Food-safe blooms add a gorgeous, fresh touch to any dish—and they happen to taste great too.
After a long winter, what could be more cheerful than the sudden burst of colour from beautiful blossoms? Fresh flowers can enhance any dish with a little summery spirit. Their versatility makes them a simple, elegant way to garnish all kinds of meals, from salads to cakes to cocktails. Here’s a handy breakdown for finding and using edible flowers, and our favourite ones to use for cooking.
Which blooms can be consumed?
Flowers from the market or the store can be consumed as long as they're labelled as food-safe. Some flowers (roses, for example) are technically edible, but you don’t want to be candying the ones in the bouquet aisle. You shouldn’t consume any flowers from nurseries or florists, and if you aren’t absolutely certain a flower is edible, don’t risk it.
If you’re harvesting flowers from the wild, ensure that you aren’t plucking ones that have grown by the roadside, or anywhere else they might have been exposed to pollutants. Even edible flowers can be an allergy risk, so consume in moderation.
Can you grow your own edible flowers?
Absolutely! But you must make sure not to use any insecticides, fungicides, or herbicides on these plants, as it will render them unsafe for consumption (though they’ll still make a lovely addition to the garden). When harvesting your flowers, try to pick blossoms that are near opening or have just recently opened. Harvest in the early morning when the flowers are cool, as their flavour and scent will decrease as the day goes on.
How do you clean and care for them?
Before using your flowers, make sure to very gently brush off any lingering dirt or little critters (a pastry brush is good for this). Gently wash flowers before using, and take care to remove the stamens and styles, as well as any pollen gathered around them, before you use the petals. Often, the white parts of the petals will be bitter, so trim as necessary. If you aren’t using flowers right away, store them in a resealable container in the fridge.
What are the best edible flowers to cook and bake with?
Chive: Like the chives they grow atop, chive blossoms are wonderfully hardy plants that return year after year—and their stems just happen to be a tasty, popular herb! Chive blossoms are excellent sprinkled over salads, pickled in a quick pickle brine, or scattered over cheesy scalloped potatoes.
Lavender: Lavender has long been a culinary favourite, and for good reason: This plant’s tiny buds have a gorgeous scent, preserved by drying the flower spikes completely before using. Lavender has a very concentrated flavour, so a tiny bit goes a long way when used for cooking. It’s wonderful for infusing cream (to use as whipped cream or ice cream later), or in buttery cookies, or an earl grey scented cake.
Elderflower: These pretty blossoms were recently boosted into international fame when it was announced that they would be a key component of the upcoming royal wedding cake. They have a bright, tart sweetness akin to lychee or nectarines (learn more about them here). The flowers make beautiful garnishes for cakes (but should not be consumed raw), or can be cooked down for flavour in jams. Most commonly, elderflower is cooked into a sugar syrup to enjoy year-round.
Pansy: Between their gorgeous assortment of colours and their delicate blossoms, it’s no surprise that pansies are a popular choice for edible flowers. You can sugar them using the same technique we used on rosemary here. Sugared or plain, they make a charming garnish for cake, trifle, or any dessert you please. They also look gorgeous in if you freeze them into ice cubes, turning any summer drink into sophisticated sipping.
Nasturtium: Nasturtiums can be grown in containers if you don’t have access to a large garden, and as a bonus, you can eat both the flowers and the leaves. They have a slightly peppery flavour (akin to arugula or mustard greens), making them a great flower for salads. Their sharper taste and bright, warm colours also make them a good topper for carrot or ginger cakes.
Zucchini & summer squash: If you don’t have the outdoor space to grow squash, don’t fret; these blossoms are sold all summer long at farmers’ markets. Take extra care to check inside the blooms for stowaways! Zucchini blossoms are wonderful in pasta, fried simply in some oil, or stuffed with goat cheese, battered and fried for a real treat.
Basil: As with chives, one of the bonuses of basil blossoms is that they come with basil! Once basil flowers, the leaves generally lose flavour, so only allow them to bloom at the end of summer, when you’ve had your fill of this classic herb. They are gorgeous on salads, but also make a tasty addition to pasta and fruit platters, plus they’re a wonderful garnish for cocktails.
Borage: Borage flowers have a beautiful blue hue and a mild, refreshing taste almost like cucumber. Only their petals should be used for cooking. They make a lovely addition to salads, fancy sandwiches, iced tea, gin cocktails, and just about any dessert with blueberries in it.