Edible Flowers in history
Edible flowers have a long culinary history. We know that in the ancient world Crocus flowers were being used in the kitchen. Thousands of years ago, the crocus was being cultivated for its stamen, saffron. The Persians used saffron in their food. Egypt priests used it in their elixirs and potions for temple rituals. Lotus flowers and water lilies were also common as edible flowers.
Saffron was being used in the Ancient Greek kitchen too. I the ancient Rome they cultivated mustard flowers, thyme flowers, and borage flowers. Water lily flowers, dandelion, and squash and pumpkin flowers are even mentioned in the bible. But also in Europe edible flowers were not uncommon. For example, Charles the great insisted that chive flowers are grown in his gardens as his source of power.
From the fifteenth-century borage flowers; daisies, violet, and gillyflowers were typical for culinary use in England. In the Elizabethan, the diet of the poor was complemented with pot marigolds, violets, roses, nasturtium, chrysanthemum, day lilies, bee balm, and borage. But it was not until 200 years later before edible flowers moved up the ranks of the class system. Finally, they were in vogue and entered the royal and wealthy aristocratic kitchens.
Edible flowers in modern kitchens
Modern Chefs gave edible flowers a new place in modern cuisine. Michel Bras and Marc Veyrat, both three-star French chefs, legitimized the use of edible flowers in the 1990s. Together with micro greens and baby leaves, they conquered the world of professional chefs and amateur cooks. Today edible flowers are not only accepted as a garnish but also as an integral part of flavor and texture. Today you can find edible flowers in the cooling counter of many supermarkets.
Health benefits of edible flowers
Edible flowers are not only a beautiful decoration; they are healthy too. For example, dandelions are rich in Vitamin C. Some flowers contain Vitamin D, like pumpkin flowers. Or even Vitamin E, like rose petals. Lavender contains Vitamin A. Edible flowers also contain minerals like potassium or iron and even calcium. And there are even more health benefits.
Calendula and elderberry flowers, for example, aid digestion. California poppies, chamomile, and lavender reduce stress levels and support a healthy sleep. The most exciting compounds in flowers are phytochemicals like flavonoids (responsible for the vibrant color) and antioxidants. These compounds can fight cancer, lower cholesterol levels and prolong our lives by preventing coronary artery disease and stroke.
Hibiscus is one of the healthiest flowers, containing substantial amounts of antioxidants. Violets reduce inflammation and are relieving for respiratory tract discomforts. So there are good reasons to include edible flowers into your diet!
Picking and Storage of edible flowers
Always buy your edible flowers from a trusted, organic food supplier or a home garden. You don’t want to poison yourself with pesticides! Flowers from commercial florists and roadsides are not safe to eat. The best time of the day to pick your flowers is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This way you ensure that the water content is at its highest to prolong shelf life, and the colors are brightest.
You should select and snip insects with a little stalk to avoid bruising and tearing. Gently wash your picked flowers in cold water to remove dirt and to refresh them. Always remove and discard flower stamens and the pistil. You should also remove the white base on the flowers, which is usually bitter. Place your washed flowers in a single layer on absorbent paper in a sealed Container. Store in the refrigerator and use as soon as possible.
Tips on how to use edible flowers safely
- Only eat organic grown flowers or flowers which you have grown yourself
- Make sure to eat only flowers which are known to be edible
- Never pick flowers on roadsides or public parks, they may be polluted or treated with chemicals
- Remove pistils and stamens before eating
- To keep flowers fresh, wrap them in moist paper towels.
Preservation of edible flowers
- Sugaring, Glazing
Dissolve sugar in water in a ratio 2:1, with a few drops of almond extract or rosewater. Dip flowers in the solution; dry a little, then dip in castor sugar. Brush twice to make sure every part of the blossom is coated with sugar. Shake off any excess. Place on a fine wire rack or on paper towels and dry in a single layer in warm air, away from direct sunlight, for one to five days. Store in airtight containers, layered on baking paper or waxed paper at room temperature. I found a useful tutorial on how to candy flowers on YouTube (made by Shayda Campbell) which I want to share. She uses egg white for the glazing – substitute with sugar water as in the recipe above to make it plant-based.
- Flower Sugar
Mix 1 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of dried flowers and allow to infuse for at least 10 days before using. Store in an airtight container.
- Drying edible flowers
There are two different ways to dry flower buds that I would recommend. First of all, carefully pick your flowers early in the morning, before the blossoms are open. Rinse the buds and drain well. Make sure to remove any insects.
During summer time I love to spread my flower buds on a baking tray. I expose them to the sun until they are completely dry, which takes no longer than one day. To speed up drying time, use your oven. Bake your petals for 10-15 minutes at 200 Degree, or until they are completely dry. Store in light-tight paper bags.
- Pickling Flower Buds
You can pickle caper buds, nasturtium seed pods. Or the buds of chicory. Chinese leek, mibuna, misone and shiso. If you want to pickle flower buds or seed pods, pick them in the morning when they are tightly closed.
Basic Pickling Prine:
Use 100 grams fresh buds, heat 1/2 cup of vinegar (wine or sherry) with 1/2 cup water and 1 tbsp of salt. Bring to the boil for a few minutes and allow to cool. Place rinsed buds in small sterilized jars and cover with liquid before sealing.
Spicy Pickling Brine:
For 100 grams fresh buds, use 1 garlic clove (if you like it), 2-3 peppercorns, a few celery seeds, the zest or slivered rind of 1/2 lemon, 1/4 tsp pickling spice, 1 clove, 1/2 tsp sugar, and a small sliced onion or shallot. The pickled buds are edible after 3 days and will keep for years. Refrigerate after opening.
- Flower Vinegar
To infuse vinegar with edible flowers, use 1/3 cup fresh flowers per 1 cup vinegar. Store in a cool and dark place und use up within a week.
- Flower Waters
Collect open edible flowers, remove pistils and stamens and any white pith stem, and boil them in clean water. Keep in the fridge and use quickly. Add a spoonful to beverages or any liquids used to soak or cook oatmeal.
- Flower Infused Waters
You think water is boring? Me too! That’s why I started to infuse water with different flavors like lemon, woodruff, berries, cucumber – AND flowers, of course. Flowers do not add any taste to your infused water, but it look’s beautiful. Am I right?
List of edible flowers by season
wild garlic, begonia, chrysanthemum, dahlia, daisies, lavender, matthiola, tulip, dandelion
apple, aster, wild garlic, comfrey, borage, dill, meadow thistle, anchusa, okra, fennel, lilac, daisies, marigold, campanula, crimson bee balm, camomile, nasturtium, papaver rhoeas, garlic, verbascum thapsus, squash, stock, lime blossom, snapdragon, dandelion, hollyhock, melissa, mint, evening primrose, carnation, oregano, geranium, petunia, peonies, phlox, primula, marguerites, marigold, roses, red clover, arugula, sage, yarrow, scurvy, golden poppy, chive, black elderberry, sunflower, day lily, thyme, tulips, woodruff, cornflower, hyssop, chicory, courgettes
- Autumn: comfrey, daisies, bell flower, chamomile, petunia, roses, red clover, alysum
You will find a list with more than 130 edible flowers in the left sidebar!
List of edible flowers by color
Anise Hyssop, Basil, Chive, Garlic, Hollyhock, Johnny-Jump-Up, Lavender, New England Aster, Mint, Passion Flower, Sage, Wisteria, Rose, Viola, Hibiscus, Viola, Violet
Anchusa, Bachelor’s Buttons, Borage, Chicory, Cornflower, Lavender, Rosemary, Snapdragon, Forget-me-not
Artichoke, Broccoli, Dill, Fennel, Green Cauliflower, Green Chrysanthemum, Hollyhock, Rosebud
Bachelor’s Buttons, Chive, English Daisy, Hollyhock, New England Aster, Rose
Carnation, Columbine, Geranium, Hibiscus, Hollyhock, Nasturtium, Peony, Pineapple Sage, Red Clover, Rose, Snapdragon, Tulip
Arugula, Basil, Bachelor’s Buttons, Broad Bean, Carnation, Chamomile, Chervil, Clover, Daisy, Elderberry, Gardenia, Hollyhock, Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Lilac, Linden, Lovage, Mint, Pansy, Pea, Peony, Radish, Rose, Strawberry, Sweet Woodruff, Thyme, Tulip Violet, Watercress
Calendula, Chamomile, Crocus Saffron, Chrysanthemum, Dandelion, Hollyhock, Johnny-Jump-Up, Lotus, Marigold, Narcissus, Geranium, Nasturtium, Okra, Peony, Rose, Squash, Sunflower, Tulip, Violet, Yucca
My Top 5 Edible Flowers
- New England Aster
New England Asters are my all-time-favorite edible flowers. They are also known as autumn asters, and they are blooming from August till October. New England asters are available in pink, purple, blue and white and they have a yellow center. We grow different varieties in our garden. I can’t get enough of them – their bright color transforms the entire garden in a sea of flowers. If you want to use New England Flowers in your kitchen, you have to pick the petals from the stem and use them fresh or dried.
Roses are beautiful flowers with many different colors and varieties. Unfortunately, they need a lot of care, that’s why we limit the number of roses in our cottage garden. We have about ten different species from yellow to pink, white and red. Some of them are ramblers; others grow into a bush. Rose petals are best to use fresh, but you can use them dry as well. The taste of dried rose petals is rather distinct, so use them sparingly. A teaspoon sprinkled on top of Nice Cream, or a Parfait is fine.
I am a huge fan of blue flowers; they are pretty on every kind of food. Corn flowers come in different varieties, blue, pink and pale pink. Right now we grow only the blue variety, but I always buy dried edible pink and pale pink cornflowers. I love to sprinkle them on my porridge or overnight oats. Cornflowers are very easy to grow, so you should consider planting your own in a pot. Or find a meadow where you can pick them.
- English Daisies
You all know the standard daisies (called Bellis perennis) you’ll find everywhere. This year I also started to grow English Daisies, which come in striking two-toned colors like pink or red. Daisies are one of the few flowers you can eat complete with the stem, no picking of buds necessary. They look beautiful on smoothie bowls, overnight oats or even bento boxes, which I take to work. Daisies are easy to grow in pots and absolutely worth planting on your own.
Borage, also known as star flowers, is special. How beautiful are these little flowers? Borage already grew in our garden when we bought it, and it seeds itself. The leaves are edible too (it’s said they have a cucumber-like taste) but I am only interested in the flowers. They bloom from early summer to mid-august, and I use them quite often.
Edible Flowers & Leaves (The Culinary Library Book 2), D and P Gramp