Flowers are a great source of food for pollinators and other beneficial insects in a garden. However, some flowers can also be tasty morsels for humans, too! Besides being beautiful centerpieces in a garden, edible flowers can add a unique flavor—or serve as a garnish—to a variety of dishes.
Do edible flowers taste good? Edible flowers can taste good. However, just like all other food, different types of edible flowers offer unique flavors that appeal to different people; whether a flower tastes good will depend on your palette.
There are several things to keep in mind when determining how edible—and tasty—flowers can be, including their type and the different parts of the flower. In this article, you will find the best-tasting edible flowers, flowers you should avoid eating, and a description of the parts of the flower.
Understanding Flower Anatomy
Although some flowers are classified as “edible,” it is important to note that you should not assume that all parts of that particular flower are safe to eat.
Certain flowers may only have a few elements that are edible—such as the petals—versus the leaves, stem, or other sections of the plant. For example, the red stalks of the rhubarb plant are edible; however, the green leaves, roots, and flowers contain toxic compounds and are not safe to eat.
For that reason, before you try consuming flowers, it is essential first to learn the different working parts of a flower to differentiate the edible portions from the rest.
The parts of a flower include:
- Stamen – The stamen is the male part of the interior section of a flower. It is composed of two parts: the anthers and filaments.
- Anthers – The anthers are responsible for carrying pollen. For that reason, they are often yellow in appearance.
- Filaments – Filaments are thread-like pieces that help hold the anthers upright for pollen collection.
- Pistil – The pistil is the female part of the interior section of a flower. It is composed of three parts: the stigma, style, and ovary.
- Stigma – The stigma is the sticky surface found on top of the pistil. Like anthers, the stigma traps and holds pollen.
- Style – The style is a tube-like structure that functions similarly to a filament in that it holds up the stigma. It leads down to the ovary of the flower.
- Ovary – The ovary contains ovules that eventually become seeds for new flowers.
- Petals – Petals are essential to a flower’s anatomy because they help attract pollinators such as bees.
- Sepals – Sepals are the green petal-like parts that can be found at the base of a flower. Sepals are responsible for protecting the developing bud of the plant.
When preparing flowers to add to a dish, make sure you remove their interior stamens and pistils, in addition to the white, lower petals that can be found adjacent to the stem. These sections of the plant are often very tart or bitter and can interfere with the flavor of the petals or other parts of the plant.
29 Best-Tasting Edible Flowers
It is important to remember that “edible” does not necessarily mean “palatable.” Although some flowers are safe to eat, they may not always offer the best flavor you are looking for to add to your meals. By that same token, some edible flowers do not taste as good as others might.
The following is a list of some of the best-tasting edible flowers, the flavors they commonly have, and dishes they are normally used with:
- Alpine Strawberry (Fragaria vesca var. vesca) – As the name suggests, these flowers have a sweet, strawberry flavor. The leaves of this plant are often used in tea to add a fruity taste.
- Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) – An opposite to the Alpine Strawberry, the Anise Hyssop flower variety has a distinct licorice flavor. Its leaves are also often used in teas.
- Apple/Plum (Malus spp.) – These flowers have a sweet, floral flavor. They can be candied or used as a garnish.
- Arugula (Eruca sativa or Diplotaxis tenuifolia) – Arugula leaves have a very spicy flavor that can be added to a variety of cuisines. However, it is important to use these leaves carefully; they quickly become bitter once the flowers have bloomed.
- Bachelor Buttons (Centaurea cyanus) – These flowers have a combined spicy and sweet flavor. They are most often dried and used in teas or eaten as a garnish in their fresh form.
- Beebalm (Monarda didyma) – Beebalm flowers have a variety of flavors—depending on the species—from citrusy to minty; they can also taste sweet or hot. Many gardeners have claimed that the red Beebalm flower variety offers the best flavor.
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis) – Calendula petals have a similar taste to saffron but are more bitter. For this reason, it can be used as a substitute for saffron, although this plant is often used more for its color rather than flavor.
- Chamomile, German/Roman (Matricaria chamomilla) – These flowers have an apple scent and flavor and are perfect to use with teas.
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – Chives’ flowers and leaves have a distinct onion flavor, ideal to use with soups, salads, or to season vegetables.
- Coriander (Coriander sativum) – Depending on the variety, Coriander can have a flavor similar to anise, cumin, orange, or sage.
- Cuban Oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus) – Most use the Cuban Oregano flower’s leaves for seasoning purposes in Mexican or Italian cuisine. This is because the leaves—as well as the flower—have a stronger oregano flavor compared to other oregano species.
- Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) – When picked young, Dandelion leaves have a unique, honey-like flavor. Older Dandelions have a more bitter flavor. The leaves are often used in salads for consumption.
- Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) – Different stages of the Daylily plant offer different flavors: the flower bud has a taste similar to green beans and eggplant, while the open flower is much milder. Daylily petals are often used in pastries and dips; dried buds are used in soup and other savory dishes.
- Dill (Anethum graveolens) – Dill offers a taste similar to the spice. In addition to the flowers, Dill seeds and foliage are used in pickling, dips, sauces, and seafood dishes.
- Elderberry (Sambucus caerulea) – Elderberry flowers have a sweet flavor and scent, and are most commonly found in teas, jellies and jams, and wine. Only the cooked flowers and berries of the plant are used for consumption; the remainder of the plant—including its stem, leaves, and bark—is inedible.
- Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-Sinensis) – Hibiscus flowers have a mild cranberry and citrus flavor that is perfect to pair with teas.
- Hops (Humulus lupulus) – Hops are well-known for their use in the production of beer.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia or L. Officinalis) – Lavender has a sweet, almost perfume-like flavor that can become more bitter with age. Because of its strength in taste and smell, it is recommended that this flower is used sparingly in dishes and beverages. It is most commonly used with desserts, teas, and lemonade.
- Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citriodora) – Lemon Verbena flowers and leaves have a mild lemon flavor. They are often used in tea when dried, as well as to flavor lemon syrup.
- Lilac (Syringa spp.) – Lilac flowers can range from a light to a strong floral flavor. The flowers are often used in ice creams, soft cheeses, and pastries.
- Mint (Mentha spp.) – As the name suggests, Mint flowers and leaves have a distinct mint flavor, and can be found in teas, fruit salad, cocktails, sauces, and chutneys.
- Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) – Nasturtium flowers and leaves have a peppery flavor. They are commonly used with salads to add a light, spicy taste.
- Pea (Pisum sativum) – Pea flowers have a pea-like flavor and are often sought after to use in salads.
- Pinks (Dianthus caryophyllus) – These flowers have a distinct sweet clove flavor, and are used in sorbets, cold drinks, and salads containing fruit as an ingredient.
- Rose (Rosa rugosa alba, R. rugosa, R. damascena, R. gallica) – Rose petals and rose hips are used in teas and vinaigrettes.
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – Rosemary plants are more commonly harvested for their leaves for seasoning. Foods that benefit from rosemary leaves include salads, pasta, and poultry.
- Scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) – Scented Geranium flowers are often used to flavor jellies, sugar, butter, cakes, tea, and honey because of their diverse flavors—including rose, orange, and mint.
- Squash (Cucurbita spp.) – Squash flowers are used to stuff with cheeses in select dishes and can also be fried.
- Tulip (Tulipa spp.) – Tulip flower petals have a unique pea or bean flavor. They are often used in salads or soft cheeses.
Note that there are over 60 flower varieties commonly used for consumption with many dishes. For a more detailed, extensive list of popular edible flowers, visit the North Carolina State University’s Garden Extension site.
Flowers You Should Avoid Eating
Although some flowers are edible, some are not safe to eat that you should avoid. Inedible flowers include those that are toxic, difficult to eat, or have been treated with pesticides. The following is a list of flower types often deemed inedible.
Naturally Toxic Flowers
Some flowers naturally excrete toxins to discourage animals and insects from consuming or damaging them; these same toxins can also be harmful to humans. Avoid eating flowers that have this defense mechanism.
If you are not sure what kinds of flowers can be poisonous, the North Carolina State University website has a resource where you can look up various plants to find out if they are toxic.
Flowers Treated with Pesticides
There are two types of pesticides you should be aware of that are frequently used with commercial flowers: contact and systemic pesticides.
- Contact pesticides are solutions sprayed on plants to eliminate harmful pests. The solution remains on the surface until it is washed off.
- Systemic pesticides, on the other hand, are absorbed into plant roots and distributed throughout the plant and its many parts to discourage insects from eating and causing damage. Unlike contact pesticides, systemic pesticides remain within the plant and cannot be washed off.
Make sure you do not eat flowers that have been treated with pesticides. If you are choosing flowers from a third-party for consumption, find out information about their source and how they were maintained. If you are purchasing edible flowers from a garden center, ask for pesticide-free or certified organically grown plants.
Flowers with Allergens
When consuming edible flowers, consider your allergies. Your body may have a certain sensitivity when eating different types of flowers. If you are trying plants that are new to your diet, only eat small amounts to see how your body responds.
Do not eat flowers that have been picked or cut from the roadside or other wild sources. Most people are not able to recognize the type of flowers they are (often they are cross-pollinated plants) to determine if they are safe for consumption.
Also, these flowers may have been exposed to a variety of airborne particles—such as car exhaust—and bacteria that could prove harmful when consumed.
Never experiment by eating unfamiliar flowers or plant parts unless you are sure they are harmless. Consult a reliable reference to determine flower edibility, such as the latest edition of the Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants.
Finding Edible Flowers
Trying to guess what kind of flowers are edible or not is quite risky if you do not know what to look for. If you want to try eating flowers and other plants, it is always best to visit your local grocery store first. The edible flowers sold there are specifically grown for consumption by people and are very safe to eat.
Growing Edible Flowers
Of course, rather than purchasing edible flowers from a third-party source, it can also be beneficial to grow your flowers. The seeds can be purchased at your local garden center or online through a reputable source.
If you decide to purchase already-grown edible, annual flowers to transplant into your garden, note that some garden centers and plant nurseries may have treated them with fertilizers and pesticides. Make sure you verify how the flowers were raised previously before deciding to plant them for consumption.
If you plan on growing your flowers to eat, here are some tips to keep in mind to ensure they bloom healthy and taste great after being harvested:
- Take special care when choosing where and when you plant your flowers. These factors can influence the flavor you end up getting from the mature plants.
- Flowers usually grow best in areas that have access to lots of sunlight. The summertime is typically the ideal time to raise flowers.
- If you are transplanting flowers from a nursery or garden center, make sure to flush the soil with water before planting. It is best to remove as much soil from the root ball as possible if the plants have been treated with pesticides or fertilizers.
- Flowers can grow equally well in average organic garden soil or potting soil. Do not plant the flowers in soil that has been treated with a pesticide or fertilizer.
- Most flowers love the sun and require exposure to at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day.
- If you notice garden insects on the flowers, they can be contained by picking them by hand and washing them off with a garden hose. (Note: When using the garden hose method, make sure the water pressure is low; use your hand as a filter in front of the hose opening to sprinkle water over the flowers. Otherwise, if you have a nozzle, make sure the water stream is set to a light mist or spray.) Avoid using pesticides at all costs.
- To protect your flowers from larger pests—such as small animals—plant them within an enclosed or fenced-off area.
- Flower blossoms should be harvested the day you plan on using them. When harvesting, wash them gently before setting them aside to dry. If they are not being used immediately, store them in a Ziploc bag until you are ready to use them.
For more information about growing, harvesting, and storing edible flowers, visit the Penn State Extension website.
Edible flowers can be used in many ways to improve the flavor of meals or beverages. However, gardeners must understand which parts of a plant are best to eat in addition to which varieties are safe for human consumption.
There are many edible flower species available to buy and grow, but the best-tasting ones will depend on your personal flavor preferences. They can be found at your local grocery store in the produce section, or even your local gardening center or nursery.
Alternatively, you can also grow your edible flowers; with the proper care, you can raise healthy, flavorful flowers to use for future meals and beverages for years to come.