Edible flowers have been used for culinary purposes for many centuries. The first documented use of edible flowers has been traced back to 140 B.C. Many countries and cultures all around the world use edible flowers in their everyday cooking, and the practice has become popular in recent years in the United States.
One of the most common uses for edible flowers is in cake decorating. These flowers can transform a plain, ordinary cake into an amazing work of art, and the possibilities are endless.
It is very important to learn how to purchase edible flowers to avoid accidental poisoning or allergic reactions. The best and safest way to acquire these flowers is to grow them yourself. That way you can be sure that they are pesticide and chemical free. Never ingest flowers purchased from a florist, garden center or nursery, since they have most likely been treated with pesticides. Don't ingest flowers that you have picked on the side of the road or in an unfamiliar place. Be sure to wash the flowers thoroughly before using them for cooking or garnish.
For most flowers, only the petals are edible. Remove the pistils and stamens before eating, and introduce your digestive system to only one flower species at a time. Ingesting too many flowers or too many varieties at once can make you very sick, so use sparingly until you know how each species will affect you.
There are a wide variety of flavors in the edible flower world. There are books and charts available that will describe the flavors and uses of edible flowers, but here are some of the more common ones:
- Spicy/Peppery Flavor: Arugula, Calendula, Carnation, Marigold, Nasturtium
- Citrus or Lemony Flavor: Basil, Lemon Verbena, Lilac, Thyme
- Sweet Flavor: Anise Hyssop, Fennel, Gardenia, Jasmine, Violet
- Bland or Nondescript Flavor: Hollyhock, Impatiens, Johnny-Jump-Up, Primrose, Snapdragon
There are many flowers that make excellent teas such as Bee Balm, Chamomile, Jasmine, Peony and Rose Hips. Many edible flowers are used primarily as garnishes, since their visual appeal far outweighs their culinary usage.
Some of the flowers that should be completely avoided are Azalea, Crocus, Daffodil, Foxglove, Oleander, Rhododendron and Wisteria to name a few. Before growing or purchasing any flower for culinary use, be sure to check its safety with a reliable source. If in doubt, do not consume flowers or use them as a garnish on or around foods and drinks.