Traditionally, flowers have always been used to decorate both internal and external spaces or given as gifts at momentous ceremonies or as a pretty and thoughtful present. However, they have far more uses. All flowers have some amount of essential oil in their petals. These oils are what give them their distinctive smells, and in some cases, flavors as well. These perfumed oils make many flowers quite suitable for culinary uses, from sweet baked goods to savory dishes and even drinks. However, not all flowers are benign. Some can cause a variety of illnesses, from rashes to poisoning. Read on to learn how to incorporate flowers in food and which blooms to stay away from.

Flowers You Can Eat

Flowers grow on many different types of plants and accordingly, they impart different flavors when combined with food. There are commonly known garden herb plants, such as basil, chives, coriander (cilantro), marjoram and radish that are usually cultivated for their leaves. However, the flowers can also be harvested and used in cooked dishes. Moroccan cuisine in particular makes strong use of herbs and flowers. These flowers are delightful to add to fresh salads, injecting a burst of unorthodox flavor as well as color into a normally bland mixture of leaves. Some flowers, such as violets, have a sweet taste and can also be candied with crystallized sugar to create pretty and delicately tasty decorations for cakes. Lavender in particular is an incredibly versatile flower and can be used to add a light, fresh taste in baking as well as in cold drinks, such as lemonade. Roses are especially used widely in Middle Eastern cuisine, for their decadent aroma and flavor. Rose water can be made at home or purchased in ethnic stores, and used in desserts and drinks. The petals themselves can also be used in teas and jellies, or to flavor alcoholic beverages, vinaigrettes, or poultry rubs. Even some flowers that are normally solely grown for their beauty, such as carnations, chrysanthemums, gardenias, and roses can be mixed into foods or steeped for some time in a light vegetable oil to extract their essences. Many of the sweeter flowers can also be used to flavor jams and jellies, providing a subtle but pleasant taste. Teas can be brewed from other flowers like chamomile, hibiscus, lemon verbena and the exotic jasmine. Some weeds may also prove useful, as in the case of the lowly dandelion, which can be used to create a strong wine. The benefit of using fresh flowers in cooking is that many of them have the added bonus of medicinal effects.

Not All Flowers Can Be Eaten

Herb GardenAs with all plants and other botanicals, be very careful when choosing flowers to incorporate in food. Not all flowers can be eaten; in fact some can cause illnesses and even poisoning. Pregnant women and infants in particular should be very careful. It is best to consult with a doctor since some essential oils can cause harmful effects in expecting mothers and fetuses. For example, the flowers of the clover plant, while not fatal, can cause digestion problems. Others, such as mustard and sweet pea flowers can cause rashes and poisoning. In large amounts, sage (including the leaves) can cause a strong hallucinatory effect. When plucking flowers, it is best to take them from your own garden where you know exactly which plants are which. Alternatively, visit your local garden center and ask for specific plants to avoid any confusion. When cooking with flowers, make sure to wash them well to remove any dirt, pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Be cautious when harvesting flowers, since while some of them may be eaten, the neighboring plant parts such as leaves, hairs and sap may be toxic or irritating. Never eat wild berries when plucking flowers, since many of them are also toxic. Browse through the links below to become familiar with other types of flowers that are dangerous to consume and make sure to stay away from them.


Header image by: Ask Chef Dennis