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Culinary Endeavors with Edible Flowers

By Megan Gross, Horticulture/Natural Resource Agent, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension

I don’t have many charming gardening stories from my youth. The fact is, I was one of those Midwest suburbanites with little connection to food or land. For a kick, my friends and I used to dare each other to eat the honeysuckle flowers off the neighbors’ shrub, just so we could make rude faces at each other and spit. My parents swore me off eating anything that grew wild near our home, threatening I would die a convulsive death from the slightest nibble. With that bit of sound, scientific advice, I made absolutely certain not to swallow those honeysuckle flowers. And, besides, spitting was way more fun.

It wasn’t until my first plant identification class in college that I partook in flower eating, or eating any plant parts that didn’t come in a can, for that matter. I would bring home red clover, dandelion, and violets to throw in a salad that my roommates would then consider contaminated. I still wonder if the universal threat of convulsions subconsciously bid them waywardly. Anyway, I was comfortable starting with those flowers; they are easy to identify and easy to find.

But lets not deter from the fact that flowers with charm can still be poisonous. Parents should be cautious indeed of little ones feasting in the flower garden. Such caution, however, should not impede us from tossing known edible flowers in the ice-cube tray, Jell-O mold or dinner salad.

Some common garden flowers that are toxic (parents take note) include amaryllis, buttercup, calla lily, clematis, crocus, daphne, delphinium, foxglove, iris, lobelia, and all Nicotiana species.

The list of edible flowers is delightfully longer. By the way, unless otherwise noted, all the flowers I mention are easy to grow in this area.

  • English chamomile has a sweet apple flavor and can be steeped for tea or served as a dessert garnish. Note that ragweed sufferers may also be allergic to chamomile and should drink no more than one cup of chamomile cup a day.
  • Anise hyssop is a lavender flower with a sweet, licorice flavor. Use to sweeten any salad or dessert.
  • Marigolds have a tangy, peppery flavor. If not using your marigold right away, dry it and store for later.
  • Squash flowers taste great stir-fried.
  • Hollyhock and gladiolus can be used as a garnish or as a container for dip. Both taste bland to slightly bitter.
  • Daylilies, when cooked, taste not unlike asparagus or zucchini.
  • Hibiscus is a tropical flower often grown indoors and used to flavor teas. The flower has a mild cranberry or citrus flavor.

Other edible flowers include lavender, lilac, apple/crabapple blossom, oxeye daisy (Noxious weed! Eat up!), borage, chive, chicory, chrysanthemum, rose, nasturtium, yucca, petunia, tulip, and, of course, the saporous honeysuckle. I’m sure you will have truckloads of fun impressing your friends and family with the gourmet flair edible flowers will bestow upon your cooking. I only ask that amidst your culinary endeavors with edible flowers you don’t forget to take dares and spit every now and then.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010