Edible Flowers: Top Ten Favorites
Although cooks or aspiring chefs have dozens or hundreds of edible flowers
to select from, I've taken the guesswork out of choosing by summarizing
the top choices of notable flower chefs, and my own, below. This
annotated list has just about everyone's top ten favorite edible flowers.
Please join in the fun by making the foods you eat, and their colorful presentations
works of art on the canvas of a broad plate or serving dish. Let
them eat marigolds!
- Calendula or pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), daisy family (Asteraceae).
Has a slightly bitter flavor and was historically used as one of
several substitutes for true saffron. Can be used in rice dishes, potatoes,
or cakes. Use with caution as large quantities may affect women's
menstrual cycles, and the flower should not be consumed by pregnant
or nursing women.
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), lily family (Liliaceae). Have an onion-like
flavor, but are not overpowering. Can be used in gazpacho, potatoes,
salads, and many other savory dishes. We are talking about purple
chive flowers, not their familiar green stems. The flowering stalks are
usually not for sale in supermarkets, but they are easy to start from
seed and flower annually even when they are grown in large pots.
- Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.), grass-tree family (Xanthorrhoeaceae).
Daylily flowers or buds yield a sweet floral or vegetal "green" flavor
and are much favored in Chinese cuisine (see above under "Cooking
with Flowers"). Dried, these flowers are used in sweet and sour
Chinese hot soups. They can be used in pancakes, flower butter, and
shrimp, chicken, and pork dishes. Be careful if you eat daylily tubers,
since they can cause diuretic or laxative reactions in some people.
- Mint (Mentha spp.), mint family (Lamiaceae). Has the minty-fresh
flavor everyone is familiar with. The various mints include apple mint,
orange mint, peppermint, and spearmint. Used in tabbouleh, mint
sauces, garnishing drinks, in cakes and ice creams. Mint flowers are
delicate additions to your cooking. Since you won't find these along
with familiar mint leaves in stores, you may have to grow your own for
- Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), nasturtium family (Tropaeolaceae).
Nasturtium petals impart a spicy-peppery flavor to dishes. The curious
round leaves are also edible. They can also be used in flower vinegars
and vinaigrette salad dressings, as well as sauces such as beurre blanc.
Experiment with them in Italian cooking along with tomatoes, cheese,
and pastas. The gorgeous bright orange, scarlet, or yellow petals make
fantastic garnishes to many foods.
- Pansy (hybrids of Viola tricolor and the horned violet V. cornuta), violet
family (Violaceae). The name of this favorite garden bloom comes
from the French word pensee, meaning "thought" or "thinking of you."
The countenance-like blooms are thought to represent someone's face
in deep contemplation. Experiment with these facelike flowers in your
kitchen. They are perfect tasty additions in pasta or potato salads, and
dark syrups. An imaginative chef in St. Louis (Barry Marcus) has
used large, dark pansy varieties to look up at diners from inside large,
rounded ravioli! They are a perfect adornment that add zesty colors
and interest to many dishes.
- Rose (Rosa spp.), rose family (Rosaceae). Rose petals, with their
engaging, sweet scent, make exquisite sauces. Rose petals can also
be added to julienned vegetables and used in salads and vinaigrettes.
Don't forget them in desserts, as colorful, fragrant, and tasty additions
to sherbet. Roses, and their loose petals, make wonderful sprinkled
trousseau additions to meals as garnishes and on‑table decorations.
Some believe that the tastiest roses to use are species including the
Japanese rose (Rosa rugosa), Damask rose (Rosa x damascena), or
apothecary rose (Rosa gallica). The hybrid known as the cabbage rose
(Rosa x centifolia) is grown extensively in Eastern Europe to make rose
water and rose-petal jam.
- Sage (Salvia officinalis), mint family (Lamiaceae). For centuries sages
have been thought to have powerful curative and healing properties.
It is not surprising that they have found their way into the cuisines of
diverse cultures. Try mixing sage flowers into soups, salads, and savory
dishes, including those with mushrooms and fish. Again, these are the
delicate sage flowers, not the familiar and easily obtained leaves of the
same plant. The stems of some varieties are bitter, so it may be best to
pick off the flowers first.
- Signet marigold (Tagetes signata), daisy family (Asteraceae). This true
marigold, native to New Mexico through Mexico to Argentina, has
the best flavor of any marigolds, like a spicy version of tarragon. Marigolds
can be harmful if eaten in large amounts; please exercise caution
by eating them only occasionally and in moderation. Marigold petals
are wonderful in marigold butter, deviled eggs, and in potato salad.
Try them also with quiches, pastas, and sweet desserts including fruit
- Squash blossoms (Cucurbita pepo var.), squash and gourd family
(Cucurbitaceae). These colorful yellow-orange blossoms add a delicious
floral and vegetal flavor to other ingredients. This is an excellent
culling method for preventing too many large tough zucchini in your
home garden. Simply pick off and cook the female zucchini or squash
blossoms (look for the pickle-shaped ovary at the base of the blossoms)
for the table. Squash blossoms go great with peppers and corn,
Mexican masa-flour tamales, or Italian pasta dishes.