, Allium porrum; Lemon, Citrus limon; Marjoram, Origanum vulgare; Marsh mallow, Althaea officinalis; Mustard, Brassica spp.; Nodding onion, Allium cernuum; Peony, Paeonia lactiflora; Orange, Citrus sinensis; Oregano, Origanum vulgar; Pineapple guava, Acca sellowiana; Plum, Prunus spp.; Radish, Raphanus sativus; Redbud, Cercis canadensis; Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus; Safflower, Carthamus tinctorius; Spiderwort, Tradescantia virginia; Strawberry, Fragaria ananassa; Water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes; Water lily, Nymphaea odorata; Winter savory, Satureja montana; Yucca, Yucca spp.

Further Reading

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