Marigolds are edible flowers

“Hey, Mom – look, they have a salad that has edible flowers! Can I order it?”

My 9 year old daughter and I were about to order lunch in a Vancouver restaurant. Not usually one to be adventurous, I was a little surprised
at her request.

“Absolutely!” I replied. And when it arrived, colourful and looking very appetizing – I wished I’d ordered it as well.

Tiny blue pansies nestled beside flamboyant nasturtium blooms in hot oranges while pretty golden petals of calendulas were sprinkled on top. All this color nestled on a leafy green base of arugula, spinach and lettuce.

Since then, edible flowers have been on my gardening radar. I often scatter a few chive blossoms on a cucumber salad for a bit of pizazz and flavour, or add hot orange and gold nasturtiums to jazz up a green salad.

As you plan your container gardens, include some of the following edible flowers. Grow them in containers close to your kitchen door, right beside the lettuce and chives. With their bright colors and flavors ranging from sweet to spicy, they will make your meals fun. 

Edible Flower Chart

  • Artichoke – a ‘vegetable’ flower
  • Begonia – leaves, flowers and stems are all edible, with a sour citrus flavour. Petals are used in salads and as garnishes.
  • Calendula – petals are spicy and often peppery. Used to add golden-orange color to soups, herb butters and salads.
  • Chamomile – The whole flowers can be steeped to make tea. Note – some people will be allergic.
  • Chives – Separate the tiny individual flowers and use them in salads, or to add a subtle onion flavor to rice dishes.
  • Clover – Sweet white and red clover blossoms are used in salads and to make teas. (As a kid, I loved taking the individual parts of red clover blossoms and sucking out the sweet nectar.)
  • Day Lilies – The blossoms are slightly sweet, and can be stuffed like squash blossoms. Note – use only the original orange-petaled dallies, not the hybrid cultivars.
  • Garden Sorrel – Tart lemony flowers can be used on pizza, as a salad topping and work well with cucumber.
  • Hibiscus – Dried blossoms can be used for a tea with citrus/cranberry tones.
  • Lavender – Use the dried or fresh flowers in teas, added to baking or to dress up salads.
  • Lilac – Slightly bitter with lemony tones, these flowers add flavour to salads.
  • Nasturtiums – The most common edible flower, both the leaves and flowers can be used, as well as the seeds.
  • Pansy & Viola – Slightly sweet flavour, used to garnish fruit and green salads.
  • Roses – Sprinkle petals on desserts or salads, or use to make syrups or jellies. Darker petals have a more intense flavour.
  • Squash blossoms – Delicacies is Italian and Native American cooking, these can be stuffed, fried and/or baked.

How to Use Edible Flowers

What flower parts can I use?

Generally, the petals and whole flowers can be eaten, but remove the white base of each petal, stem, and interior part (such as the anthers and pistils) as these taste bitter.

Use them in all kinds of dishes, from appetizers to desserts. Innovative cooks and restaurant chefs often use them to garnish entrees for a touch of class.

Preparations with flowers

Although they are best used fresh, some edible flowers can be preserved for future use with techniques such as drying, freezing or steeping in oil. They can add flavour in drinks, jellies, salads, soups, teas, butters, syrups and many main dishes.

Candied flowers for garnishing desserts are crystallized using egg white and sugar as a preservative.  Many flowers can be used to make vinegars for cooking, marinades, or dressings for salad. Flower-flavoured oils and vinegars are made by steeping edible flower petals in these liquids.

How do flowers taste?

Herbal flowers such as chive blossoms normally have the same flavor as their leaves, with the exceptions of chamomile and lavender blossoms, which are usually more subtle. Some edible flowers have tart, bitter or spicy flavors, adding kick to salads and savory dishes.

Some of our common ‘vegetables’ are really edible flowers. Broccoli and broccolini are actually flower buds. Their florets, when allowed to, ripen into small yellow flowers that are mildly spicy and delicious in a stir-fry or steamed. Their close relative, cauliflower, is also a flower head, and another ‘flower vegetable’ is the artichoke.

How to Harvest Edible Flowers

Pick edible flowers in the cool of the day after the dew has disappeared. Choose flowers that are at their peak for maximum freshness. Keep the flowers cool, and in water until you are ready to use them. 

If they have short stems, put them into a plastic bag along with a damp paper towel.  Edible flowers are extremely fragile and cannot be stored in the refrigerator, so must be used as quickly as possible.

When you are ready to use them, carefully rinse each flower in cold water, and dry it gently with a paper towel. Remove the stems, using a knife if necessary, and then, using tweezers, gently take off the pistil, stamens and sepals. This last step will lessen any possible allergens that might be present in pollen.

Tips for Growing Edible Flowers

Growing edible flowers is similar to growing ornamental flowers in many ways.  In fact, many of the edible flowers listed here are planted as ornamentals for their beauty.

Avoid using any chemicals and pesticides if you intend to sample the flowers you grow. Instead, beneficial insects such as ladybugs or praying mantis can help decrease detrimental insect populations.

By using good growing practices such as weeding, mulching, using natural soil amenders such as compost or well-rotted manure, and irrigating there should be no need for chemicals of any sort.

Are you looking for more information on edible flowers? Check out your local library or order these books on Amazon:

The Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasy

Edible Flowers: From Garden to Kitchen by Kathy Brown

About the Author

Nicki is a dedicated gardener, a creative artist and a published author. Passionate about what she does, her gardening articles, books and paintings reveal her love of nature and the western Canadian scene. She loves sharing her container garden success with others to inspire their creativity.

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