How to use edible flowers in the kitchen is so simple you’ll wonder why you haven’t always grown them. Don’t over think the whole idea. Buy some plants, buy some seeds and see what happens. Over time you’ll find what works best for you and can do more of that.
I use edible flowers in the kitchen just because they look gorgeous! The vivid colours and unique look of each blossom, both edible flowers and herbs, create a stunning look and that’s what I’m going for.
Create Stunning Presentations with Edible Flowers
A Roman chef is credited with the phrase, “We eat first with our eyes”, but you may remember this line from the movie Ratatouille.
"Eat with your eyes; good food is like music you can taste, colour you can smell."Chef Gusteau from Ratatouille
When you eat a strict gluten free diet you have plenty of chances to eat store bought bars and potato chips while others enjoy a full meal. To make up for that I teach kids in my virtual cooking classes to make over-the-top treats at home. This is a strategy for adults too.
Make a habit of treating yourself to visually pleasing plates at home and if you like the idea of 'over-the-top' you can certainly do that too!
I've got lots of tips and tricks for doing that in the winter but from May to October edible flowers and fresh herbs are my first choice to create stunning plates and platters with pizzazz.
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What Do Edible Flowers Taste Like?
Well, they don’t taste like chicken! Some of them don’t really taste like anything but nasturtium blossoms are said to have a peppery bite. If you’re a super taster take notes and compare with a friend. That sounds like more fun than talking about a pandemic.
If you think your friends are adventurous serve up some edible flowers. Some people will ask excitedly, “Is this an edible flower? Do I eat the whole thing?” You can hardly get yes out of your mouth and they’ve popped it into theirs. Others will watch cautiously until they’re confident no one seems to be adversely affected. Only then will they take a small bite or perhaps eat the whole flower. And sometimes there’s one person who is confident they can live a happy, fulfilling life without ever having eaten an edible flower.
What Edible Flowers Are Easiest To Grow?
Pansies are the easiest to grow, especially if you buy a pansy plant, already in a pot of soil. Just nurture it. There’s no need to research ‘caring for plants’. Edible flowers, like all other plants; need soil for nutrients, water and sun. A little TLC (tender loving care) means watering them before they’re so dry they droop over but not drowning them.
Pansies are also hardy which means they can withstand cool evenings and a few under watering mistakes. Give them a drink and you can almost watch them stand back up.
List of Edible Flowers and How To Use Them
Here's a list, and a brief comment, on the edible flowers I grow and use. It's certainly not a definitive list but it's a great start. Try something new and have fun!
- Pansies – Buy pansies in early spring and keep them in the shade rather than direct sun. Like all flowers, the more blossoms you pinch off the more the plant will continue to bloom. Lay a single pansy blossom on any plate.
- Chives – This is an herb but when chives go to seed the stem becomes hard and has a nice purple blossom on the end. Snip the entire stem to garnish a big bowl salad or pull the purple petals off and sprinkle them liberally over anything savoury.
- Bachelor Buttons – These blue and pink flowers grow from seed and their petals look stunning sprinkled over a simple garden salad or dessert.
- Calendula – These bright yellow and orange flowers bloom late in the season. Use whole blossoms to surround a fruit tart or randomly place them on a tray of cut cake or brownies. For another look pluck off the petals and sprinkle them over anything.
- Dianthus – This perennial plant has pink, red or white blossoms that look nice in a salad.
- Nasturtiums – These vibrant yellow and orange flowers are prolific in late summer. The flute shaped blossoms can be filled with a cream cheese mixture and served as an hors d'oeuvre but I prefer to place a single blossom in the center of a salad. They're especially stunning on a black plate.
- Viola – Also called Johnny-Jump-Ups these tiny yellow and purple blossoms grow wild where I live. They're perfect on top of small bites, in drinks or frozen in ice cubes.
- Borage – These tiny pink blossoms turn blue as they mature and are very delicate. Pull the flowers off and float them in a drink, in ice cubs or add them to that ever changing garden salad.
- Roses – I garnish food with roses but serious bakers like to make sugared rose petals to decorate cakes. If you're keen to try that search up sugared rose petals and have fun. My favourite use for rose petals is to scatter them over a table or a white tablecloth on the ground for a very special occasion. This is nice for a baby shower, Mother's Day brunch or a romantic picnic.
Edible Flowers and Herbs for Savoury Dishes
I typically use only a few flowers but I know when I plant them that I want lots so I can enjoy them blooming in the garden and also adding colour to my plates.
Edible Flowers for Dessert
When I purchase pansy plants in the spring I buy the colours I want to see on my desserts.
Growing Edible Flowers: Perennials, Annuals & Volunteers
There's plenty of gardening advice available and it will be different depending on what part of the world you like in. My only tip is to learn the difference between annuals, perennials and volunteers.
- Perennials go dormant in winter and come up again every spring, a miracle of nature! It's always a joy to see those little shoots poke through the ground after being snow-covered all winter or to see the sticks of a rose bush come to life with tiny green leaves. Annual plants with edible blossoms include roses and dianthus. Many herbs are also annuals like chives, mint and thyme.
- Annuals are plants you buy and plant year after year either from seed or as a small plant. This includes pansies, nasturtiums and all the ones listed below that grow as volunteers in my garden.
- Volunteers are their own little miracle. No one planted them, they voluntarily grow from seeds that were dropped by birds or simply fell from a spent blossom in the garden. I have volunteer bachelor buttons, calendula, chamomile and borage flowers coming up in my garden year after year.
Buying Edible Flowers
You can purchase edible flower blossoms at a farmer’s market or specialty food shop but you'll need to use them right away. By growing them you can use a blossom here and there and the plant will keep producing them for use all summer and into the fall. Buy edible flower seeds or a wildflower mix with edible flowers if you have space. Be sure to include herbs seeds too. I always buy both; plants in soil like pansies and seed packets of edible flowers.
Let me know in the comments below if you grew edible flowers and how you used them. Once you get the hang of it you can plant flowers with certain recipes in mind. I specifically buy pansies in the colour scheme I want to serve my once-a-year Angel Food Cake. You too can create a signature dessert that your family and friends look forward to year after year.
Originally posted in 2015, updated April 2023
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