I like to use edible flowers - both fresh and dried - in my cooking. The fragrance, the color, the range of petal shapes - it all makes them irresistible to me. Spring and summer are when I encounter the widest range of edible blossoms, and because I get a lot of questions related to sourcing and using edible flowers, I thought I'd write up a few of the things I do to ensure I have a supply throughout the year.
Before consuming any flower, check with a medical or plant expert. You need to know exactly what you’re consuming. Also, please keep in mind, not all parts of the flower are edible, and some varietals should be avoided if you are pregnant or nursing. There are some many good online and offline references, so be sure to read up.
Books About Edible Flowers
Books about edible flowers are a great way to learn about this rich topic and there are some wonderful new titles available. These are a few to look for:
- Edible Flowers: How, Why, and When We Eat Flowers by Monica Nelson — I contributed a miso soup with chamomile recipe to this beautifully comprehensive title from the founding creative and photo director of Wilder Quarterly. The book highlights 100 edible flowers arranged alphabetically along with recipes from a wide range of chefs and cooks. And, if you’re looking for an even deeper dive, there is a fantastic list of related books on the topic in the back of the book.
- The Edible Flower: A Modern Guide to Growing, Cooking and Eating Edible Flowers by Erin Bunting
- Eat Your Flowers: A Cookbook by Loria Stern
- Cooking with Flowers: Sweet and Savory Recipes with Rose Petals, Lilacs, Lavender, and Other Edible Flowers by Miche Bacher
- The Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasy (1999)
Where to Buy Edible Flowers
Farmers’ markets are a great place to buy edible flowers. Ask if you don’t see them displayed. Because they are fragile, farmers often keep them in a cooler. Beyond that, you can sometimes find them in the produce department of certain grocery stores, typically refrigerated near the herbs.
Grow Your Own Edible Flowers
The most economic way to source edible flowers is to grow them yourself. Harvesting flowers from your own yard is incredibly rewarding (and beautiful!). Chive flowers, thyme and oregano flowers, lemon blossoms, and rose geranium are in bloom at different times throughout the year in our yard. They’re often the perfect accent that makes a salad or cake extra special. Look for plants at your local nursery or chat with any plant seller at your local farmers’ market, they often focus on edible varietals. There are also seed packets of available online and at garden centers.
What Are Some Common Edible Flowers?
Hibiscus, camomile, rose, violet, calendula, chive, basil, thyme, zucchini blossom, and nasturtium are commonly used in cooking, baking and beverages. There is a more comprehensive list below. Keep in mind, not all flowers are edible, some are poisonous, and proper identification is essential. Again, not all parts of the flower are edible, and some varietals should be avoided if you are pregnant or nursing, so please read up with some of the references I link to up above.
What to Make with Edible Flowers
I’ve included a number of the things I've learned down below, in the section that normally hosts the recipe. One of my favorite things to do, with certain edible flowers, is simply dry the petals. These organic rose petals (pictured) are about halfway through the process of drying, instructions below. They lose an incredible amount of volume as they dry, so even if you feel as if you're starting with more petals than you could possibly use, keep in mind you'll end up with far less than when you started.
There are many amazing cooks and chefs working with edible flowers. One of my favorites is April Valencia at Masa Memory.
The #edibleflowers hashtag has nearly a million posts. You’ll see a lot of flower cookies, flowers on cakes, petals in ice cubes and the like. And then the occasional floral wildcard. Follow along to see the creative uses.
Rose Geranium Lime Sugar
One of the most prolific plants in my yard is a rose geranium. Sprawling out every year from a shallow pot, it determinedly sends up pretty lilac-shaded flowers. Keep an eagle eye out for rose geranium at your local nursery, the leaves perfume the world around them - perfect for infusing sugars, alcohol, and baked goods. I included a recipe for this rose geranium sugar in the Spice / Herb / Flower / Zest PDF I made for members of this site. You can find it in your account if you’re a member, or sign-up to be a member here.
I've included more ideas and information in the recipe section below. Please let me know if you have other favorite edible flower ideas, uses, or references. I saw a rose petal paste the other day that looked incredible, and I'm always looking for other ideas, techniques to explore. On the list to try: Lilac Honey, Lilac Ice Cream or Lilac Sugar, & chive blossom vinegar xo -h
Here’s a rose petal granola, and a beautiful rhubarb rosewater syrup. These buttermilk berry muffins are dusted with rose cinnamon sugar. And I like to infuse iced green tea with a bit of rose in the infusion. Lastly, here’s a post I wrote about how to dry herbs, many of the best practices related to edible flowers applies here as well. Enjoy!
- any quantity of edible flowers
You basically have two options - you can buy them, or grow them. If you buy them, be sure to seek out organically grown flowers free of any spray or pesticides. If you grown them yourself, keep in mind you'll eventually be consuming them, so treat them accordingly.
hibiscus, rose, rose geranium, violet, calendula, chive, basil, thyme, cherry blossom, zucchini blossom, and nasturtium. Keep in mind, not all flowers are edible, some are poisonous, and proper identification is essential. Again, not all parts of the flower are edible, and some varietals should be avoided if you are pregnant or nursing, so please read up with some of the references I link to up above. On the rose front, heirloom varietals are broadly thought to have better flavor and fragrance, with newer roses often bred for appearance rather than flavor (fragrance).
Once cut, I tend to keep flowers in clean water until I'm ready to use them. They typically last this way from 1-5 days, with regular refreshing of the water. I'll trim or pluck petals from the vase as I need them. If I get the sense I might not use them entirely while fresh, I move to dry them before they go bad. (instructions below)
Drying flowers requires patience and a bit of space. I'll start by saying I haven't had luck drying flowers in a low-heat oven. The petals quickly lose color and vibrancy. Instead, I arrange them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Leave them for about a week, using your fingertips to toss them every day or so, or until dry and crisp. I usually wait until they seem completely dry, and then give them another couple of days to rid themselves of any residual moisture I might not be able to sense. At this point transfer to a tight jar or container.
Please refer to the list of books about edible flowers in the post about for more information and inspiration.