Sitting on our porch one summer afternoon, my friend glanced at our garden and cried out, “Ooooh! That is one of my favorite things to eat. They are so good stuffed and fried, and now is the perfect time to pick them!” I was a bit confused. There was absolutely nothing in my garden ready to be harvested. “Goodness! What are you talking about?” I replied. “The squash blossoms!” she exclaimed. “It’s a little time-consuming to prepare, as you have to carefully remove the pistil from the center of the flower, but after dipping the flower in batter and frying, the petals turn deliciously crispy. I serve them with salt and pepper and eat as soon as possible.”
The first recorded mention of edible flowers was in 140 B.C. Calendula was used in salads dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, violets were crystallized by ancient Egyptians, the bitter herbs mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible included dandelions, and during the Renaissance they drank rose-petal water and ate stewed primroses.
Eating flowers was not a new notion for me. Roaming the wild fields of Indiana as a child, my best friend Elizabeth fluttered around like a magical fairy sampling various flowers and sharing with me all her enchanting knowledge about what was edible and what was most definitely poisonous. I was completely in awe of her herbal astuteness and was determined one day to know as much as she did. Now that we live on six acres in the Hill Country of Texas, my family has enjoyed studying native flowers and determining what we can consume in our own backyard. This past spring we grew nasturtium and viola tricolors in our greenhouse and added them (freshly picked!) to our cakes for edible decoration.
These are some of our favorite edible flowers, along with their accompanying flavors and how we have enjoyed eating them:
Calendula: bitter, tangy, and peppery; add to salads and cooked egg dishes.
Chamomile: earthy and floral; place fresh flowers in tea ball and steep for tea.
Dandelions: earthy, nutty, and bitter; use in salads or added to stir-fry.
Nasturtium: peppery and spicy; use in stir-fry or cooked with pasta.
Purslane: tangy, lemony, and peppery; use in place of lettuce.
Roses: sweet with a touch of spice; allow roses to dry out and sprinkle over oatmeal.
Squash blossoms: delicate and slightly sweet; fry and stuff with cheese.
Viola tricolor: sweet and floral; garnish desserts.
Yellow Wood Sorrel: sour; add to soups and salads.
There are a few things to know if you are interested in delving further into trying edible flowers:
Do not eat random flowers. Many are poisonous. Always check with an adult first.
Grow your own flowers. By growing your own flowers, you know exactly what you have grown, you can avoid treating them with pesticides, and you know what is edible.
Eat only the petals. Often the inner floral parts are not edible.
Determine what complimentary flavor you are seeking from the addition of the flower.
When used as decoration, use only a small amount so that the flowers do not overpower the foods’ flavor.
Edible flowers are such a lovely way to add whimsy, flavor, and color to your plates.
Happy picking (and tasting)!