16 Incredible Flowers You Can Eat
A feast for the eyes and the table. Grow bright, bold, beautiful flowering plants that will do double duty!
You may be wondering what flowers humans can eat, as you have seen them decorate drinks, baked treats, salads and more. The answer is a whole lot that you may have never considered before! The truth is they aren’t just pretty decoration, most edible flowers are rich in Vitamin C and are being called one of the ‘superfoods’ when it comes to adding them to your meals, as they boast a wealth of individual benefits. The petals of red flowers, for instance, contain antioxidants, which help reduce bad cholesterol levels in the body and increase good cholesterol levels.
How to care for edible flowers
The majority of the plants that have all this goodness in them will need a sunny position with well-draining soil. Don’t forget to feed them well, preferably with an organic fertiliser high in potassium to boost flower production, as what you put into them is what you’ll get out. In terms of beauty, flavour and goodness!
Do bear in mind that not all of these varieties grow all year round, so have a look at what’s on offer at your garden centre and choose from those.
Pretty Palatable Petals
If you’re looking for edible flowers for cakes, roses are one of the best, making it look as lovely as it tastes. Depending on the type and colour you have, the flavour of rose petals (particularly the rugosa or gallica officinalis varieties) have flavours of apples, strawberries, or the smell of roses! The darker flowers have a more pronounced taste. Do cut off the white portion of the petals which taste rather bitter.
You can steam the unopened flowers like you would artichokes (yes, in case you didn’t know, the edible artichoke bud is where the flower comes from), or once the flower has opened, use the bittersweet petals in salads.
Petals can be parboiled and sweetened slightly to make a delicious tea, and can also be added to a summer drink or salad.
- Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
This lovely shrub grows best in frost-free areas, but if you look after it in winter by giving it protection and mulching over its roots, it should grow happily on the Highveld. They’re heavy feeders and need lots of water, but don’t let them stand and get wet feet, so if you have clay soil, this one is not for you. While they put forth loads of flowers, each one may only last for a day or two. The flowers of the H. rosa-sinensis variety have a cranberry-like flavour, and are great when dried out and used as a tea.
- Viola tricolor
The edible flowers of violas are probably, along with nasturtiums, one of the first varieties that people started experimenting with when it comes to cooking. These winter annuals fill in any space in any kind of garden, and are just the thing for brightening up a winter’s day. They’re great in soups, salads, desserts or just with a cheese board.
Peppery! Want to add some spice to your salads, then these flowers are a must-add. You can also slip them onto cheese and tomato sandwiches. The plants are great in a veggie patch as they’ll attract aphids away from other edibles, or you can grow the trailing variety in a hanging basket or pot. All they need is a full sun position and they’ll grow a treat.
This autumn flowering bright spark is a must-have sunny addition to the winter garden, they’re just as good for using to cure what ails you. Really easy to care for and will grow well in any soil and in pots. Just deadhead them (if you haven’t already harvested the petals to use) to encourage more prolific blooming. The petals, the flavour of which ranges from spicy, to peppery, bitter or tangy, are used in teas and homemade skincare lotions for their anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. They also happen to be great in scrambled eggs.
- Carnations and other Dianthus
If you love the scent and taste of cloves, these are for you. The annual varieties of carnations and others in the Dianthus family can be planted most of the year. So pop some into a pot in a sunny spot. You can use the flowers in salads, cakes and puddings.
- Hemerocallis (Day Lily)
This easy to grow, lily-like perennial has flowers which flower for a day (hence the name), yet produces many day after day. Just get them while they’re fresh! The petals taste slightly sweet with a slight melon flavour, or as some say, a bit like a sweet lettuce leaf, with much the same texture, so be sure to add some to your salads. You can also stuff and bake them. Like many edible plants, they need a full sun position, so let them have their day in the sun. Eat these in moderation or else you may end up running for the loo!
Only the flowers from the perennial species, not the annual, are edible. So ensure you have the right one. The flowers, which vary in colour from reddish-purple to pink, have a slightly spicy taste and are great in fruit salads.
- Chrysanthemum coronarium
Any one of the colours will do! They range from red, through orange and yellow, to white. Maybe a little bitter or peppery for some tastes, but their tanginess adds something extra to a salad. Remove the bitter flower base first then blanch the petals and use those.
Definitely an acquired taste, but very good for you. The buds and new flowers are sweetest, with older flowers being quite bitter, so get them young. They’re good to eat steamed or raw, or you can make them into wine. Scatter petals over rice dishes to add some extra flavour. All parts of the plant are edible and good to boost the immune system.
The flowers open from the bottom of the flower spike up and can last a couple of weeks if you remove the flowers and eat them. They are traditionally added to vegetable soups and are also used to flavour some soy sauces.
Great in the garden, fabulous in the kitchen. They taste a bit the same as day lily flowers, but do make sure you remove the anthers and only eat the petals – and not too many of them.
- Tulbaghia (Wild Garlic)
Waterwise, hardy and entirely delicious. The whole plant is edible, but most people only know about using the leaves like they would chives. But you can also add the flowers to salads.
- Jasminum multipartitum (Starry wild Jasmine)
This glorious climber with its large, starry white flowers, is another easy-to-care-for indigenous plant. You can use the flowers in salads, baking or in teas.
These are some other flowers that you can try: basil, lavender (the L. dentata buds are particularly good for making lavender shortbread), rosemary, sage, broccoli, dill and fennel, cornflower, fuchsia, honeysuckle, peas (NOT sweetpeas!) and radish.
Not every flower is edible.
Don’t eat the pistils, anthers, stamens or pollen – just the petals.
Only use organic flowers you’ve grown yourself, or you’ve procured from the grocery store. Don’t pick those on the roadside!
Don’t use pesticides or chemicals on any edibles.
Wash flowers before use, making sure there are no goggas trapped inside them.
Use sparingly on the whole.
If in doubt, don’t! Check out possible side effects that certain flowers may have on you, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions. If you have allergies, introduce flowers gradually.