Many a chef certainly has. But most folks have no idea of the vast array of flowers that are edible. Apple blossoms impart a delicate floral flavor to fruit salads, along with a heavenly aroma. With many herbs, the flowers taste just like the leaf – chive flowers are a colorful way to infuse salad dressing with a garlic flavor.
Other flowers are technically edible, but unpleasantly acrid – chrysanthemums, for example. One reference describes the flavor of wax begonias as slightly bitter with “a hint of swamp.”
Exercise caution when using flowers in the kitchen, though: many are poisonous. Those daffodils in your perennial border could cause nausea, diarrhea, itchiness, stupor, convulsions, or even death, depending on how much you eat. Though in almost all cases it’s not just the flower that’s poisonous, it’s the entire plant. Here is a list of common poisonous plants whose flowers you don’t want to harvest for the kitchen. And below is a list of safe-to-consume flowers that we think you’ll enjoy, with a few thoughts on how to grow and use them.
Calendula – Annual/All Zones
These cheery flowers have a fairly neutral, nondescript flavor and are used to brighten up both salads and sweets. Pastry chefs sometimes use them to make floral designs on cheesecakes and other goodies. The petals hold their golden-orange color when cooked, so some chefs use them as a saffron substitute.
Calendula is easy to grow from seed, and often reseeds itself in the garden each year without any effort on the part of the gardener. Needs full sun and regular water.
Daylily – Zones 3 to 9
Most types of lilies are mildly toxic when consumed, but not daylilies. (Though botanically speaking, daylilies are not a true lily.) Daylily blossoms are meatier than most flower petals, with a succulent texture and a mildly sweet taste like romaine lettuce. Chop them up and add them to salads, but be sure to sample the flavor first, as some daylily varieties taste better than others. Try stuffing them with herbed cheese or dipping the unopened flower buds in batter and frying them up as an hors d’oeuvre.
Daylilies, which are generally sold as a potted plant, are easy to grow in sun or part sun, as long as you provide ample moisture. In rich soil they spread to form extensive colonies.
Dandelion – Zones 3 to 9
Adventurous foodies relish the bitter flavor of dandelion greens in salads and soups. But few realize the flowers are also edible. Use dandelion flowers exactly as you would calendula, a close botanical relative. The flavor is sweeter if picked immediately after the flowers open.
Dandelions can be found growing as a weed almost everywhere, in lawns and in cracks in the sidewalk, though you can purchase seeds if you want to establish a bed for culinary use. Needs full sun and is drought tolerant once established.
Elderberry ”“ Zones 3 to 9
Elderberry flowers have a light, honey-like aroma and taste, and they’re often used to flavor white wine, champagne, lemonade, iced tea, and other summery drinks. You can sprinkle the tiny individual flowers in salads, or fry the dome-shaped clusters whole to make elderberry fritters. Beware that elderberry foliage is mildly toxic, as is the uncooked fruit (the cooked fruit is edible and delicious, however).
Elderberries are typically purchased as a potted plant, and are easy to grow in full sun or partial shade. Water frequently until established.
Borage – Annual/All Zones
Electric blue borage flowers have a mild cucumber-esque flavor and are used to jazz up salads, drinks, and savory dishes of all sorts. Color-wise, they are great companion to calendula’s golden hue.
Borage is easily grown from seed, and typically reseeds itself in the garden year after year. Drought tolerant.
Lavender – Zones 4 to 9
Lavender flowers have a unique savory flavor with a hint of floral sweetness and are usually employed in summer drinks, ice cream, chocolate, and other sweets. Rub the flower buds between your fingers to separate the tiny individual flowers and sprinkle them into your dish.
Lavender is typically purchased as a potted plant. Grow it in a location with full sun and well-drained soil. Lavender is highly drought tolerant – once established, water it only when the soil is bone dry.
Pansy – Annual/All Zones
Pansies are one of the few flowers that come in every color of the rainbow. They have a mild, nondescript flavor and are used primarily for decorating salads and desserts. Use violets, a close relative of pansies, in the same way.
Pansies are typically grown from seed. They thrive in locations with rich, moist soil and part sun. Pansies suffer in the heat of summer, so are primarily grown as spring and fall annuals.
Hibiscus – Hardiness Zone Varies by Species
Hibiscus flowers have a cranberry-like flavor with tropical notes. They are most often made into iced tea or infused into other cold drinks, but chopped hibiscus flowers add a tangy spunk to salads and desserts.
There are numerous edible species of hibiscus, but it is the Jamaican species Hibiscus sabdariffa that is most known for its flavor. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is also known for its culinary qualities. These frost tender tropical species may be treated as an annual in temperate climates, or grown in a pot and brought indoors for the winter. Hibiscus is typically purchased as a potted plant. Needs full sun and ample irrigation.
Nasturtium – Annual/All Zones
Nasturtium flowers have a peppery zest similar to watercress, to which the plant is closely related. They are primarily used in salads and as a garnish for hors d’oeuvres. Though the tubular flowers are large and sturdy enough to stuff with cheese or tapenade.
Nasturtium is easily grown from seed in part shade or full sun, and often reseed themselves in the garden. Thrives in rich soil with regular irrigation.
Rose – Zones 3 to 10
Most people pick roses as a centerpiece for their table or to give to a loved one as a symbol of their affection, but their culinary qualities are unsurpassed. Roses taste much like they smell, but with a slightly bitter undertone. Use in drinks, desserts, and salads, or make rose petal jam.
There are literally hundreds of rose varieties to choose from, some of which are much easier to grow and others. Iceberg roses and Knock Out roses are two of the most foolproof varieties. Roses thrive in a location with rich, well-drained soil and full sun. They require regular irrigation.