Flowers add colour, fragrance and beauty to your garden and attract beneficial insects but many are also edible. Flowers can be added to salads, desserts, used to make teas, to flavour oils and dressings and when baking. Many are high in vitamins and minerals and have many medicinal benefits. Before looking at which flowers are edible, there are some guidelines to follow.
(a) Never use pesticides or insecticides on flowers that you are going to eat.
(b) Pick flowers in the morning as their water content is at it highest and shake the flowers to dislodge any insects.
(c) Remove the stamens and pistils which are mostly bitter.
(b) Always thoroughly wash flowers and allow to them to dry before eating. Flowers once dried will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for between 7-10 days. They can also be preserved for later use by drying, freezing or storing in oil.
Jasmine: The flowers are mixed with green tea to make jasmine tea which has been widely used in China and Japan for centuries. It is believed to be able to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduce stress and have a positive affect on the immune system.
Marigold: Different varieties offer differing flavours from peppery to tangy. Only the petals are edible as the centre has a bitter taste. Can be used with rice and pasta dishes, added to soups, salads or used to make herb butter. The flowers can also be infused to make a tea which helps soothe digestive problems. Marigold petals have been described as the poor man's saffron as dried it has been used as a substitute for saffron because it has a similar taste and adds colour to dishes. The petals have medicinal benefits as they contain anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.
Carnation: The petals have a sweet peppery taste but cut the petals away from the white base which is bitter. Use the petals on the same day or keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to two days. Sprinkle the petals over a salad to add colour or add to dressings to serve with a salad. The petals can be soaked in wine, dried, crushed and sprinkled on cakes or desserts.
Chrysanthemums: The flowers can range from white, yellow, orange and red and taste slightly peppery. Blanch petals after removing the bitter flower base before adding to salads. The flowers can also be added to stir fries and used to flavour vinegars and oils. Used in Chinese medicine to treat high blood pressure and hardening of the blood vessels.
Dandelions: Young flowers are very sweet but become bitter as the flowers mature. The buds are tastier than the flowers and are best picked as soon as they appear. The buds are excellent raw or steamed. The young flowers and leaves are good in salads. The flowers can also be used to make a tasty jam. Roots can be dried and used as a coffee substitute. Dandelions are exceptionally high vitamin A, B and C and the minerals iron, calcium and magnesium. Used in Chinese traditional medicine as an organ cleanser.
Daylily: The flowers and buds are both edible and have a mild but sweet vegetable flavour but are slightly chewy. Cut out the white bitter base and use in desserts or salads. Eat in moderation as day lilies can act as a laxative and diuretic. Nutritionally day lilies are high in potassium and phosphorus. Used in Chinese cooking to make a hot and sour soup called Buddha's delight.
Honeysuckle: The flowers have a honey flavour and are good in salads. Honeysuckle tea is made using the leaves, buds and flowers and is helpful in alleviating headaches. The leaves have astringent properties and Infused are used as a mouthwash or gargle.
Lilac: Remove petals from the flower when in full bloom. Lilac petals have a lemony flavour and can be added to salads or desserts. Also used to make lilac wine.
Pansy: The whole flower is edible and can be used in fruit or regular salads or added to soups and desserts. Pansies are high in vitamins A and C.
Roses: The flavour depends on the variety and soil type but can range from apple to strawberry. The darker the colour the stronger the flavour. Used in salads, to make jam and tea. or baked goods. Also used to make rose water or rose syrup which id used extensively in Cypriot cuisine and added to loukoum and mahalebi. For a recipe to make your own rose water go to the section on Preserving and Storing Produce.
Sunflower: The unopened flower buds can be steamed and have an artichoke flavour. Seeds can be sprouted to provide a nutritional boost to salads or sandwiches, as sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E, magnesium and potassium. Once prepared, for longer term storing, the seeds make for a healthy snack and can also be added to salads or as a casserole topping. For details on harvesting and preparing sunflower seeds for storage go to the section on Preserving and Storing Produce.
Violets: Leaves and flowers can be used in chilled soups. Removed from the flower, petals can be added to salads and desserts. You can also make violet water for flavouring teas, puddings or for making ice cubes by steeping leaves and flowers in water until it becomes fragrant. Strain the liquid and then store in a glass bottle in the fridge. Violet flowers are extremely high in vitamins A and C.
Alliums: Flowers of chives, garlic, garlic chives, leeks, onions and shallots are all edible. The flowers all have a stronger flavour than the leaves and are mainly used in salads or omelettes. All alliums contain chemical compounds believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and cholesterol lowering properties.
Anise: Both flowers and leaves have a licorice flavour and are good in salads. A good source of vitamin C, calcium and iron.
Apple Blossom: Blossoms are white and pinkish and available in the spring for about thirty days. The blossoms have a mild flavour and are good in fruit salads.
Basil: The flowers have a milder flavour than basil and depending on the variety can be lavender, pink or white. Use petals in salads or added to pasta dishes. Can also be used to flavour olive oil, place both in a blender and blend together thoroughly and use pour over freshly harvested tomato salad.
Chamomile: The small flowers have an apple flavour and make a good herbal drink which is claimed to induce sleep. The tea can be prepared by Infusing flowers in boiled water for about five minutes. Chamomile flowers contain an essential oil known as bisabolol which has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-irritant properties. The tea is used to treat skin and digestive problems.
Chervil: The small white flowers have an aniseed flavour but should be used as soon after picking, in salads or fish dishes, as they quickly lose their flavour. Central Europeans have traditionally used chervil as a blood purifier. It also has diurectic properties and is said to lower blood pressure.
Chicory: Petals and buds are both edible and are good in salads. Chicory is rich in vitamin K, omega 6 fatty acids, folate and calcium. Chicory flowers contain detoxifying properties which are claimed to eliminate toxins from the blood. Medicinally chicory can also be used as a laxative and headache reliever as it has anti-inflammatory properties.
Citrus Blossoms: The waxy petals are highly scented and can be used for beverages
Coriander: Tastes similar to the leaves but the flavour of the flower fades quickly, use soon after picking on salads, sprinkled on bean or vegetable dishes and with fish dishes. Contains vitamins C and K, potassium and calcium.
Dill: The flowers have a tangy flavour and are good added to hot or cold soups, to make dips or dressings or tossed into salads. Also added to cucumber or gherkin pickles.
Fennel: The yellow flowers, leaves, stalks, roots and seeds are all edible and have a mild aniseed flavour. All parts of the plant can be used to make tea which is used in France to treat migraine and is also traditionally used for digestive problems in Southern Europe. The flowers are used in desserts and add a nice flavour. The seeds can be added when making cakes, biscuits or bread. Nutritionally, the herb is rich in vitamins and minerals and has anti-oxidant properties.
Ginger: The gingery flavoured petals make an interesting addition to salads. Infuse in boiled water and add lemon and honey to make a flavoursome tea. The buds are added to flavour stocks and curries. Ginger helps asthma and relieves stomach aches. A good source of vitamin B1.
Lavender: The flowers have a citrus flavour and are used in stews, sauces, flans or sorbets. The flowers can be sun dried, crushed and used to flavour baked goods. The dried flowers can also be infused to make a tea. Herbalists use lavender to treat headaches, insomnia, depression and exhaustion.
Lemon Balm: The tiny flowers make a tasty herbal tea and are also used to flavour flans and custards. The tea provides relief from indigestion. The leaves have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and made into a tea is used to treat flu.
Mint: Mint flowers are used in fruit salads, cakes and desserts. Rich in vitamins A and C and contains a wide range of essential minerals. The flowers can be combined with leaves to make a refreshing tea which can relief the symptoms of colds and flu.
Rosemary: A milder flavour than the leaves and used for dressings and sorbets. Rosemary contains a good amount of vitamin A, folic acid and many trace minerals.
Sage: The flowers are used fresh in salads and are included in bean, corn and mushroom dishes.
Sorrel: The flowers have a lemony tart flavour and can be used in salads, on pizza or to make sauces. High in vitamins A, B9, C and rich in magnesium and potassium.
Thyme: Sprinkle flowers over soups to add a milder thyme flavour. Thyme tea has a long tradition of being used as a cough remedy, for sore throats and colds due to its antiseptic properties. Infuse flowers in boiling water for ten minutes, strain and add honey. If the honey is left out, the cooled tea can be used as a mouthwash.
Marrow Flowers: Can be stuffed or battered and deep fried. A recipe for stuffed marrow flowers is available in the Cypriot Recipes section. Rich in vitamins A, B, C and trace minerals.
Pea Flowers: The blossoms are crunchy and pea flavoured but don't harvest too many as it will reduce your pea harvest. Add to a green salad.
Radish Flowers: If left to go to seed, the radish will produce a stem 60cm to 90cm tall with small white or pink flowers. The flowers have a spicy flavour but not as strong as the radish and are good in salads or soups.
Runner Bean Flowers: Tasty in salads but don't pick too many or you will reduce your crop.