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6 Edible Flowers for Beauty, Food and Medicine

If edible flowers sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Most of us don’t grow up eating flowers… or do we?

Well, if you eat any of these cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower artichokes, cabbage or brussel sprouts, then yes… you’ve eaten flowers!1)

Though I do wonder who decided to try the first artichoke, and how they figured it out! We love artichokes, but that was a leap of faith to discover how to cook and consume artichokes. Probably someone hungry. No matter the origin, we’re so grateful for those who’ve pioneered the way before us.

Still, eating these huge and substantial cruciferous “flowers” are really more like vegetables in taste, texture and density. So to munch on cauliflower is vastly more like a vegetable than a flower, so it’s an easier concept to grasp than munching on pretty petals.

However, there are so many other edible flowers we can eat as well. It’s really just a matter of what we’re used to. If we grew up eating florals, then that would be familiar and normal.

Like parsley, edible flowers aren’t just garnish… they’re delicious and nutritious too!

Flowers as Food

Enjoying a cup of hibiscus tea or crystalized lavender on cake doesn’t seem so strange. But… pickled day lilies? Pansies in salad? How about dandelion wine?

These “gourmet” treats and more are normal fare in many cultures, and for many gardeners. If you haven’t delved into delectable decorative edibles yet, you can fancy up any dish by adding even just one lovely edible flower.

hibiscus flower image

More than Just a Pretty Face

It’s hard to want to eat flowers because they’re so beautiful. I’d rather see them on the bush or plant… or in a vase. However, flowers are definitely more than just a pretty face.

Flowers served with food, colors a meal with a lovely exotic presentation. More than beautiful and edible, many of them contain nourishing and even healing properties as well.

Eat the Garnish!

Did you eat that parsley garnish the last time it was served when you dined out? Gardeners and culinary fans know to eat parsley rather than toss it for it’s potent vitamin C as well as to freshen the breath after a meal.

However, having worked in a restaurant years ago, many are the plates that came back to the kitchen with the parsley garnish untouched. To toss the parsley, or that edible flower garnish, is like throwing vitamins into the trash, and of course no one would do that.

Vibrantly colored edible flowers add more than beauty to your foods; they also add nutrition.

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Add Edible Flowers to Your Yard and Garden Landscape

Many folks are not able to have a vegetable garden where they live due to the rules of their home owners association (HOA). If that’s you, there are attractive edible plants that work well in landscapes that provide a work-around for you. Certainly edible flowers are one of those.

Flowers not only contribute a unique array colors and textures, but also add interesting flavors to any dish. You’d probably be surprised at how many edible flowers are already in your garden.

Naturally you’ll need to verify which flowers are edible before you pop them into your mouth or top off your salad.

To keep it simple, and especially if you’re just getting started in growing flowers, you might plant only edible flowers in and around your garden. That way you’ll know and if you have children, it will be easy for them to know which ones are safe. E.g. “In the garden = safe to eat.”

Flowers have been used as food, medicine and cosmetics for centuries.

It might seem odd to eat flowers. We just aren't accustomed to thinking of flowers as food. That's the way it is for many people and parsley. They see parsley as garnish, and more often than not it's left behind to be tossed in the garbage.
WOW! Flowers, create vibrantly exotic and beautiful salads.

There are hundreds of flowers you can eat. In this article we’re covering six of the most common ones.

6 Edible Flowers

These first 5 are excerpted from an article by Kris Wetherbee on OregonLive.com1)http://www.oregonlive.com/hg/index.ssf/2012/06/10_of_the_best_edible_flowers.html

Borage (Borago officinalis)

Star-shaped blooms with eye-catching appeal in pink, violet or shades of blue. Subtle flavor slightly akin to cucumbers, though some note a grassy undertone.

How to use: Show off their beauty by freezing the flowers into ice cubes and floating them in a beverage, or sprinkle over soups, salads or dips.

Growing tip: This self-seeding annual tolerates a wide range of soil conditions and can be grown in full sun to light shade.

You can get Borage seeds on Amazon.

Borage is an Edible Flower that’s high in Vitamins A & C, with helpful amounts of iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium and calcium.

SOURCE: NutritionData.Self.com
How to use Borage: Show off their beauty by freezing the flowers into ice cubes and floating them in a beverage, or sprinkle over soups, salads or dips.

Squash (Cucurbita)

All squash flowers—both winter and summer squash—are edible. Squash flowers are the giants of all culinary flowers, with zucchini producing the largest of the squash flowers. The zucchini flower texture is somewhat crisp with a sweet zucchini-like flavor, only milder.

How to use: The large yellow blooms are perfect for stuffing or deep frying.

Editor’s Note: Since deep fried foods are not healthy, we’d recommend topping off stir fry and salads instead of deep frying.

Growing tip: Plant this warm-summer annual in deep, rich and well-drained but moist soil containing plenty of organic matter.

GardensAll Facebook community member, Teresa McCullar, first told us about eating squash blossoms. Below is her dinner-to-be photo that includes borage flowers plus de-hipped male squash and zucchini flowers.

Teresa McCullar’s borage flowers & de-hipped male squash & zucchini flowers. A lovely addition to her garden harvest saute.

Squash blossoms are edible flowers, high in vitamins C & A, that add exotic elegance to stir fry, salad, sautéed and desserts. Harvest plumpest buds just before they open.

Squash flower, edible flowers
Squash flower, edible flowers


Daylilies or Day Lily (Hemerocallis)

Flavor profile varies from sweet and floral to vegetable or slightly metallic, depending on the variety. Always harvest the plumpest buds, just before they open.

How to use: In Asian cuisine, salads, desserts, stuffed and baked, deep-fried, or sautéed with garlic and asparagus.

Growing tip:
Best in full sun or light shade in fairly moist, well-drained soil amended with organic matter.

A member of the Planting for Retirement community, Teighlor Chaney, shared her pickled lilies photos and recipe source:

Pickled Day Lily Buds – images by Teighlor Chaney

The recipe Teighlor used came from EdibleNetwork.com.2)

Lily buds, pickled lilies
Pickled Day Lily Buds – images by Teighlor Chaney

Day lilies are high in vitamins A and C, and have beneficial culinary and medicinal properties.2)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5251317/

Daylily - How to use: In Asian cuisine, salads, desserts, deep-fried, or sautéed with garlic and asparagus.

You can get day lilies of all kinds from Amazon.

Lavender (Lavandula)

Blooms accentuate sweet and savory dishes with a sweet mingling of floral, fresh pine and rosemary with citrus notes. English lavender varieties (L. angustifolia) have the best culinary flavor.

How to use: Its flavor complements a variety of foods — from fish, poultry and most fruits and vegetables to sauces, marinades and dressings along with beverages, baked goods and desserts. Strip the flowers from the stalk before using.

Growing tip: Best in full sun and well-drained soil.

And you can get lavender seeds here!

Lavender contains beneficial amounts of vitamin A, calcium, and iron, phytochemicals and antioxidants, benefitting eye, bone and blood health, as well as detoxifying and calming benefits.
~Livestrong.com

Lavender - Blooms accentuate sweet and savory dishes with a sweet mingling of floral, fresh pine and rosemary with citrus notes. English lavender varieties (L. angustifolia) have the best culinary flavor.

Roses (Rosa)

All rose types vary greatly in flavor — from full-bodied floral to pleasantly sweet and floral, to slightly metallic or even overtones of ginger — so it’s best to taste-test first.

How to use: Use petals to flavor honey, beverages, a sorbet or fruit compote or make a classic rose-petal jam.

Growing tip: Best in full sun to light shade and moderately moist, well-drained soil.3)http://www.oregonlive.com/hg/index.ssf/2012/06/10_of_the_best_edible_flowers.html

If you have pollen allergies, be careful about eating flowers. Even though you’re mainly consuming the petals, rinse them well, and start with small amounts.

Rose petals contain small amounts of vitamin C and essential oils, and is used as an aid in relaxation, digestion, anti-aging and many more benefits.

REFERENCE: Livestrong.com;4)https://www.livestrong.com/article/412805-what-are-the-benefits-of-eating-rose-petals/ NCBI.nlm.nih.gov5)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3586833/

Rose - How to use: Use petals to flavor honey, beverages, a sorbet or fruit compote or make a classic rose-petal jam.

And… one of our favorites…

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum)

These flowers come in all sorts of colors and practically every part of the plant is edible.

How to use: Both the flowers and leaves have a tangy peppery taste which is a great addition to salads and for topping sandwiches, stir fry and soups, and nasturtium seeds are often used like capers. If you use the flower for garnish, make sure family and friends know to at least try the flower too. To let this gem be only for decoration, would be a loss of more than its nutritional value.

Nutrition: Nasturtiums are high in vitamins C  A & D, plus iron.

Medicinal Benefits: Nasturtium contains vitamin C and is used as an antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, and also beneficial for urinary tract infections, coughs, bronchitis and possibly tumors, as well as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Applied externally, nasturtium is beneficial for muscle pain and as a scalp treatment for hair loss prevention.

Not recommended for children or pregnant women or those with kidney disease, stomach or intestinal ulcers.6)http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-526-nasturtium.aspx?activeingredientid=526&activeingredientname=nasturtium

Growing Tip: Nasturtiums are great perennials for children to grow because they’re easy and even thrive in poor soil. If left alone, they can even take over like weeds.7)http://www.almanac.com/plant/nasturtium

For an excellent article on Nasturtium, you’ll enjoy this article on CalorieBee.com by Fiona Jean McKay.8)https://caloriebee.com/nutrition/The-Various-Health-Benefits-and-Uses-of-Nasturtiums

Nasturtium flowers and leaves are both edible and nutrition.
Nasturtium flowers and leaves are both edible and nutritious.

“[The] appearance [of flowers] in a dish elevates it to something beyond the ordinary. There can also be a health benefit to eating flowers. Since early times, traditional healers have studied the medicinal properties of a wide range of flowers, many of which are still found today in herbal remedies and supplements.” 

― Constance Kirker, Edible Flowers: A Global History

Oh! And don’t forget the dandelions!! Dandelions were brought to North America by European ancestors as a food crop! Find out more on the amazingly healthy and delicious dandelion in this article which we will also link in the footnotes at the end of the article.9)https://gardensall.com/dandelion-for-food-medicine-tea-and-wine/

Next up, some beautiful flower salad recipes that will bring ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of delight to any meal, but first, a nasturtium leaf pesto you’ll want to garnish with nasturtium flowers.

Nasturtium Pesto Recipe

Recipe by Donna Cook of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods, as printed in the KansasCity.com.10)http://www.kansascity.com/living/liv-columns-blogs/chow-town/article326554/Not-just-pretty-edible-flowers-pack-nutritional-punch.html

  • 2 cups nasturtium leaves
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced nasturtium stems
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup olive oil* 
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

* Editor’s Note: for lower calorie pesto, you can try this with less oil first. Start at 1/2 cup and then add more as needed to achieve preferred taste and moistness.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare an ice-water bath and set aside. Add nasturtium leaves to boiling water and cook for 10 seconds. Drain and transfer to ice-water bath until cool. Drain and set aside. Place leaves, pine nuts, garlic and oil in the jar of a blender. Blend until smooth. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and fold in stems and cheese.

Editor’s Note: We recommend serving on a spiralized squash or spaghetti squash, especially lemon squash. Garnish with nasturtium flowers, for a delightful presentation of a delicious gourmet dish.

Donna says that she’s thrown everything in a blender including the stems and cheese and processed and it worked fine.

Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, KS. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.

Lovely Lavender Festival Salad

Recipe adapted from Mother Earth Living

06-02-032-salad

Dressing
• 5 tablespoons lemon juice
• 5 TBS olive oil
• 1/2 TSP sea salt
• 1/4 TSP Dijon mustard
• 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender

Salad
• 8 cups red and green oak leaf lettuce greens, washed and dried (or use mixed salad greens of choice)
• 4 slices red onion
• 1 sweet red pepper, seeded and sliced thin
• 1 large tomato cut into slices (or try nectarine for a different kind of salad)
• 1 to 2 ounces crumbled feta cheese

  1. In a large salad bowl, whisk all the dressing ingredients together.
  2. Add the greens, onion, pepper, and fruit, toss with the dressing, and top with the feta cheese.

SOURCE: Mother Earth Living

Salad with Rose Petals, Chive Flowers & Light Vinaigrette

Recipe from TheConsciousDietitian.com11)http://www.theconsciousdietitian.com/all-recipes/lunch-recipes/edible-flower-salad-with-rose-petals-chive-flowers/

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 cups chopped kale or baby spinach
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot grated
  • petals of 2 organic roses
  • petals of 2 chive flowers

DRESSING:

  • 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. honey (or maple syrup as vegan or preferential alternative)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • sea salt
  • ground pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Combine salad ingredients in a bowl.
  2. In separate bowl, mix together the white wine vinegar and honey.
  3. Slowly whisk in the olive oil.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe adapted from TheConsciousDietitian.com12)http://www.theconsciousdietitian.com/all-recipes/lunch-recipes/edible-flower-salad-with-rose-petals-chive-flowers/

And remember the dandelions! Here’s that article link.13)https://gardensall.com/dandelion-for-food-medicine-tea-and-wine/

A deliciously light, but nutrient rich rose and kale salad recipe.
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In Vietnam, “stunning fresh blossoms of squash, daylilies, white so dua flowers, lotus stems and yellow velvetleaf buds made up the floral ingredients in our flower hotpot. All of these were cooked together in a light pineapple soup base that included chunks of salmon.”

~Constance Kirker, author, Edible Flowers: a Global History

Tricia, from Grow Organic, shares the top ten tips for harvesting and eating flowers from your garden.

What are your favorite edible flowers and recipes? Let us know! 🙂

Wishing you great gardens and happy harvests!

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