Tips for Cooking With Edible Flowers

edible flowers in a bowl
Peggy Trowbridge Filippone

We've all seen meals in fancy restaurants that come elaborately plated with things that seem purely decorative. Flowers look beautiful as garnishes, but are they meant to be eaten? Any flower you see on your plate in a restaurant can be consumed. If you're looking for a way to bring some of that same decorative flair to your next dinner party there are a few things to consider first. While many flowers are edible, some are poisonous. If you're not sure if a plant is edible, always check a trusted resource before giving it a taste test.  

What Do Flowers Taste Like?

Bean blossoms have a sweet, beany flavor. Nasturtiums have a wonderful, peppery flavor similar to watercress and their pickled buds can be substituted for more expensive capers. Borage tastes like cucumber, and miniature pansies (Johny-Jump-Ups) have a mild wintergreen taste. Banana flowers have an artichoke-like flavor and are a great addition to a salad.

Violets, roses, and lavender lend a sweet flavor to salads or desserts. Bright yellow calendulas are an economical alternative to expensive, though not quite as pungent. Other flowers may have a spicy or peppermint flavor.

When in doubt, taste, but first be sure it's not poisonous.

Edible Flowers Tips and Hints

Using edible flowers as a garnish makes any dish look special on your table, but be sure the flavor of the flower compliments the dish. Here are a few ideas to beautify your recipes and perk up your taste buds:

  • Place a colorful gladiolus or hibiscus flower (remove the stamen and pistil) in a clear glass bowl and fill with your favorite dip.
  • Sprinkle edible flowers in your green salads for a splash of color and taste.
  • Freeze whole small flowers into ice rings or cubes for a pretty addition to punches and other beverages.
  • Use in flavored oils, vinaigrettes, jellies, and marinades.
  • One of the most popular uses is candied or crystallized flowers, used to decorate and fine.
  • Asthmatics or others who suffer allergic reactions to composite-type flowers (calendula, chicory, chrysanthemum, daisy, English daisy, and marigold) should be on alert for possible allergic reaction.
  • Never use non-edible flowers as a garnish. You must assume that if guests find a flower on a plate of food, they will think it edible.
  • Use flowers sparingly in your recipes, particularly if you are not accustomed to eating them. Too much of a pretty thing can lead to digestive problems.
  • If you are prone to allergies, introduce flowers in small amounts so you can judge their effect. Some have a much more pronounced flavor than others, so you'll need to judge accordingly.
  • The leaves of some flowers also have culinary uses, but be sure to check a trusted food reference source before experimenting.