The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Incredible Edible Flowers

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

Have you ever looked at your garden flowers and thought, "These look good enough to eat?" This isn't just a daydream. Edible flowers add color, taste and fragrance to even the most common of foods. From appetizers to desserts edible flowers add a unique quality to meals that will make everyone think you are quite a chef.

Flower flavors can vary from sweet to bitter. Look for recipes to try before you start grazing through your flowerbed. Also be sure you can positively identify a flower as edible. A few flowers that should not be eaten include iris, foxglove, hydrangea, morning glory and amaryllis.

Also be careful of common names. I had a client call once who casually told me she had made a spaghetti sauce using Russian sage. At first I'm thinking "ugh! Sage in spaghetti sauce?" then I thought, I'm not even sure if Russian sage is edible. It's culinary sage's "distant cousin who lives in another state". I asked her if her family was showing any signs of unusual behavior. She proceeded to tell me about her son's inability to eat foods unless they begin with the letter "S" so I figured all was right with the world.

Do not eat commercially available flowers from florists or garden centers unless you know they were grown for eating. Odds are these flowers were treated with pesticides not labeled for food crops. Beware of using roadside flowers. Grow edible flowers organically or only use pesticides with proper labeling and follow appropriate days between application and harvest.

Pick flowers in their prime. Store in refrigerator. Wash gently before use. Remove any interior pistils and stamens (the boy/girl parts). With flowers such as sunflowers or mums, just use the petals. As with any new foods, start out moderately. In other words don't sit down to a bowlful of daylilies the first time you try them. Ok, enough of the fine print, on to the fun stuff.

A few flowers pretty enough to eat:

  • Beebalm, Monarda didyma - minty
  • Calendula, Calendula officinalis - spicy, peppery
  • Daylily, Hemerocallis spp. - sweet
  • Hollyhock, Althaea rosea - slightly bitter to bland
  • Signet Marigold, Tagetes tenufolia - spicy to bitter
  • Petunia, Petunia hybrida - green leafy
  • Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus - peppery
  • Rose, Rosa spp. - sweet
  • Snapdragon, Antirrhinum majus - bland to bitter
  • Sunflower, Helianthus annus - green leafy

Many flowers such as nasturtiums and squash blossoms can be stuffed with chicken or tofu salad or flavored cream cheese. Here is a recipe compliments of Donna Falconnier, U of I Extension nutrition educator.

Turkey Calendula Roll-ups

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons low fat or fat free mayonnaise
  • 1-tablespoon horseradish
  • 2-3 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons diced sweet pickle relish
  • 1 tart apple, peeled cored and finely diced
  • 1-cup calendula or marigold petals
  • 4 twelve-inch tortillas
  • 8 ounces wafer thin turkey or ham slices
  • Lettuce leaves and calendula or marigold petals for garnish

In a bowl blend the cream cheese with mayonnaise, horseradish, lemon juice and pickle relish. Gently stir in apple and flower petals. With a spatula spread the mixture evenly over each tortilla. Cover spread with a single layer of turkey or ham. Roll filled tortilla, jellyroll style. Cut immediately or wrap tightly in plastic wrap to chill. To serve, cut to desired thickness and arrange on a serving platter over a bed of lettuce. Sprinkle with additional flower petals.

If you would like to learn more about edible flowers, join me Tuesday August 15 at 1:00 pm and Thursday August 17 at 7:00 pm as I give a statewide program on edible flowers. Please register by calling 217-333-7672 or check with your local U of I Extension office to see if they are also offering it.

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