Extension Educator, Horticulture
Most people have never considered eating flowers. However if you have ever eaten artichokes or broccoli you have eaten immature flowers. Herbal teas often contain flowers such as rose or hibiscus. Flowers can add taste and color to your diet and your plate. Flowers lend a certain air of elegance to beverages as they float in a punch bowl. It's also great amusement to watch your family pick around in the salad trying to determine the source of the purple color.
Here are a few tips to adding flowers to your diet.
Collecting flowers - Pick flowers in the cool of the day, preferably in early morning after the dew has evaporated. Choose flowers that are at their peak. Flowers that are not fully open, those that are past their prime, and flowers that are starting to wilt should not be used. After picking, put flowers with long stems into water. Keep them cool. Flowers will quickly wilt in warm temperatures. Pick short stemmed blossoms within three or four hours of using and put them between layers of damp paper toweling or in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Immediately before using, gently wash the flowers, checking carefully for insects and soil.
Parts to eat - Remove the inner reproductive parts, the stamens and pistils, from flowers before eating. The pollen can detract from the flavor of the flower. In addition the pollen may cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. Remove the green leafy sepals from all flowers except violas and pansies.
Only petals of some flowers such as rose, calendula, tulip, chrysanthemum, yucca and lavender are edible. When using just the petals, separate them from the rest of the flower just prior to use to prevent wilting.
Roses, dianthus, English daises, marigolds and chrysanthemums have a bitter white portion at the base of the petal where it was attached to the flower. Break or cut off the bitter part of the petal before using. Preserving flowers- Freezing does not work well in preserving flowers. Daylilies are an exception. However flowers or petals can be successfully frozen in ice cubes to enliven a drink any time of year. Some flowers can be dried, but the flavor is altered.
What do flowers taste like? Nasturtiums, lavender, carnations, chive blossoms, rosemary, sage and hyssop are very flavorful. Violets and petunias are sweet. Hollyhocks, pansies, calendula and squash flowers are mildly flavorful.
Guidelines for Using Edible Flowers
Eat flowers only when you are positive they are edible and you have correctly identified the flowers. Not all flowers are edible and some are even poisonous.
Just because a flower is served with food does not necessarily mean the flower is edible.
Eat only flowers that were specifically grown to be eaten and are free of pesticides. Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centers unless they are labeled to be eaten.
If you have hay fever, allergies or asthma, do not eat flowers.
Do not eat flowers picked from the side of the road. They can be contaminated with pesticides or car emissions.
Remove pistils and stamens from flowers before eating. Eat only the petals.
There can be many varieties of one type of flower. Varieties can have different flavors.
Introduce flowers into your diet one variety at a time in small quantities.
The Master Gardener Idea Garden has a collection of edible flowers. For further information check out these books: Edible Flowers from Garden to Palate by Cathy Wilkinson Barash and Flowers in the Kitchen by Susan Belsinger. You can also contact our office for more information and recipes using edible flowers.