Which flowers are edible?
Discover where to source edible flowers, how we came to eat these beautiful delicacies, and which ones taste best in recipes.
Not only are they gorgeous to look at but some flowers are edible, too, and they can add a new dimension to your cooking. Decorating cakes is the obvious way to use them, but your experimentation doesn’t need to stop there – you can use edible flowers in a wide variety of other dishes and recipes, and chefs and cooks are embracing the trend – particularly in restaurant dishes.
Flowers have been used in cooking for centuries, from the Romans to the Incas, right up to the present day. The practice was particularly fashionable in Victorian times, when big-house cooks loved putting violets, primroses, borage and nasturtiums in salads. Blooms were also preserved in vinegar so they could be used during the winter.
You can capture the flavours of flowers by infusing butters and sugars (lavender being the most popular example; see below), which means you can enjoy the tastes all year round. In spring and early summer, courgette flowers are perfect for stuffing with goat’s cheese and deep-frying – something Italian, French and Spanish cooks love to do (we like to add a drizzling of honey). And sage blossoms are wonderful infused in butter (the flavour is similar to the herb, but milder).
IMPORTANT NOTE Before you do anything, though, it’s vital to make sure the flowers you’d like to cook with are edible and unsprayed. Flowers to avoid include daffodils, crocuses, foxgloves, rhododendrons, lily-of-the-valley and wisteria.
Here are a few ideas to try…
Nasturtiums and pansies
These are often used as a decorative garnish because of their bright colours. Pansies don’t have a huge amount of flavour but their pretty purple and yellow colours look beautiful (see below). Nasturtiums, on the other hand, have a wonderful peppery taste, which makes them a fantastic addition to salads or as an edible garnish.
A popular flower to cook with, it can be used in a wide range of dishes – usually sweet recipes, from mousses to biscuits, scones to shortbread. The distinctive floral flavour is perfect for infusing into sugar to preserve the summer scent all year long. However you use it, do so sparingly as the flavour is intense and borders on soapy if you include too much of it.
Middle Eastern recipes often include the taste of rose – either in dried petal form or rose water – and the flavour makes wonderful syrups and jellies. The flavour works in savoury or sweet dishes, but it’s another one where it’s best to add a little first, then taste, as the flavour is intense and different brands of rose water vary enormously in their potency. You can always add, but you can’t take away…
The deeper the colour, the sweeter they taste, with a flavour reminiscent of childhood sweets. As well as being a pretty decoration for cakes and salads, the flavour works well in sorbets – or try freezing them in ice cubes (pansies work brilliantly for this too)..
These beautifully golden flowers taste similar to saffron and are good in pasta and rice dishes.
Where to get edible flowers
If you can’t get flowers from your garden, you can buy them at your local greengrocer or online at a number of retailers including Fine Food Specialist, Maddocks Farm Organics, First Leaf, Greens of Devon and Waitrose.