Thirty years ago, flowers were everywhere thanks to the influence of major cultural touchstones like fashion brand Laura Ashley and Donna Martin’s entire wardrobe in early seasons of Beverly Hills 90210. However, the floral trend wasn’t confined to the world of fashion. Edible flowers became a symbol of sophisticated haute cuisine; salads were strewn with violets and pansies while white wine spritzers were chilled with ice cubes containing suspended flower petals. Thankfully, along with all things floral and all things from the early ’90s, edible flowers are making a comeback! Whether this is your first experience with the edible flower trend or it’s familiar territory, we’ll teach you how to buy and safely use flowers for cooking, baking, and cocktail-making.
Safety First: Buying and Selecting Edible Flowers
First things first: It’s important to buy flowers from reputable, organic farms and greenhouses specializing in edible flowers to ensure you’re consuming a product free from harmful pesticides and herbicides. Resist the urge to snip flowers from store-bought bouquets (there’s a good chance they’ve been sprayed with pesticides) and even from your own backyard (where there’s a chance the flowers may have inadvertently been exposed to pesticides). Jan Billington, co-owner of Maddocks Farm Organics, an organic farm specializing in fresh edible flowers, is a firm believer in purchasing edible flowers from specialty farms for the taste alone. In particular, she loves the standout flavor of edible roses: “Organic edible roses are a world apart from the insipid supermarket offering, which have no perfume and should most definitely not be eaten because the average florist rose has been sprayed up to 90 times with some very toxic chemicals. We grow the finest David Austin roses, and they all smell wonderful and all taste different. Some are sold to make chocolates; some [are sold for] jam, and we have just started working with a lovely little Cornish couple called Tinkture to make a rose gin. It is made with fresh rose petals, and the flavor is wonderful,” Billington tells HealthyWay. Another advantage to buying edible flowers from specialty growers is the reduced risk of accidentally buying flowers that are inedible and/or poisonous. A 2017 article in The Guardian, “Tasty or toxic? Beware of the trend for edible flowers,” highlights the ways in which social media can inadvisably and accidentally promote the use of toxic flowers (narcissi, a beautiful flower that can cause painful sores and swelling, were used as an example). For more information on what to avoid, check out this list of 20 poisonous flowers.
Where to Buy Edible Flowers
Buying edible flowers from licensed growers will almost guarantee your flowers have been grown without the use of harmful pesticides in a sustainable, controlled environment. If you’re fortunate enough to live close to an edible flower farm you can actually visit the facilities and in some cases, pick your own flowers. Luckily, for those of us not in driving distance of an edible flower farm, there are still several options for ordering flowers online. For a random assortment of fresh, hydroponically grown edible flowers, we love Melissa’s Assorted Edible Flowers (which uses next day air shipping in the U.S.). If you’re in the United Kingdom, Maddocks Farm Organics will ship organic, fresh edible flowers via overnight courier. Gourmet Sweet Botanicals specializes in fresh and crystalized edible flowers and will ship anywhere in the U.S. (and in Canada on certain days of the week) using FedEx Priority Overnight or UPS Next Day Air.
Using Edible Flowers in the Kitchen
Edible flowers are so much more than a garnish; preliminary research suggests some could be potentially rich sources of polyphenols and antioxidants, and they can be used to make tasty infusions, added to salads and other delicate dishes, or served as special ingredients in their own right. “I love it when edible flowers are used as an ingredient within a recipe rather than just as a garnish on the side of the plate,” Billington says. “There are so many different flavors within the edible flower world, and this is often overlooked by chefs.” If you want to explore the various flavors of edible flowers, try one of our top-five faves.
5 Beautiful (and Tasty!) Edible Flowers to Try
Regularly used in Middle Eastern cooking, rose petals have a pleasant floral smell and taste. Use dried or fresh rose petals in your favorite gin-based cocktail, in this recipe for homemade harissa, or try them as a cute vegan topping for any dairy-free dessert!
Chive blossoms are small purple flowers that have a faint, slightly sweet chive flavor. Use chive blossoms in a delicate salad with microgreens or try Billington’s favorite method. “Cutting chive flowers and steeping them in a white wine or white balsamic vinegar makes the most beautiful pink onion-flavored vinegar,” Billington says, “which is wonderful in salad dressing, and also extremely good for you.”
Fresh violets add a gorgeous pop of purple to any salad or cocktail (an especially nice feature, as there are very few naturally-colored purple ingredients one can use to complement a green salad). The lightly perfumed taste of violets pairs well with sparkling wines such as prosecco and cava; try floating a single violet on top of the wine before serving.
With their soft orange and yellow color, zucchini (or squash) blossoms taste like a milder version of summer squash. Zucchini blossoms are particularly delicious when they’ve been stuffed with delicate ricotta cheese and then gently pan-fried in olive oil or butter. For a gorgeous yet simple side dish, zucchini blossoms can be quickly sautéed and served with crème fraiche-spiked scrambled eggs.
Lavender has a distinct, soapy taste that can quickly overpower all other flavors if it isn’t used judiciously. When used with a light touch, the taste of lavender is similar to that of mint and rosemary. Use small amounts of dried lavender in dough for cookies and scones, whipped into cream and butter, or as part of a dry rub for lamb and goat meat. Now that you know which edible flowers are safe to consume, try using them yourself in this recipe for cold brew hibiscus flower iced tea. Delightfully tangy and refreshing, homemade hibiscus tea (also called Agua de Jamaica, rosella, or sorrel depending on where you’re drinking it) is an easy way to enjoy the taste of edible flowers with very little effort. Dried hibiscus flowers can be purchased in Latin and Caribbean grocery stores, from greenhouses specializing in edible flowers, or online (we love these organic dried hibiscus flowers from Frontier Co-op). Unlike traditional iced tea, hibiscus tea doesn’t contain any strong bitter flavors and is free from caffeine (in fact, you’ll find cold brewed hibiscus tea tastes more like cranberry juice than tea). This is a basic recipe for cold brew hibiscus flower tea, so for additional flavor try steeping slices of fresh ginger, cinnamon sticks, or fresh mint leaves with the hibiscus flowers. If you plan on serving this tea to guests, try doubling the recipe and making elegant hibiscus flower tea ice cubes with the extra liquid.
Cold Brew Hibiscus Flower Iced Tea
Yield: 4 Cups of Cold Brew Hibiscus Flower Iced Tea
- ½ cup dried hibiscus flowers
- 4 cups cold water (filtered if possible)
- Fresh ginger, mint, or a cinnamon stick (optional)
- Measuring cup
- Long-handled spoon
- Large tea ball or infuser (such as this FORLIFE Capsule Infuser)
- Fine-mesh sieve (if you don’t have a large tea ball or infuser)
- Add the dried hibiscus flowers to the tea ball or infuser and place in the pitcher (or add the dried hibiscus flowers directly to the bottom of the pitcher).
- Cover the dried flowers with cold water and gently stir with a long-handled spoon. Refrigerate for a minimum of 12 hours and up to 24 hours (remove the hibiscus at this point to prevent bitter flavors from developing).
- Remove the tea ball or infuser (or pour the loose tea through a fine-mesh sieve). Serve cold with plenty of ice. Cold brewed hibiscus iced tea can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
Don’t be a late bloomer—hop on board and see what the edible flower trend is all about for yourself.