42 of the Best Edible Flowers and weeds to eat and grow

 Spring is around the corner and it’s time to get planting those edible flowers to not only make a dish look gorgeous but to add interesting flavours to your cooking. Edible flowers have been part of food culture for millenium.

Did you know that Cauliflower and Broccoli are two plants whose flowers are eaten as vegetables?  

The first rule of using edible flowers is to make sure it is edible of course. Many flowers are poisonous so you do have to be careful in which edible flowers you plant. You can find edible flower seeds in many of the seed catalogues at this time of year.

Edible Flowers 1 Edible Flowers

Using flowers in recipes can be traced back through time and has always been popular in Middle Eastern, Indian and Chinese cultures. Edible flowers became extremely popular during Queen Victoria’s reign in Great Britain.   

Flowers that are not edible include; delphiniums, daffodils, azaleas, buttercups and wisteria. You also have to be careful to not use foxglove, lily of the valley and hydrangeas.

Tips for growing edible flowers

make sure that in your edible flower garden you don’t use pesticides or chemicals on your edible flowers

pick your edible flowers in the morning and make sure there are no insects on the petals.

Wash the petals carefully and remove the stamen and pistils then let the petals or flowers air dry

You can store the edible flowers in a container lined with a damp paper towel in the fridge for up to a week.

Don’t neglect weeds that are edible but be careful if picking from a lawn that has been chemically treated, make sure your lawn is free of pesticides.

 Best edible weeds

Dandelion

With its beautiful yellow flower, this determined little plant has had a myriad of uses over the centuries.

You can use the small leaves in the centre to add a sharp note to salads and scatter the petals to brighten up any dish. Dandelion greens seem to be trendy in those mixed leave salads these days and you pay a fortune to use those gourmet salad mixes that use them.

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Chickweed  

I spent years attempting to dig out chickweed from my garden until I learned that this tiny little plant is tender and sort of like lettuce with a bland taste which is perfect for showcasing fabulous salad dressings and flavourful salad additions.

Wild Garlic

Spring is the perfect time to go foraging for this versatile and pungent plant. The leaves and flowers are edible. Young leaves are delicious added to soups, sauces and you can even use them to make your own pesto. The flowers which emerge later in the spring can add a pretty but potent garlic flavour to salads and sandwiches. 

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Garlic Mustard

Unsurprisingly this week is related to mustard greens and garlic so those are its flavours. Best harvested when young and the leaves are tender as they turn bitter when they are older. You can also use the root which has a flavour similar to horseradish. This weed tastes like mustard greens (to which it is related), with a hint of, you In the summer months the flowers that appear are also edible but avoid the tough bitter summer leaves.

Purslane

Absolutely, not one of my favourites but the leaves are edible they are sticky and gross like eating okra which is jelly-like. It does have a mild flavour and if you like the taste of spinach this may be a weed for you. Purslane tops the list of plants with omega-3 fatty acids, the type of healthy fat found in salmon.

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Sheep Sorrel  

Sheep sorrel is related to French sorrel which is used a lot in gourmet salads and it has a similar tart or tangy lemony taste. Don’t use too many leaves as it will add bitterness to your salad.

Plantain

I always thought of plantain as the perfect cure for those nasty nettle stingers, but apparently, it is edible. They say the leaves are thick and chewy so only use the smallest most tender ones for your salad and chop them finely like you would a herb. The flavour is bland but is loaded with iron and other important vitamins and minerals.

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Stinging Nettles

Speaking of stinging nettle are delicious when cooked and the needles fall off or use it for nettle tea. When cooked the leaves taste a little bit like spinach but with more flavour. Nettles are full of essential minerals including iodine, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, silica and sulfur. Nettles also have more protein than most plants.

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Lambs Quarters

You use the leaves of this week which taste like a cross between Swiss chard and spinach and have a nutty after taste. They are apparently incredibly healthy for you and a once cup serving will contain Vitamin C, half your daily dose of calcium and magnesium, Vitamin A and Vitamin K.

Queen Anne’s Lace

Be exceedingly cautious when picking Queen Anne’s lace to eat this wild carrot is almost identical to the very poisonous hemlock plant. The best way to identify it is by smell as Queen Anne’s lace does smell like carrots. Like carrots, the root is edible when very young but can become quite woody. The flower heads can be eaten raw or cooked.

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Clover

Often overlooked but when we were kids we used to take clover flowers and pull out the petals to chew on as they had a sweet flavour. This is probably why Clover is very important for bees and why you see them on the flowers throughout the summer.

A few raw clover leaves can be chopped in salads or sauteed and added to dishes as you would spinach although it doesn’t taste like spinach as the flavour is neutral. The flowers can be eaten raw or cooked, including dried for tea.

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Amaranth

In North America Amaranth is known as a week but in the Caribbean, it is called callaloo and you can’t have Callaloo Soup (obviously) without it. Now considered an ancient grain Amaranth has been prized in South America for thousands of years. In India as in South America Amaranth is cultivated for its seeds or grains and the leaves.

In Nigeria Amaranth as a vegetable has joined the list of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

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Curly Dock

This week is related to French Sorrel and Sheep Sorrel but the leaves are much bigger. The leaves can be quite tough so pick it when young and add it to your salads. Another tangy relative of French sorrel, the leaves of curly dock are much larger than sheep

Wood Sorrel

Not related to any of the wild or domesticated sorrels but this week shares a similar tangy lemony flavour but the leaves are softer and more like Purslane. 

Winter Cress

Winter Cress is a member of the mustard family and is a very rich source of Vitamin C. The leaves are best used when very young and before the plant flowers add them to your salads like you would rocket. You can also use the leaves like you would spinach.  

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Watercress

Yes, Watercress is considered a weed but a weed rich in beta-carotene and Vitamin C. Its peppery sharp flavour is my favourite in an egg salad sandwich or simply added to salads. 

Tulips

During the famine in the Netherlands after WWII, the Dutch discovered that they could eat both the Tulip bulb and flowers. Recipes included drying and milling the bulbs to make flour for bread, tulip soup, and boiled tulips. Even Hollywood icon, Audrey Hepburn, whose family had moved to the Netherlands during WWII, ate tulips. 

Tulips are a member of the allium family along with garlic and onions. The bulbs are said to have an onion-like flavour and the petals can taste like peas or cucumbers.

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Peony

In China, the petals are parboiled and sweetened for use as a tea-time delicacy, in summer salads, or as a garnish for punches and lemonades.

Honeysuckle

When I was a kid we used to have a Honeysuckle vine growing up the posts of a giant swing in our backyard. We would often pick a blossom and suck out the sweet honey flavoured nectar. The blossoms make a pretty addition to salads but warning do not eat the berries as they are poisonous.

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Begonias

Begonias add a citrusy crunch decorating your cakes or added to a salad. However be aware that Begonia have a compound called oxalic acid which can cause digestive issues and should never be eaten by people suffering from gout, kidney stones, or rheumatism.

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Violets

My English grandmother loved sugared violets and the lovely delicate smell has remained with me for years. Violets and violas are all edible even the weedy ones. I wouldn’t advise eating the roots as they can cause some digestive issues.

The flowers make a really pretty garnish on cakes or in salads you can also candy violets or pop the flowers into ice cubes for pretty additions to your drinks party.

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Dame’s Rocket 

Often mistaken for Phlox but Phlox has 5 petals to Dame’s 4. The plant is a member of the mustard family which also includes radishes, cauliflower and cabbage. The leaves and flowers are edible but pretty bitter.

Alliums

Alliums is really just another word for the onion family which includes shallots, chives, leeks and garlic are all delicious in green salads, potato and pasta salads and dips. The leaves and flowers can be eaten in salads, and the leaves can also be cooked as a flavouring with other vegetables in stews and soups. Pickled chive blossoms can be added to martinis, bloody Marys and bagels with lox and cream cheese obviously.

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Borage 

A very pretty star-shaped flower that tastes oddly like cucumber. Perfect for salads which the Elizabethans popularized. They are also just right for lemonade or to be added to cocktails or gin and tonic.  

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Chrysanthemums 

Chrysanthemums range in taste from faint peppery to mild cauliflower flavour. They should always be blanched first and the petals can be scattered on salads. The leaves can be used to create infused vinegar. The young leaves and stems of the Crown Daisy, also known as Chop Suey Greens or Shingiku in Japan, are widely used in oriental stir-fries and as salad seasoning. Chrysanthemums are also used to add a delicate flavour to tea.

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Carnations

I’ll bet you didn’t know that Carnations are an ingredient in the famous Chartreuse liqueurs that have been made by the Carthusian Order in France since 1084.

You use just the petals of the Carnation and throw away the white base.  Carnation petals are perfect in desserts and steeped in wine for a surprising sweet edge.

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Sunflowers

Obviously, most of us enjoy the seeds added to a variety of dishes or just eaten as a snack. The flower in the bud stage tastes like artichoke. The petals may be used like chrysanthemums, and the flavour is distinctly bittersweet. 

Field of blooming sunflowers in Loire Valley, edible flowers

Roses

Used in cooking since time immemorial Roses add a slight hint of green apple and strawberry with the underlying hint of mint and spice. All roses are edible and can be used in desserts or in salads. Roses are particularly popular in Middle Eastern cooking from adding into spice blends to Rosewater used in desserts.

edible flowers a bunch of red roses in a cut glass vase

Mints

All members of the mint family tend to flower and can be used in teas, water infusions or to decorate salad plates. This includes spearmint, peppermint, Lemon Balm, Monarda, rosemary, horehound, lavender, catnip, sage, savory, marjoram, thyme, and basil. The flowers have the same flavour profile just slightly milder.

Calendula – English Marigold

One of the great companion plants known throughout history as the ‘poor man’s saffron. The petals can be sautéed in olive oil which released the saffron flavour. The petals are fabulous in salads and add a touch of colour and a slightly spicy flavour.

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Primroses

 Primroses are a little bit sweet and look lovely when crystallised and used in desserts. As with Pansies, they are a popular edible flower and can be crystallised and used as ‘cake art’! The petals taste slightly sweet.

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Sage Flowers

Another one belonging to the Mint family we are all familiar with sage as in sage and onion stuffing. But the flowers which usually get pinched off are perfect for summer dishes especially when paired with lemon. 

Hibiscus

One of my favourites when used as a refreshing drink. The petals are left to steep in cold water adding an incredible purple-pink colour and sweetness. Perfect when served over ice this gorgeous flower is highly prized in Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean for Agua de Jamaica in Mexico and Jamaican Sorrel drinks throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.

Edible flower a hisbiscus flower in full bloom in a lovely pink red colour

Zucchini or Squash flowers

Everyone these days is stuffing zucchini blossoms with everything from meats to cheeses. In Rome these are called fiori di zucca and served as antipasto. Throughout Latin America and the USA, the squash blossom as it is called is stuffed with anything and then deep-fried. They have a very delicate and slightly sweet flavour.

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Daylily

Daylillies are a popular ingredient in Asian cuisines and are used both dried and fresh. Every part of the plant is edible from the tuber which you can boil like a potato, to the flower that tastes like a cross between green peas and asparagus. The flowers are amazing when stuffed and battered like Squash blossoms. Daylily buds and flowers taste a bit like asparagus. They can be used as a garnish or can be stuffed or

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Lavender

Now Lavender like roses have been added to many recipes over the centuries it has a sweet and sort of perfumey taste and you have to be very careful of how much you use. It does look pretty sprinkled in cocktails and over desserts though. 

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Gladiolus

You can use the flowers with the stamens removed to add to salads, there is not a lot of flavour but a lot of pretty with such fabulous colours. You can also use them stuffed with dips to ensure a gourmet touch to your appetizers.

Lilac

Although I adore the smell of lilacs and would be surrounded by Lilac bushes in any garden the flavour is not my favourite. It is slightly bitter and sort of tastes like it smells, some folks say it’s lemony but not me. But having said that it looks so pretty in salads. 

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Bee balm

We always called Bee Balm – Monarda or Sweet Bergamot. It is a member of the mint family and the flowers do have a minty taste. It is perfect when steeped in water for a lovely summery tea and the flowers do look very pretty on desserts and salads. 

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Nasturtiums

I grew Nasturtiums for years as they are so easy to grow from seed and they last and last with no effort. The gorgeous flowers have a peppery taste and are perfect with salads, used in rice paper summer rolls or even stuffed with a lovely light artichoke heart dip.

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Pansies

Perfect for decorating your cocktails and fancy drinks the slightly minty grass like flavour pairs well with summer herby cocktails and fruit salads. 

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Chamomile

If you have ragweed allergies you may want to avoid Chamomile tea or adding the flowers into your dishes. English chamomile’s tiny daisy type flowers have a sort of apple-like flavour and can again be added to salads or used to decorate light summery dishes.

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There are dozens of flowers, weeds and tree blossoms that are edible. Middle Eastern cooks have used Orange Flower Water and Rose Water for centuries to perfume and infuse subtle flavours into their dishes. Throughout the centuries British Chefs have used flowers and leaves to decorate the fine tables of royalty.

Stay tuned and check back for an upcoming post on recipes using edible flowers and weeds.

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