no. 7.237

Edible Flowers

by S.E. Newman and A. Stoven O'Connor *(9/13)

Quick Facts...

  • Proper identification of edible flowers is important.
  • Use flowers that are grown without pesticides.
  • For best flavor, use flowers at their peak.
  • Introduce new flowers into the diet slowly to be able to pinpoint allergic reactions.
  • Edible flowers also may be preserved in oils or vinegars.

Edible flowers have been used in the culinary arts for flavor and garnish for hundreds of years. Early reports indicate that the Romans used flowers in cooking, as did the Chinese, Middle Eastern and Indian cultures. During Queen Victoria’s reign, edible flowers were popular and they are again popular in North America and Europe.

Many flowers are edible and the flowers of most culinary herbs are safe. However, proper identification is essential because some flowers are poisonous and should not be eaten. Many plants have similar common names, which may cause added confusion. Always use the scientific name when choosing a flower. (See Table 1.)

Pick flowers early in the day. Use them at their peak for the best flavor. Avoid unopened blossoms (except daylilies) and wilted or faded flowers. They may have a bitter or unappealing flavor. Do not use flowers that have been sprayed with pesticides, which often occurs along roadsides, or collect flowers from plants that have been fertilized with untreated manure. Generally avoid purchasing flowers from florists, garden centers or nurseries. These flowers are not grown for consumption. Table 2 lists many plants that can be added to food for flavor, aroma, color or garnish.

Fresh flowers also can be preserved for later use. Choose flowers with larger petals, such as pansies, and paint the petals with an egg-white wash. Use a soft brush and dehydrated egg whites to avoid food borne illness. These flowers are edible if the dehydrated egg powder has been pasteurized. After painting, dust the petal with super-fine granulated sugar and dry it. Store preserved flowers in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Avoid dark-colored petals; they turn even darker with this treatment.

flower parts
Figure 1: Flower parts.

Using Edible Flowers

To avoid stomach upset or to determine if there is an allergic reaction, try a small quantity of the new flowers yourself. Edible petals or entire flowers can be eaten. However, remove stems, anthers and pistils because they may be bitter (Figure 1). Use flowers that are free of insects and diseases.

Many edible flowers are high in vitamin C and/or vitamin A, along with other essential nutrients. Use them as garnishes and in salads. Recipes for flowers may be found in the following areas: baking, sauces, jelly, syrup, vinegars, honey, oil, tea, flower-scented sugars, candied flowers, wine and flavored liquors. Flavored vinegars and oils prepared at home have a limited shelf-life and should be stored in the refrigerator (Kendall and Rausch, 2006). Pick the flowers, gently with running water, rinse and place between damp paper towels. Refrigerate until ready to use. Some varieties may last longer if not washed until they are ready to use. Some flowers may be dried and used as dried herbs.

References

Kendall, P. and J. Rausch. 2006. CSU Extension Fact Sheet 9.340, Flavored Vinegars and Oils.

Knight A.P. A Guide to Poisonous House and Garden Plants. Teton New Media. 2006.

Lampe, Kenneth F. AMA Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants, 1985. American Medical Association

Table 1: Some common house and garden plants with toxic plant parts or toxic flowers (not a complete list, if in doubt, consult a poisonous plant reference).
Scientific
name
Common
names
Scientific nameCommon
names
Achillea millefolium Yarrow, milfoil Lantana camara Lantana, red sage, shrub verbena
Anconitum spp. Monkshood Lathyrus spp. Sweet pea (seeds)
Cestrum spp. Day blooming jasmine, Night blooming jasmine    
Clematis spp. Clematis, virgin's bower Lobelia spp. Cardinal flower
Colchicum spp. Crocus Narcissus spp. Daffodil, jonquil
Convallaria majalis Lily of the Valley Nerium oleander Oleander
Daphne mezereum Daphne Nicotiana spp. Flowering tobacco
Datura spp. Jimson weed Papaver somniferum Opium poppy, common poppy
Delphinium spp. Larkspur Phoradendron spp. Mistletoe
Dicentra formosa Bleeding heart Physalis spp. Chinese or Japanese lantern
Digitalis purpurea Foxglove, digitalis Rhododendron spp. Azaleas, rhododendrons, rose bay
Euphorbia spp.1 Euphorbia Ricinus communis Castor bean, African coffee tree
Hippeastum spp. Amaryllis Zantedeschia aethiopica Calla lily
Hyaninthus spp. Hyacinth Zigadenus spp. Death camas, alkaligrass, wild onion

1Poinsettias are not considered poisonous, but they are not edible. If eaten, all plant parts may cause varying degrees of mouth irritation and vomiting, but not death. The cultivated rubber tree Heavea brasiliensis, Manioc or cassava (Manihot), and Castor bean (Rincinus) are close relatives, which are poisonous. With its close genetic ties to the rubber tree, which is where natural latex is derived, those who are sensitive may also be sensitive to the latex from poinsettias.

 
Table 2: Recommended plants with edible flowers.
Plant
name
Type1 Flower
color
Bloom Taste Fragrance Comments
and hints
Abelmoschus aesculentus
Okra, gumbo, gombo
A Yellow, redMid-July to August Mild, sweet and slightly mucilaginous -- Full sun, hot weather; prefers clay to clay loam.
Agstache foeniculum
Anise hyssop
P Lavender July to frost Strong anise, sweet, licorice -- May die back to the ground;readily resows; full sun to light shade; well-drained soil.
Alcea rosea Hollyhock P VariousJuly to frostLittle, slightly bitter -- Best as a garnish or container for dip. Full sun to light shade.
Allium schoenoprasum ChiveP Lavender, red to purpleMay to June Onion, strong Onion Separate florets to serve. Forms clumps; part shade to full sun; indoors.
Allium tuberosum Garlic chive P White August to frost Onion, strongOnion Separate florets to serve. Partial shade to full sun; also indoors.
Anethum graveolens
Dill
AYellow June to frost Stronger than leavesDill Resows readily, tolerates poor soil but prefers well-drained soil; full sun.
Anthemis nobilis English chamomileP White petals; yellow center Late June to frost Sweet apple flavor -- Ragweed sufferers may be allergic to chamomile; drink no more than one cup of tea per day. Prefers moist, well- drained soil; full sun to part shade.
Anthriscus cerefoliumChervilA White May to June Parsley-like, hint of citrus, tarragon-- Start in cold frame.
Begonia x tuberhybrida Tuberous begonia TPWhite, pink, yellow, red, orange and combinationsJuly to August Citrus -- Grow indoors or out; dig tubers each fall, just after frost and store; prefers moist, fertile soil; part to full shade. Only hybrids are edible.
Bellis perennis English daisyPWhite to purple petals April to SeptemberMild to bitter -- Use as garnish or in salads. Thrives incold weather; prefers full sun, moist soil.
Borago officinalis Borage A Blue, purple to lavender June to JulyCucumber -- Use as garnish; may be candied. Full sun; light, poor, dry soil. Attracts bees.
Brassica spp. Broccoli, cauliflower B (grown as A) Buds: blue-green; yellow flower, white buds in cauliflower June to August Broccoli -- Vegetable. Prefers full sun; rich, well-drained soil. Sow indoors six weeks prior to transplant.
Brassica spp. MustardA Yellow April to May Mustard, hot -- Salad garnish. Watch for allergies.
Calendula officinalis
Calendula, pot marigold
A Yellow, gold/orangeJune to AugustTangy and peppery -- Ornamental. Dries well. Prefers cool weather; rich loam; direct sow.
Carthamus tinctorius Safflower, American
safflower, saffron
A Yellow to deep redAugust Bitter flavor -- May impart yellow color to cooked foods. Full sun; light, dry, well-drained soil; start indoors and transplant.
Cercis canadensis Redbud P Pink April Beanlike to tart apple -- Native tree to U.S. ; may be marginal in Colorado. Full sun to part shade; sandy loam; difficult to transplant.
Chrysanthemum coronarium
Garden chrysanthemum, shungiku
P Yellow to white August to October Mild -- Ornamental. Full sun; rich, moist, well-drained soil.
Chrysanthemum leucanthemum Oxeye daisy P White/yellow centerApril to August Mild -- Use as garnish or in salad. Full sun; rich, moist, well-drained soil, invasive.
Cichorium intybus
Chicory
P Blue to lavender July to frostPleasant, mild-bitter similar to endive -- Considered a weed. Grows in most soils; sun to shade; invasive.
Citrus limon
Lemon
P White Varies with variety Citrus, slightly bitter Sweet floral Subtropical tree but may be grown indoors.
Citrus sinensis
Orange
P White Varies Citrus, sweet/strong Perfume,sweetSubtropical tree but may be grown indoors.
Coriandrum sativum
Coriander
A White June to frost Like leaf but milder Fragrant Herb. Sow continuously for several harvests; sun; rich, well-drained soil.
Cucurbita spp.
Squash or pumpkin
A Orange, yellow July to August Mild, raw squash Slightly floral Vegetable. Enrich soil with compost; prefers full sun.
Cynara scolymus
Artichoke
AImmature head: greenFall Artichoke-- Prefers rich soil, abundant moisture; propagate from division for annual harvest.
Dendranthema x grandiflorum
Chrysanthemum
P Red, yellow, pink, orange, purple, white August to October Varieties differ, strong to bitterPungent Ornamental. Full sun; rich, moist, well-drained soil.
Dianthus spp.
Dianthus or pinks
P Pink, white and red June to August Spicy, cloves Some varieties are spicier Ornamental.Tolerates wide range of soils; full sun.
Eruca vesicaria
Rocket, arugula
A White May to frostNutty, smoky, less piquant than leaves-- Salad green. Sow continuously for harvest; full sun to light shade; well-drained soil.
Feijoa sellowiana
Pineapple guava
P White to deep pinkGrow indoors Floral flavor; papaya or exotic melon -- Grow indoors in a greenhouse. Rich,well-drained soil; full sun-light shade.
Foeniculum vulgare
Fennel
P Pale yellow July to August Licorice, milder than leaves, sweet-- Tolerates wide range of soils; part shade to full sun.
Galium odoratum Sweet woodruff P White May Sweet, grassy, vanilla Vanilla Herb or ground cover. May be invasive; prefers shade. Can have a blood thinning effect if eaten in large quantities. It is considered liver toxic.
Gladiolus spp.
Gladiolus
TP Various except true blue 6-8 weeks after planting Mediocre --Best as a container for garnish or dips or spreads.
Hemerocallis fulva
Daylily
P Tawny orange June to July Cooked, combination of asparagus/zucchini -- All parts are edible. Full to part shade; easy to grow. Many Lilies contain alkaloids and are NOT edible. Day Lilies may act as a diuretic or laxative; eat in moderation.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
Hibiscus, China rose, Rose-of-China
P Orange, red or purplish red Late summer Citrus/cranberry flavor -- Subtropical tree but may be grown indoors. Used in many tea flavorings.
Hibiscus syriacus
Rose-of-Sharon
P Red, white, purple, violet July to August Mild, nutty -- Shrub. Prefers well-drained soil; full sun to part shade; deadhead to keep blooming.
Hyssopus officinalis
Hyssop
P Blue, pink, white July to October Bitter; similar to tonic -- Used to flavor chartreuse, a liqueur; strong flavor. Prefers part shade and well-drained soil.
Lavandula angustifolia
Lavender
P Lavender, purple, pink, white June to early AugustHighly perfumed Floral Taste may be very strong depending on the plant.
Levisticum officinale
Lovage
B Yellow, whiteAugust Mild celery -- Herb.
Malus spp.
Apple or crabapple
P White to pinkMaySlightly floral to sour Sweet floral Petals may be candied. Seeds are poisonous. Specimen tree, prefers full sun, fertile soil.
Melissa officinalis
Lemon balm
PCreamy white July to August Lemony, sweet Lemon Herb. May be invasive.
Mentha spp.
Mint
PLavender, pink to white July to September Minty; milder than leavesFresh, mintyHerb. May be invasive; tolerates a wide range of soils; prefers part shade.
Monarda didyma
Bergamot, bee balm, Oswego tea
P Red, pink,white, lavender July to August Tea-like, more aromatic than leavesSweet, perfumed Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies; part shade to full sun; prefers moist, rich soil. Powdery mildew when grown in part shade.
Muscari atlanticum, M. botryoides,
Grape hyacinth
P Pink, blueApril to MayGrapey, slightly sour with bitter aftertaste.Grapey Bulb.
Ocimum basilicum
Basil
A White to pale pinkJuly to frost Milder than leaves, spicy -- Sow continuously for several harvests; well-drained rich soil; full sun.
Origanum majorana
Marjoram
TP Pale pink June to August Spicy, sweet -- Herb. Prefers full sun and dry, alkaline, well-drained soil.
Origanum spp.
Oregano
P White June to August Spicy, pungent-like leaves --Herb. Prefers full sun and dry, alkaline, well-drained soil.
Pelargonium spp.
Scented geranium
TP White, red, pink, purple Varies Like variety selected, e.g., rose, lemon; varies Mild Ornamental. Prefers full sun; light, dry well-drained soil.
Phaseolus coccineus Scarlet runner bean TP Bright orange to scarlet July to August Raw bean but milder--Vegetable. Flower crunchy; use in salad.
Pisum sativum
Garden pea
A White, tinged pink May to JuneRaw peas-- Vegetable. Prefers full sun; sandy, well-drained soil.
Poterium sanguisorba
Burnet
P Red July to August Cucumber -- Salad herb. May be invasive; tolerates wide range of soil; sun or part shade.
Prunus spp.
Plum
P Pink to whiteApril to May Mild, like flower nectar SweetPetals candy well. Pits of mature fruit are poisonous.
Raphanus sativus
Radish
A White, pink, yellow after planting One month Spicy -- Prefers full sun; well-drained, sandy soil but will grow in almost any soil.
Rosa spp.
Rose
P White, pink, yellow, red, orange May to June, September Highly perfumed; sweet to bitterRose Ornamental. Remove sour petal base. Full sun; rich, well-drained soil.
Rosmarinus officinalis
Rosemary
TP Pale blue, dark blue, pink, whiteDepends on cultivar Mild rosemaryDelicate Herb. Do not cook flower. Tolerates full sun to part shade; well-drained, evenly moist soil.
Salvia elegans
Pineapple sage
TP Scarlet September Pineapple/sage overtones -- Herb. Prefers full sun; light, well-drained soil; may be invasive.
Salvia officinalis
Garden sage
P Blue, purple, white, pink May to July Flowery sage, slightly musky -- Herb. Full sun to light shade; sandy, well-drained soil; may be invasive.
Satureja hortensis
Summer savory
APinkJuly to August Mildly peppery, spicy -- Herb. Prefers full sun; light, sandy soil.
Satureja montana
Winter savory,
P Pale blue to purple July to August Mildly peppery, spicy -- Herb. Prefers full sun; light, sandy soil.
Syringa vulgaris
Lilac
P White, pink, purple, lilacApril to MayPerfume, slightly bitter Lilac Candies well. Prefers well-drained, alkaline soil; sun to part shade.
Tagetes erecta
African marigold
A White, gold, yellow, red May to September Variable; some cultivars are strong and bitter Strong, pungentOrnamental. Prefers full sun; well-drained soil.
Tagetes tenuifolia
Signet marigold
A White, gold, yellow, red May to September Citrus; milder than T. erecta -- Ornamental. Prefers full sun; well-drained soil but tolerates many soils.
Taraxacum officinale
Dandelion
P Yellow May to June; fall Bitter -- Eat cooked only. Cool weather; full sun; tolerates wide range of soils.
Thymus spp.
Thyme
P Pink, purple, white July to August Milder than leaves -- Herb. Most creeping thymes have little flavor.
Trifolium pratense Red cloverP Pink, lilac June to September Hay Hay Scatter florets on salad. Tolerates most soils; self sows.
Tropaeolum majus
Nasturtium
A Varies July to August Watercress, peppery -- Container or in salads. Grow in full sun and well-drained soil.
Tulbaghia ciolacea
Society garlic
A or TP LilacSpring Onion flavor -- Best in full sun; tolerates part shade; prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil.
Viola odorata
Violet
P Violet, pink, white April to MaySweet Sweet Ornamental. Candies well. Sun to part shade; moist, well-drained soil.
Viola x wittrockiana
Viola tricolor

Pansy or Johnny Jump-Up
AViolet, white, pink, yellow, multi-colored May to July Stronger than violets-- Ornamental. Prefers cool weather; moist, rich, loamy soil but tolerates many soils.
Yucca filamentosa
Yucca
P Creamy white with purple tingeJuly Hint of artichoke, slightly bitter-- Ornamental. Full sun; well-drained, sandy soil.
1A = annual; B = biennial; P = periennial; TP = tender periennial

*S. E. Newman, Colorado State University Extension greenhouse crops specialist and professor, horticulture and landscape architechture; and A. Stoven O’Connor, Extension horticulture agent, Larimer County. Original publication by K.B. Badertscher, former Colorado State University horticulture agent, Boulder County. 12/96. Revised 9/13.

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Updated Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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