Eating flowers may seem like a recent fad or trend. It’s kind of exciting and new to see flowers decorate your plate, or to have a friend toss marigold into a salad at a dinner party. But the truth is humans have been consuming flowers for thousands of years, dating back to Roman times. In fact, the first recorded mention of edible flowers was in 140 B.C.
Romans and Greeks famously added calendula (a variety of marigold flowers) to their salads. Dandelions are mentioned in the Bible as a bitter herb, and it’s believed the Romans feasted on entire meals that were solely comprised of flowers such as violets and rose petals. The Ancient Aztecs and Mayans also used flowers both in cooking and in religious rituals.
Flowers can be added to your meals to give your dish a pop of color. You can add some rose hips and red asters to butter for a bright red delicacy that’s almost always a conversation starter at a dinner party, particularly for the newly initiated flower gourmand. And don’t forget the yellow flower buds of broccoli! So if you think flowers are a new fad, the fact is you’ve probably been enjoying them for years!
How to Safely Eat Edible Flowers
The flavor profiles of flowers range from spicy and herb-like, to floral and fragrant. Flowers are commonly used in salads, teas, as syrups, and in desserts (like honeysuckle ice cream)!
As fun as it can be to add flowers to your meals, it can also be a bit…dangerous. We’re not trying to scare you off flowers, but it’s important to keep a few essential tips in mind before you start pulling leaves off your Valentine’s Day bouquet.
Start by referencing this article to make sure you’re consuming flowers that are edible. If you’re not sure, consult a book on edible flowers and plants to double check. It’s also wise to consume flowers you have grown yourself or that you know for sure are safe for consumption.
The idea is to avoid any edible flowers that have been contaminated with dangerous pesticides not safe for consumption (unlike some pesticides used in farming commercial produce). Most flowers from a florist or nursery have likely been treated with these kinds of pesticides.
Avoid roadside flowers or flowers from a public park. These have also likely been treated with a pesticide or herbicide that is dangerous for consumption. Roadside flowers are likely contaminated with pollutants from car exhaust.
Unless otherwise advised, only eat the petals. The pistils and stamens are almost always not to be eaten. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, it’s safest to introduce flowers slowly, to be sure that you do not exacerbate your allergies.
If you eat a flower that is not deemed edible, you may have a hazardous reaction that could make you violently sick. Use edible flowers sparingly in your recipes (especially at first) as they may introduce digestive complications.
Now that you’re ready to experiment with eating flowers, let’s break down which ones are indeed edible and their flavor profiles.
50 Edible Flowers to Enjoy
Most herb flowers taste much like their herbal counterparts. Many citrus blossoms have…well, a citrus flavor. There are also a surprising number of flowers which tend to have a licorice-like or peppery flavor and aroma. Many of the most fragrant and popular flowers, such as roses, lavender, and violets, are not surprisingly the most delicious and have edible petals that are primarily used in meals.
While many flowers are indeed edible, not all flowers taste very good. In fact, many flowers are kind of bland and boring. There’s a reason why some of the more floral and fragrant flowers are also the most popular—they tend to have the most complex flavors.
- Allium: The allium family of flowers includes leeks, chive blossoms, garlic, and garlic chives, and all are considered edible (and delicious)!
- Angelica: A pale lavender-blue or deep rose flower that has a decidedly licorice-like flavor.
- Anise Hyssop: The flowers and leaves taste a lot like anise or licorice.
- Arugula: Flower blossoms from arugula are similar to the leafy green leaves. Peppery in flavor.
- Bachelor’s Button: The petals are edible but grassy in flavor.
- Basil: Similar to the leaves, basil petals are slightly milder in flavor and range in color from white to pink to lavender. Sauté them into pesto sauce!
- Bee Balm: These red flowers are minty in flavor.
- Begonia: All begonia varieties, including the tuberous begonia and wax begonias, are sour or bitter. The tuberous are slightly more citrusy-sour. The stems can be used in recipes that call for rhubarb. Please note that the stems can be dangerous to individuals suffering from kidney stones, gout, or rheumatism.
- Borage: Surprisingly, these taste a lot like cucumbers!
- Calendula/Marigold: Popular to eat, with a peppery, tangy, spicy flavor profile, these edible petals can be used in recipes that call for saffron as they are similar in taste. In fact, calendula is often referred to as the “poor man’s saffron.” Calendula has famously been used for centuries. Legend tells of monks in the Middle Ages renaming calendula “pot marigold” for its frequent use in soups and stews. Calendula adds a nice pop of golden color to a dish. Much like saffron, the yellow color infuses whatever it’s cooked with. Only the petals are edible.
- Carnations/Dianthus: The petals of carnations are sweet, similar to their aroma.
- Chamomile: Often dried or used fresh in teas, chamomile resembles daisies in appearance, but with a lovely taste. Allergy sufferers may want to avoid, or at least go slowly.
- Chervil: Anise-like in flavor with delicate blossoms.
- Chicory: Often used as a coffee substitute in many European countries, chicory is bitter and earthy tasting. Both the petals and buds can be consumed.
- Chrysanthemum: Available in almost every color of the rainbow, chrysanthemums come in so many different flavors, from very peppery to pungent. Only the petals are edible.
- Cilantro: Cilantro flowers are similar in taste to the leaves. In fact, just like the leaves, people either love them or hate them.
- Citrus Blossoms: These include the flower blossoms of oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, and kumquats. They’re often quite sweet and very fragrant. Use sparingly, or they may overly perfume a dish.
- Clover: Clover flowers are similar to the herb with a sweet licorice-like flavor profile.
- Dandelion: A very easy flower to grow, edible dandelions have a sweet, honey-like flavor that is more pronounced when picked at a young age. More mature flowers have a more bitter taste. The buds tend to be tastier than the flowers. Dandelions can also be made into wine! The freshly picked young leaves are delicious steamed or tossed in salads. You can even sprinkle dandelion petals over rice dishes for an extra pep of sweetness.
- Daylilies: Daylilies are oddly sweet with a mild vegetable-like flavor that mimics zucchini or asparagus. They’re chewy and dense. Daylilies can be stuffed, used in desserts, or tossed in salads. Daylilies can act as diuretics, so please consume with caution and be sure to purchase from a grocer or market that confirms they are the edible variety.
- Dill: Not surprisingly, dill flower buds taste a lot like the herb’s leaves. Fresh and tangy.
- English Daisy: These bitter petals don’t taste very great, but they look pretty plated with food.
- Fennel: Yellow fennel flowers taste just like the herb, with a slight licorice flavor. They’re also beautifully eye-catching plated with other food.
- Fuschia: Tangy fuchsia flowers are a delicious and beautiful garnish to nearly any dish.
- Gladiolus: Gladiolus are pretty bland in flavor. But you can use their petals in salads as a garnish.
- Hibiscus: Typically served in a tea, hibiscus flowers have a tart flavor similar to that of cranberries. Use sparingly, as the flavor can overwhelm.
- Hollyhock: More bland than flavorful, hollyhock flower petals are pretty garnishes that are also edible.
- Impatiens: These also don’t have much flavor, but they can be candied for a sweet, pretty treat.
- Jasmine: Typically found in tea, edible jasmine flowers are delicious to add to sweet dishes (especially dishes like ice cream or cakes). Use sparingly, as the jasmine flavor can overpower.
- Johnny Jump-up: About as cute as their name, these flowers are slightly minty and perfect to use in salads, pasta, fruit cocktails, and as a garnish in drinks.
- Lavender: Sweet, spicy, and deliciously fragrant, lavender is an incredibly versatile edible flower that can be combined with savory and sweet flavors.
- Lemon Verbena: This is an excellent flower to pair with teas or desserts as it’s similar in flavor to real lemon.
- Lilac: Lilac blossoms have a pungent, citrusy, floral aroma and flavor that is complementary to many sweet dishes or teas. Edible lilacs are delicious in salads and particularly fun to crystallize with egg whites and sugar (aka candied lilacs).
- Mint: These flowers taste just like their leaves—minty and refreshing. Depending on the variety, the intensity of the mint may vary.
- Nasturtium: Easily a favorite among chefs and edible flower aficionados, the nasturtium blossoms are gorgeous and bright and have a sweet, floral flavor that leaves a spicy pepper aftertaste. Nasturtiums can be stuffed like squash blossoms. The leaves can be added to salads. You can even pickle the buds as you would capers. Edible nasturtium can be added to salads, garnish platters, tossed in cheese tortas, open-faced sandwiches, and savory appetizers. The nasturtium is a varied flower that is as palate pleasing as it is beautiful.
- Oregano: Similar to the leaf/herb, oregano flowers are slightly more subtle in taste.
- Pansy: While the petals lack flavor, the entire flower can be eaten and provides a much more robust flavor profile when consumed this way.
- Peony: Made of fallen leaves parboiled and sweetened, peony tea is a favorite in China. Peony water was also popular in the Middle Ages as a drinking water. Peony petals are a gorgeous and sweet addition to punches and lemonades.
- Perennial Phlox: (Please do not confuse with the annual phlox. The annual phlox is not edible!) The perennial phlox has a slightly spicy taste and is delicious in fruit salads.
- Pineapple Guava: Sweet and tropical, pineapple guava blossoms are similar to papaya or melon.
- Primrose/Cowslip: While colorful and vibrant, the primrose is a bit bland (although oddly also sweet). It can be added to salads, cooked like a vegetable, and fermented into wine. The buds can be pickled.
- Radish: Radish flowers are peppery and vibrant in various colors.
- Rose: The white core of the rose is quite bitter, but the petals are delicious and easy to use in a variety of recipes. The darker the petals, the more distinctive the taste. Roses taste similar to strawberries or green apples depending on the variety. They can be frozen in ice cubes to season drinks, cocktails, and punches. The petals are easily made into jams, syrups, butter, and sweet spreads.
- Rosemary: Just like the herb, rosemary flowers taste earthy and smokey and are fantastic to add to any dish that requires rosemary. Rosemary flowers are slightly more mild.
- Sage: Sage blossoms are similar to sage leaves, but milder.
- Scented Geraniums: The flavor of scented geraniums typically corresponds to the specific variety. An orange-spice-scented geranium, for example, will likely have orange-tasting blossoms. They come in a variety of fragrances ranging from lemon and citrus to fruits and spices. Geraniums are delicious sprinkled over desserts or frozen in ice cubes. Please note that the citronelle variety is not edible.
- Squash and Pumpkin Blossoms: These are perfect flower blossoms to stuff—just ask Italian chefs who love stuffed squash blossoms. They both have a savory squash flavor. The stamens are inedible.
- Sunflower: The bud of the sunflower blossom can be steamed much like an artichoke, and sunflowers are best eaten at this stage (when it also tastes like an artichoke). The petals are edible although they are bittersweet.
- Tulips: Tulip petals generally taste like sweet lettuce with a cucumber-like texture and flavor. Only the leaves are edible. Do not ever eat the bulb! Please note that many people have a strong allergic reaction to tulip leaves. If you break out in a rash just by touching them, do not eat them.
- Violets: Edible violet blossoms are floral, beautiful, and sweet. Related to pansies and violas, violets can be used as a garnish or tossed in a salad. They’re also delicious candied or added to desserts and drinks. The heart-shaped leaves taste a bit like spinach when cooked (and are quite tasty this way)!
Prep Your Flowers for Cooking
When you use flowers for cooking, you’ll want to wash them thoroughly with cold water. Let the delicate petals air dry on a paper towel. You can either use them immediately or store wrapped in a damp paper towel in an airtight container for up to a week.