Edible Flowers

You can let your flowers do true double duty by using edible delicacies as décor and food. Imagine your buffet table covered with delicate, edible beauties; trays garnished with gardenias, lavender, or sunflowers; salads filled with a variety of greens and colorful blossoms; your cake covered in delicious petals sparkling with organic sugar crystals.

Dandelions are edible. The common yellow flower that we think of as a pesky weed is actually considered to be an herb. It has been used throughout history medicinally; the Chinese have used dandelion to treat colds, bronchitis, pneumonia, ulcers, and obesity. There are many culinary recipes that include dandelions as well.

Many flowers are edible as long as they are grown organically and not treated with any other chemicals or pesticides. Any flowers you buy from a normal floral shop or grocery store flower section are not made to be eaten. They have probably been treated with all kinds of chemicals, preservatives, and even dyes. However, if you buy flowers from a certified organic farm it is safe to eat them. Always ask first, though; some flowers look very similar to each other and while one may be safe the other may be poisonous. For instance, regular violets are safe to eat but African violets, a common houseplant, are not. Also, don't ever eat wildflowers, especially ones by the side of the road; you never know what they have been exposed to.

Edible flowers can be used extensively in your bouquets, decorations, and food. Keep in mind that if you use flowers from plants that bear fruit — orange blossoms, lemon flowers, squash flowers — that will be one less fruit for each flower you pick. If you pick the flower, there will be nothing to bloom into the fruit or vegetable. If you want both flowers and fruit or vegetables to harvest, plant twice as many.

While many flowers are edible, the following is a list of some of the most common ones that you may find at a local farm or that you can grow yourself to be sure they are free of pesticides and other chemicals.

  • Borage has small, light-purple flowers with a delicate vegetable flavor.

  • Broccoli has small dainty white flowers with a slight broccoli taste.

  • Calendula is also known as pot marigold. It is bright yellow to orange with daisy-like petals; it has a slightly bitter flavor. It is often used in place of saffron. Calendula is a great garnish on sweets.

  • Chamomile is a well-known herb used for tea and many medicinal purposes; it has small dainty white petals with a yellow center. It looks like a tiny daisy. Chamomile is very mild with a sweet flavor that's perfect as a garnish for sweets or salads.

  • Chives are hollow grass-like stalks that are often used in soups and on baked potatoes. They bloom with fluffy light purple flowers in spring.

  • Day lilies can be eaten in bud or in full-bloom form. They have a sweet vegetable-like flavor and are great in salads. The lighter their color, the sweeter they taste.

  • Gardenias have a very fragrant white bloom similar in appearance to a rose. They have a very mild flavor. They are excellent for bridal presentations with their big, fragrant blooms.

  • Hibiscus flowers are flat and broad with red petals and a very sweet flavor.

  • Honeysuckle has small white to golden fragrant flowers that smell and taste like sweet honey.

  • Jasmine flowers are white to golden and very fragrant with a soft perfume-like flavor.

  • Lavender is made up of lilac-purple flowers clustered on stalks. The flowers have a mild and sweet taste.

  • Lemon trees produce small white blooms that have a sweet flavor.

  • Nasturtiums grow in six colors: cream, mahogany, scarlet, cherry-rose, salmon, and tangerine. They have a very strong spicy flavor similar to peppers. They are great for salads.

  • Orange blossoms are delicate, sweet-flavored white flowers.

  • Pansies bloom in beautiful shades of blue, purple, maroon, yellow, and red. They look beautiful on desserts and are commonly used to decorate cakes and other sweet edibles. Pansies have a sweet flavor.

  • Roses are the flower most often equated with love. More than 20,000 varieties of roses exist, both natural and man-made. Roses have a very fragrant flavor and should only be used sparingly.

  • Sage is a common cooking herb with a strong aroma and flavor. Its flowers are blue-violet.

  • Squash flowers (acorn, butternut, and zucchini) are rather large and are yellow to bright orange in color. Very tender and mildly sweet, they can be eaten as a bud or as an open flower.

  • Sunflowers have beautiful petals in shades of yellow, gold, orange, and red. The petals are mild and sweet, and you can also eat the seeds, which have a nutty flavor.

  • Tulips come in many colors and are members of the lily family. They have a beanlike flavor.

  • Violets are beautiful deep purple flowers similar in appearance to pansies. They have a sweet and mild flavor. Do not eat African violets.

Herbs also offer pleasing texture and variety for both visual and edible appeal. Some herbs bloom with edible flowers that can be incorporated into your floral fantasy display. Some common herbs that are relatively easy to find fresh or to grow in a kitchen garden or window box are basil, chives, oregano, parsley, and several varieties of mint.

Fresh herbs and herb flowers frozen into ice cube trays make an elegant addition to punch bowls, pitchers, or glasses of tea, water, and lemonade. Some of the best herbs to add to ice cube trays are lavender, mint, fennel, sage, chamomile, and whole cloves. Cloves are particularly tasty with orange and apple drinks.

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