9 Edible Flowers That Will Make Any Dish Look Gorgeous (and 6 Types to Skip)
Adding a garnish of bright green basil or a sprig of parsley, rosemary, or mint is an easy way to add a touch of visual interest and taste to your dishes — but if you’re looking to level up your home cooking even more, consider using edible flowers. That’s right, many common flowers can be consumed, in both foods and beverages. Not only can they add a unique taste and flair to your food, but many have important vitamins and minerals, too.
Of course, it’s essential to keep safety top of mind when choosing which edible flowers to put in your dishes. Anyone who’s seen or read Into the Wild knows the danger of consuming poisonous plants! That’s why I reached out to a few culinary experts to bring you everything you need to know about using edible flowers in the kitchen, including how it works, which to avoid, and where to get them. Read on to learn more about this brilliant way to add a splash of delicious color to your cooking.
Why Should I Use Edible Flowers?
“When used properly and safely, edible flowers can add a bright burst of color to food and drinks, along with complex and unique flavors,” says Brandi Eide, senior director of facilities and strategic initiatives at San Diego Botanic Garden. “Additionally, some are full of nutrients and health benefits.”
Another popular use for edible flowers? Entertaining, of course! A pretty flower frozen in an ice cube is a super simple way to add a pop of color to a cocktail. Or, frost a batch of cupcakes and place a petite violet or pansy flower atop each one for a baby or bridal shower. Excited to get started? Let’s dive in! But first, a word of caution about using flowers and herbs in your food or beverages.
What to Know Before Adding Edible Flowers to Your Food or Drink
Safety first! When it comes to putting florals in your dishes or drinks, it’s essential you know what you’re doing, says Susannah Schmurak, author and founder of HealthyGreenSavvy, a site devoted to herbal remedies, foraging, and all things plants.
“There’s a long list of plants that shouldn’t be consumed,” Schmurak says. “Before adding any plant or flower to your food, always check whether it is edible or not using a reliable guide to plants.” And even then, adds Eide, “it’s best to try a small amount of any new plant to ensure you don’t have a negative reaction.” While this is far from an exhaustive list, some common flowers that are poisonous to humans (and in many cases, animals as well) are:
- Baby’s breath
- Lily of the valley
Schmurak also warns against using flowers from a conventional florist in food “as they’re notoriously high in pesticide residues.” Instead, farmers markets are often a great source of edible flowers, as are many gourmet grocers, Eide says. There are several online options as well, like Growers Exchange, Gourmet Sweet Botanicals, and Marx Foods.
But the best way to find edible flowers, says Schmurak, is in your own backyard or neighborhood. “I highly recommend growing and/or foraging them instead!” While doing this could be a fun and fulfilling activity (farm to table and all), be sure you’re aware of any pesticide usage in the area you’re foraging. “Be sure to use plants that have not been treated with chemicals, (including flowers from florists), or are growing along busy roadsides,” Eide advises.
The Best Edible Flowers to Add to Your Next Meal
While there are many, below you’ll find nine of the best edible flowers you can add to recipes or drinks. In addition, learn where to buy them and how to grow them right in your own backyard.
Elderflowers come from the Sambucus Nigra plant, which is the same plant that produces elderberries. Elderflowers bloom in late spring, and turn into elderberries as summer turns to fall. When harvesting elderflowers, be aware that any flowers you remove will reduce your crop of elderberries (which have potent immune support properties).
- Use it: Beautifully scented elderflowers are easy to forage and make a delicious and medicinal elderflower tea, says Schmurak. And a syrup made with elderflowers is a popular cocktail ingredient.
- Grow it: Hearty elder can thrive just about anywhere in the continental U.S. It’s tolerant of sunny to partially shady growing conditions, and can grow in a variety of different soil conditions.
2. Wild Violet
Pretty and purple, wild violets begin sprouting in late winter and early spring. They’re simple to forage and are widely available, making them one of the most popular edible flowers.
- Use it: Fresh violet blooms are beautiful and tasty in salads, on desserts, or as a tea (leaves are also edible and good for making cough syrup).
- Grow it: Wild violets are super easy to grow from seeds, but beware that they’re self-seeding and can spread rapidly if not contained. Try growing violets in a container if you don’t want them all over your yard. Violets prefer a bit of shade and can be grown anywhere in the U.S. or southern Canada.
Borage is a tall, fast-growing plant with pretty blue star-shaped flowers. It’s been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, particularly known for its effectiveness for rheumatoid arthritis. Borage is self-seeding and grows in sunny conditions throughout much of the U.S.
- Use it: “Borage’s gorgeous purple flowers are fabulous cake decorations or salad toppings. They have a very mild flavor of melon-cucumber, even more so in the leaves,” says Schmurak.
- Grow it: Borage seeds should be directly sown in May. Once the plant has reached full size, you likely won’t have to replant, since borage is a self-seeding plant that can quickly grow and spread, and come to life again after a long winter. Borage greens have a cucumber-like taste, while the flowers are sweet like honey.
You likely think of pesky dandelions as weeds that pop up in your yard uninvited every summer. But in reality, these misunderstood plants should be embraced; they’re not only delicious, they’re incredibly good for you, Shmurak says.
- Use it: These cheery yellow flowers can be made into tea, baked into muffins or pancakes, tossed in salads (like this one), and even made into dandelion coffee! They can also be used in homemade body care products.
- Grow it: Beware that once planted, dandelions can spread very rapidly and re-seed each year. If you want to enjoy the benefits of dandelions without having a yard full of them, consider growing them in a pot or container. Dandelions should be sown in spring.
Calendula flower petals have been used for medicinal purposes since at least the 12th century, according to Mount Sinai Health. The pretty golden flower has high amounts of flavonoids, which are plant-based antioxidants that can fight inflammation, viruses, and bacteria.
- Use it: “Herbalists say the dried flowers can help with seasonal affective disorder and recommend adding them to winter soups and teas,” Schmurak says. You can also make an infused oil for cooking or for topping salads.
- Grow it: Calendula can be grown in zones 2 through 11. It’s a perennial in warmer climates, an annual in cooler climates. Calendula can be directly sown in well-drained soil and prefers sunny conditions.
6. Bee Balm (Wild Bergamot)
Bee balm is a member of the mint family, and has a pleasant citrus-mint aroma. The entire bee balm plant is edible, including its flower, which comes in a variety of colors and grows readily. Bee balm is well known for its medicinal properties, as it’s said to be antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory.
- Use it: Bee balm foliage can be used as a substitute for oregano, Schmurak says. The flowers of the monarda plant can also be used to make a beautiful red jelly, or a red bee balm tea that can be used for a variety of ailments.
- Grow it: Bee balm can be grown in sunny conditions in zones 3 through 9. It blooms in both summer and fall. This fast-growing plant requires good air circulation to avoid issues with mildew and likes well-drained soil but regular watering.
While roses are widely considered one of America’s most popular flowers (and poem subjects), they’re as good for you as they are for your favorite vase. The Valentine’s Day staple contains vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, potassium, iron, calcium, and phosphorus.
- Use it: Rose petals can be used in a variety of ways. This dark chocolate bark is delectable, or you can brew some rose petal tea.
- Grow it: With so many different varieties of rose, they can be grown just about anywhere. Hedge roses are better suited to colder climates, while the grandiflora types with the big, brilliant petals will do better in warm areas with plentiful sunshine. Roses need lots of watering while they’re being established in the ground.
Beautiful, bountiful, and highly aromatic, lavender is a flower you may already have (or want) in your garden. It’s also amazing for planter boxes under your windows! Lavender is an edible flower, and is widely used in both food and drinks.
- Use it: The possibilities are endless! Aside from using them to freshen your space or topping a dessert or drink with them, check out this amazing lavender lemonade recipe, or take a look at this roundup of lavender desserts.
- Grow it: Lavender can be a bit tricky to grow, so there’s no shame in choosing to buy it. However, once lavender is established in the ground or in a pot (it appreciates a sunny spot in well-draining, slightly alkaline soil with good airflow from regular pruning), it pretty much thrives on neglect. In other words, you’ll be able to set it and forget it once your lavender plant starts to grow and flower.
These stunning flowers definitely deserve a spot to call home in your yard. They boast a ton of benefits: the entire plant is edible, they attract pollinators but repel pests, and they have medicinal benefits for UTIs, coughs, and even bronchitis.