Some of the breathtaking blossoms in our gardens may be much more than just eye candy—the number of plants that have edible flowers is quite impressive. Here, we have a look at a selection of these nutritious culinary delights that can bring a touch of uniqueness and elegance to your dinner table.

Nutrients from flowers

Although each edible flower boasts its own nutritional highlights, edible flowers in general share some praiseworthy dietary qualities.

  • Pollen can be a rich source of protein.
  • Nectar is rather sweet; it’s a source of various forms of sugars and a range of amino acids.
  • Petals often contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Preparing edible flowers

For maximum flavour and appeal, select flowers at their peak and use as soon as possible. The best time for picking is in the early morning, when plants are the most filled with water. Pistils and stamens are to be removed from most flowers before eating, though in some instances the whole flower can be eaten.

Cautions

Not all flowers are edible. Some flowers simply taste bad, while others are poisonous. Eat flowers only if you are certain that they are edible.

Consuming edible flowers in very large quantities may cause gastrointestinal distress. Avoid giving edible flowers to small children, as they can be especially sensitive to these effects. Also keep in mind that if you have gastrointestinal ulcers, kidney disease, or allergies, then it’s best to avoid edible flowers altogether.

Finally, only eat flowers that have not been sprayed with any sort of chemical—preferably those that have been organically grown.

Pansies, Viola

Yes, several plants in the Viola genus have edible flowers, but please only consider the species listed here, as not all Viola species are safe to consume. Some of the plants mentioned here are often referred to as, or share the common name, pansy.

Viola cornuta is known as tufted pansy or horned violet. This pretty little spreading evergreen perennial is often treated as an annual. Its slightly scented flowers give a mild wintergreen flavour. The flowers appear from spring into early summer and sporadically after that. There are several different coloured varieties available—a favourite is King Henry, with showy purple flowers and a yellow throat.

Viola x wittrockiana is the familiar pansy. Many different coloured cultivars (often with two or three colours on the same flower) have been developed from this perennial that is often treated as an annual. It blooms from June to September. The flowers have a slightly grasslike flavour with a hint of wintergreen.

Viola tricolor is known as heartsease or Johnny-jump-up. Treated as an annual, it bears small flowers with three colours: deep violet, light blue or white, and gold. These have a wintergreen-like flavour and appear from June to September.

Culinary suggestions

Try the three aforementioned Viola flowers in salads, soups, pasta, desserts, and with fruit. The whole flower can be eaten.

Nutrients

Violas contain vitamins C and A and antioxidants such as anthocyanin, a flavonoid.

Roses, Rosa species

Roses hardly need an introduction. The flavour given by their petals depends on the type of rose, colour of flower, and soil conditions and can vary considerably from sweet to spicy. Darker varieties give a stronger flavour. Only the petals are edible (remove the white petal bases or heels), and they’re best picked in summer when they are just coming into flower.

Culinary suggestions

Try rose petals in salads, sprinkled on desserts, and added to drinks.

Nutrients

Rose petals are very rich in vitamin C, though less so than rosehips.

Pot marigolds or calendula, Calendula officinalis

Many beautiful cultivars in various colours have been developed from this summer- and fall-blooming annual species. These have a slightly bitter flavour that can range from tangy to spicy. The petals have a taste similar to saffron but are less expensive, so this plant is sometimes referred to as “poor man’s saffron.” Only the flower petals are to be eaten. Pick just after the flowers have fully opened.

Culinary suggestions

The petals can be used fresh or dried to flavour soups, sauces and stews, and cheese and egg dishes, or tossed onto a salad for flavour and colour appeal.

Nutrients

Nutritionally, calendula petals contain vitamins A and C, plus high amounts of antioxidants such as carotenoids.

Bergamot or bee balm, Monarda didyma

Bergamot is a spidery, red flowered perennial that blooms all summer, often until frost. Several cultivars have been developed in colours such as pink, purple, and salmon.

Culinary suggestions

The flowers and leaves are edible. The flowers have a minty, sweet flavour and scent, ideal for salads.

Nutrients

Bergamot flowers contain flavonoids such as rutin and quercetin.

Nasturtiums, Tropaeolum majus

Nasturtium is an annual, either in a dwarf bushy form or as a short climbing vine. The plant prefers poorer, well-drained soils and full sun, but will stop flowering in prolonged heat. The brilliant-coloured flowers come in orange, yellow, red, white, scarlet, and bicoloured and appear from May to September. The spicy fragranced flowers should be eaten fresh and have a peppery flavour similar to watercress. The entire flower is edible: buds, seeds, flowers, and leaves.

Culinary suggestions

Try nasturtiums in cheese dishes, with appetizers, and in salads and sandwiches, or experiment! The pickled flower buds are an excellent substitute for capers.

Nutrients

Nutritionally, nasturtiums are rich in vitamin C, plus iron and antioxidants, with a lesser amount of phosphorus.

Garden mums, Chrysanthemum x morifolium (Syn: Dendranthema x morifolium)

The perennial garden mums are associated with autumn, as they are in full bloom from late summer until frost. There are countless cultivars in yellow, orange, red, maroon, bronze, lavender, and white colours, with various sized and shaped flower heads from spidery to globe to daisylike. Only the flower petals are to be eaten; the white bases of the petals are too bitter and should be removed.

Culinary suggestions

Be adventurous with the flower petals in recipes such as soups and salads, though keep in mind that the flowers must be added to the dish at the very last moment to avoid wilting.

Nutrients

Garden mum flower petals contain flavonoids, vitamin A,and vitamin K.

Dianthus (certain species)

Dianthus plumarius

is a summer blooming perennial with fragrant, mostly pink-coloured flowers. The hybrid Rainbow Loveliness has spidery, deeply fringed flowers that have a sweet and clovelike scent and flavour.

Sweet William, Dianthus barbatus

is a familiar early-summer-blooming biennial with clusters of variously coloured, mostly unscented flowers.

Carnations (clove pink, gillyflower), Dianthus caryophyllus

are all-summer-blooming perennials with very fragrant flowers. The scent hints at clove or nutmeg. The petals are surprisingly sweet—just remove the bitter white bases.

Culinary suggestions

Try the petals in many dishes where this fragrance and flavour is desired. Sweet William petals do well in fish dishes, marmalade, or where a sweet clovelike flavour is wanted. Edible carnation petals shine in desserts, soups, stews, and sauces, or tossed into a salad.

Nutrients

Dianthus species contain flavonoids, found in their petals.

Go to "Cooking with Edible Flowers" for recipes that incorporate the flowers discussed in this article. 

About the Author

Jesse Vernon Trail is an author, curriculum developer, and instructor on horticulture, environment, sustainability, natural history, herbs, and nutrition topics.