A Florist’s Guide to Edible Flowers

By Tonneli Grüetter From urban culinary hot spots such as New York City’s Il Fiorista (a restaurant, floral boutique and education center) to flower-laden cakes appearing in summer weddings, the edible flower trend is here to stay. While many of us already know the basics of edibles such as sugared rose petals, sweet spring violets and pretty pressed pansies, there continues to be a huge gap between consumer interest in edible botanicals and florists armed with colorful supplies needed to help connect chefs and mixologists with fresh seasonal and dried blooms. Use this helpful guide to identify 15 edible flowers you may not have known about and the flavor profiles that make them unique, plus five you should never allow near food.

15 Flowers You Have To Try

1. Phalaenopsis amabilis (moth orchid) These exotic tropical blooms feature a neutral and watery flavor. It may come as a surprise to some that nearly all general of orchids are edible and can embody a wide range of flavors. 2. Alcea rosea (hollyhock) These garden classics can range in color from white to dark red, pink, yellow, orange and even “black.” Hollyhocks, like their cousins Malva (mallow) are completely edible and feature a neutral flavor. 3. Gardenia jasminoides (cape jasmine) These heavenly scented blooms are prized for their honey-like flavor. In addition to being safe for fresh consumption, they can also be used in a variety of applications from pickling to tea making. 4. Wisteria spp. Indigenous to many parts of North America, Asia and Europe, these fragrant vining flowers are, indeed, edible and celebrated as delicacies in their nations of origin. However, it should be noted the rest of the plant is toxic, and particular care should be taken to remove the stems from the blooms. Depending on the species, Wisteria can be enjoyed raw in salads or cooked (either blanched or deep fried) to produce a nutty pea-like flavor. 5. Agave amica, formerly Polianthes tuberosa (tuberose) Prized by the ancient Aztecs for their ability to produce a chocolate-enhancing oil, these florist favorites can also make for a delightful surprise floated atop summery vegetable soups. 6. Dianthus caryophyllus (carnation) These flowers come in a dazzling array of colors sure to delight any blossoming baker, and they are best enjoyed fresh. To fully enjoy their surprising clove-like flavor, be sure to trim off the bitter base of the blooms and focus on the colored petal sections. 7. Matthiola incana (stock, gillyflower) A consistent performer in wedding bouquet work, these florets are also an excellent choice for atop cakes and in cocktails. Blossoms have a perfume- like flavor and are delicious fresh or candied. 8. Freesia spp. As a rule of thumb, flowers belonging to the Iridaceae (Iris) family are not meant for consumption, apart from a few lovely treats including Freesia. Freesia blossoms are excellent infused into simple syrups to make cocktails, sorbet and other sweets, but they also provide an enchanting aroma when served fresh.

Borago offcinalis (borage, starflower) blossom on cheese

9. Papaver rhoeas (corn poppy, field poppy, Flanders poppy, Shirley poppy) Historically, the petals of these bright red flowers have been used to tint wines, syrups and soups. Interestingly, these flowers can also be used to produce a substitute for olive oil. 10. Acmella oleracea (toothache plant, paracress, Sichuan/ Szechuan button, buzz button, tingflower, electric daisy, eyeball plant) These cheerful little blooms can also be powerful little moneymakers in culinary markets. Common names include “toothache plant” due its delightful anesthetic properties. Caused by a naturally occurring chemical called spilanthol, this plant causes a spicy effect, like peppers, but uniquely tingling. Use this flower in drinks, sweets and savory dishes, but remember, a little can go a long way. 11. Antirrhinum majus (snapdragon) Not particularly prized for their flavor, these flowers are prized by edible flower growers mostly for their color and composition. While the blossoms are 100 percent safe to consume, we suggest using these flowers as a visual garnish more than a main dish because they are apt to change in flavor depending on soil quality. 12. Syringa vulgaris (lilac) This old-time seasonal flower has recently enjoyed a resurgence both in floral styling and culinary communities for its citrusy flavor. Lilacs create a sweet-tasting syrup with an intense purple color. They can also be enjoyed candied, fresh or even made into wine. For edible orders, darker colors of lilacs may be preferred because white blossoms spoil quickly. 13. Gladiolus dalenii/natalensis (corn flag, sword lily, African gladiola, parrot gladiola, Natal lily, Natal gladiola, maid-of-the-mist) Like its cousin Freesia, this flower beats the general rule that flowers in the Iridaceae (Iris) family are toxic. Gladioli are safe to eat and have a flavor quite like a mild lettuce. 14. Musa acuminiata/x paradisiaca (banana blossom, plantain flower) It should come as no surprise that this state- ment-making tropical flower is also a tasty treat. Regarded as more of a vegetable, banana blossoms can sometimes be found in specialty grocery stores and taste remarkably similar, when cooked, to artichokes (Cynara spp.). 15. Fuchsia spp. (lady’s eardrops) Compared to sharing the addictively crave-worthy flavor of rose hips, Fuchsia features both edible flowers and berries. Depending on the life cycle of this flower, flavors range from lemon to grape and even black pepper. While we are big fans of having your flowers and eating them, too, it should be noted in selling edible flowers, we, as florists, have a responsibility to not sell flowers (as edibles) that have been treated with potentially harmful chemicals. If you are looking to make the jump into edible flowers, consider sourcing from specialty growers or contacting a local organic farm during the planting season about growing a small supply “on contract” for you. You may be delighted to learn many farms are already growing common edible flowers as companion plants to their food crops to aid in pollination.  

5 Flowers You Should Never Sell As Edible

While they’re pretty, some flowers that should never be used on or in food and beverages.
1. Tulipa spp. (tulip) While they were commonly used as food in Europe during WWII and are still occasionally found garnishing cakes, we advise against using tulips in culinary applications because allergies to them are commonly found in humans, and they can cause violent stomach cramping. 2. Ranunculus spp. (buttercup, crowfoot) Along with all their cousins in the Ranunculaceae (buttercup/crowfoot) family, these blooms should never be used on or near food and drink. Nothing scares us more than seeing beautiful Ranunculus on a wedding cake. As tempting as it may be to use them, these flowers can cause painful mouth blisters. 3. Hydrangea (hortensia) Never feel tempted to use these popular blooms on or near food and drink because they are known to cause severe digestive problems and fever. 4. Delphinium and Consolida spp. (larkspur) These stunning florets must be avoided around food at all costs. Accidentally ingesting the flower of a Delphinium or larkspur can result in serious illness, seizures and even death. 5. Digitalis spp. ( foxglove) Among the most dangerous, these springtime-stunners should never be served as food; ingesting these blooms commonly causes intense cardiac distress.
For more fun with edible flowers, we recommend further reading on the topic. In addition to the list of flowers on these pages, there is an entire world of delightful and diverse edible flowers out there just waiting to be tasted. For instance, many fruiting vegetables also produce flowers that can be enjoyed as food, offering even more savory and spicy flavors. When working with caterers, restaurants and other hospitality-sector clients, you have a perfect opportunity for an up-sell by offering edible flowers in addition to their traditional flower orders. A decadent dessert baked from scratch is lovely, but when topped with a fresh flower(s), it becomes a customer-pleasing work of art—and edible flowers are a trend we are certain will continue gaining speed well beyond 2022.

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