As pretty to look at as they are, flowers haven’t just been used for romantic bouquets. In ancient Egypt, chamomile was considered sacred and was used both for medicinal purposes as well as for beauty, which is why the flowers have been spotted in ancient hieroglyphics. Throughout British history, the elderflower has been popular from elderflower syrups in Tudor times to the more luxurious elderflower champagne in the late-Victorian era. As for the blue borage, legend has it the flower used to be given to Roman soldiers in wine to give them courage ahead of battle.
When it comes to bringing flowers into the kitchen it’s important to properly research any you forage for before using them to make sure they’re not toxic. Listed below are some of the common edible flowers you can find in the US and UK as well as some ideas of how you can get creative with them. Hopefully this introductory guide will inspire you to create your own floral dishes!
Edible Flower Guide:
- Bee balm - the tubular flower comes in shades of pink, red, purple and white, has a minty taste and a citrusy aroma. This flower can be used in teas, preserves, or for infusing an apple cider vinegar for using on salads.
- Borage - these blue flowers have a mild flavour often compared to cucumber or honey. Combine the flowers with lemon in a preserve, add to shortbread or use egg white and sugar to candy them for topping cakes. Their light flavour also complements cucumber in a springtime salad and their vibrant blue makes them striking when added to ice cubes.
- Chamomile - the daisy-like white flowers have a mild, apple flavour. Beyond your classic camomile tea, there are plenty of creative uses for chamomile in the kitchen. Its light taste pairs well with ice cream, panna cotta, or aromatic milk-infusions as well as alongside vanilla or honey in sponge cakes. Being a dainty flower it can also be used for visual effect - added to lollipops and candies.
- Dandelions - fry them up to make fritters, steep the flowers in tea or the flowers can be used for garnishing, used either whole or you can pluck the individual petals for sprinkling. These bright yellow flowers match well with flavours of lemon and honey.
- Elderflowers - a delicate floral flavour, elderflower can be added to prosecco or cocktails, steeped in sugar syrup to make a cordial, fermented to make a wild soda, added to cakes alongside spring-summer fruits like lemon, raspberry and strawberries or you can fry whole elderflower heads in a sweetened batter for a tasty fritter.
- Honeysuckle - recognisable for its curved flowers with yellow and pink hues. The flowers have a sweet honey-like flavour which makes it well suited for sweet iced tea, flavouring sorbet, adding as an ingredient in citrus cocktails or for creating a syrup for flavouring water.
- Lavender - this purple flower, has a strong floral flavour which goes hand-in-hand with gin and alongside lemon in tarts, cakes and shortbread (the floral tones of Earl Grey tea are why you’ll often see lavender with it in bakes). It also adds a real lightness to dairy so you can have some fun experimenting with lavender in ice cream, cupcake frosting and rich chocolate cakes.
- Nasturtiums - bright flowers with a peppery flavour, similar in taste to arugula/rocket which makes them a great addition to salads.
- Pansies - tend to have a grassy-tangy flavour but tend to be used more for their colourful appearance than their flavour. Perfect for decorating cakes or topping a glass of lemonade in the springtime.
- Primrose - the primrose flower has a spicy taste with a slight anise aroma. It can be mixed in with herbs to make a stuffing for poultry or it can be used in desserts. It’s a flavour which also pairs nicely with lemon in curd or cakes.
- Rose - a soft, silky flavour often used in middle eastern desserts like malabi, but rosebuds are also delicious in drinks, jello and preserves.
- Rosemary flowers - these pink and blue flowers on this popular herb are small and dainty. They have the flavour of the more popular leaves and slightly sweet after taste - use to infuse oils, can crystallise them with sugar for using on cakes.
- Violets - the flavour is best described as bittersweet but has a musky scent. Great for adding to ice cream, cupcakes or for making into a cordial or use the flower whole for topping cocktails. For a bit of old-fashioned charm, if you try your hand at making your own hard candy or boiled sweets violent adds a nice perfumed flavour to balance the sweetness.
- Wild fennel - it has a liquorice/anise flavour. Try adding to pasta with sausage or as part of summery baked salmon dish with plenty of fresh lemon.
- White clover - these white flowers have a faint vanilla flavour. They can be dried and blitzed into a flour substitute, creating spongey cookies and bakes.
- Zucchini/courgette flowers (squash blossoms) - they have a mild flavour, similar to cucumber and are great for stuffing with ricotta and herbs before battering and frying for a crispy snack or they can be added to pasta or as a thickener for fresh, spring soups.