Edible flower power

By Sarah Watson, forager

© Blog words and images copyright Wild Feast, all rights reserved

Flowers beautify our homes and surroundings. Lilac and English lavender are much-loved garden stalwarts. Cheery dandelions and daisies brighten lawns. Colourful tulips and marigolds enliven flowerbeds, and primroses and violets grace the hedgerows. These floral treasures aren’t just a feast for the eyes, they can all be eaten…

Edible blooms have long been used; the Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Romans added them to food and drink. In today’s fashionable restaurant dishes and stylish social media foodie posts, flowers look vibrant and elegant. You can buy edible blossoms from supermarkets, or order them online from flower farms nowadays, but did you know many flowers in our gardens, urban places and countryside can be used in everyday food, for free?!

English lavender in flower

As well as giving colour and charm to our food, edible blooms can add crispness and taste, ranging from sweet and floral to savoury and spicy. Flowers are being turned to anew for the flavours they can bring to food and drink, sometimes as a way to help cut our sugar and alcohol intake.

And flowers really do have power! They’re sources of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre, and can be rich in antioxidants that may help protect our bodies from disease. The age-old practice of using flowers as medicine is much in use by herbalists today.

My pavlova with forget-me-not, speedwell, primrose, rosemary, green alkanet and red clover flowers @wild.feast

Modern research suggests some flowers may be useful to treat physical or mental illnesses. Even looking at them helps us feel better: A study showed patients in hospital rooms with flowers needed less pain medication and felt more positive than patients in rooms without.

So feed yourself with nutritious flowers! Create stunning salads with borage, daisies, honesty and dandelion petals. Infuse vinegar with red clover, flowering currant or elderflower, and pickle chive blossoms, or the buds of wild garlic, dandelion or ox-eye daisy.

Salad with flowers of garlic mustard, yellow archangel, wild garlic, wintercress and ground ivy @wild.feast

Perfect for decorating cakes and desserts are daisies, violets, forget-me-nots, primroses and cornflower petals. Make syrups and cordials from honeysuckle, rose, elderflower, flowering currant, hawthorn and cherry blossom. Mince flowers into sugar, butter, buttercream icing, whipped cream or soft cheese – try rose petals or rosemary, and in savoury dishes, nasturtiums or chives.

Dry marigold petals, English lavender, chamomile or fennel flowers to use in teas, or as a baking ingredient or spice. Stuff courgette blossoms with cream cheese. Dip wild garlic flower-heads and ox eye daisies in tempura batter and fry for a crispy, delicious treat.

Fennel flowers

As nutritional information on edible flowers is limited, it’s best just to eat them in moderation. Not all are edible; some, like foxglove, monkshood, hemlock, larkspur, lily of the valley and even the daffodil, are potentially deadly.  Others may have toxic stems, leaves, bulbs, roots, berries or seeds – like tulips, where it’s best just to eat the petals and remove the other flower parts. Check with a good foraging book or expert website.

Wild flowers are essential food for bees, butterflies, other insects, and even dormice, so leave plenty behind. Here’s a useful link from the Royal Horticultural Society for insect-friendly flowers to plant if you have a garden. NB not all of these are edible.

Flower foraging tips:

  • Avoid any which may have been treated with chemicals, such as pesticides, or come into contact with untreated manure, like those grown for bouquets and gardens.
  • Avoid harvesting from busy roadsides where they can absorb poisonous heavy metals, or places domestic animals have been.
  • Pick recently opened flowers which look fresh and clean with no sign of bird poo. Spreading them on a tray outdoors for half an hour or so should allow any insects to escape.
  • Be aware that they could trigger allergic reactions, especially for those with hayfever, asthma or severe allergies.
  • For those who have a health condition, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, check which flower types are suitable.

Find out more about using the floral gems in gardens, towns and the country in my edible blooms list.

As always, be 100% sure of your identification before eating. Use a good plant ID book and research what you intend to eat – if in doubt, leave it out.

Discover more about identifying and cooking with wild edible plants on a Wild Feast foraging & cookery course.  Get wild food and drink tips and updates on course dates on Facebook, or sign up for my e-newsletter (option to unsubscribe at any time).

Happy foraging!

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