Use edible flowers to make a floral feast and find out which flowers are safe to eat

Edible flowers can magically transform any dish into something stunning, but don't just pick any flower and pop onto your food – they're not all safe to eat! Rebecca Sullivan explains which flowers you can add to your food and shares some of her favourite recipes. Plus we have some beautiful recipes from Giulia Scarpaleggia…

Rebecca Sullivan from The Art of Edible Flowers

Flowers are not just beautiful. They are practical too. Stunning smells aside, flowers have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries. The historic use and recognition of lavender in cooking has been in documented use for over 2,500 years. At times reminiscent of my grandmothers knicker drawer I know but for the most part a calming and healing scent that can put the most wired of human to sleep at the tiniest of whiffs or sips of tea.

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I love flowers, (as much as I love food) so when I first started to learn about the plethora of pretty things I could admire and eat, I was so joyous. Like any cook, I picked and played and learnt the hard way at times (that one time I didn’t properly check if something was edible and my lip swelled up) and picked some more then cooked some more.

But before you go raiding your neighbours front garden or picking prize winning roses from your nans, you must consider the safety. Yes I sound like the fun police but it is important when foraging or picking anything to do your research.

Identify the flower more than once before you eat it and always double and triple check that they have not been sprayed or are so close to a road that they may have been over-polluted by passing traffic. Or like me you will end up with a swollen lip and maybe worse.

Pancakes sprinkled with rose petals

How to pick and store edible flowers – and safety warnings

When identifying a plant, use a photo or illustration, description, how to use it and which part is edible (some plants are not entirely edible, but have edible parts), as well as the scientific name for the flower. Eat flowers only when you are positive they are edible. If uncertain just don’t do it and eat only the flower petals for safety’s sake as other parts are often inedible.

Remember when picking flowers to be respectful. Think of your neighbours, the birds and the bees, and leave some for biodiversity. If foraging, this is extremely important. Also for the plants longevity, leaving some behind is important.

Harvest in the morning and after any early dew has dried out, as flowers contain more water in the morning before the sun sets in, and pick when the flower usefully awakens (opens).

Storage in a fridge is recommended. Pick the flowers and place on top of kitchen paper into an airtight container, laying the flowers flat in a single layer without any on top of them. I would use multiple containers as opposed to piling them all in one.

Wash all flowers thoroughly before you eat them or use a delicate pastry brush to brush off any residue or insects from the flowers and do this outside so the bugs can go on their merry way.

If you have allergies, introduce edible flowers gradually, as they may aggravate some allergies. If you do suffer from respiratory problems remove the stamens (the inside where the pollen is).

Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centres. In many cases, these flowers have been treated with pesticides not intended for food crops.

Roses on a blue tray

Rebecca’s edible flowers list

A few of my favourite flowers to eat….

  • Calendula – These beauties actually have some peppery spice and  little bitterness to them. They are used in so many medicinal remedies for everything from menstrual cramps to anxiety and flu. But for everyday use them in omelettes, salads, dried out in tea and sprinkled over your porridge in the morning with a little raw, local honey.
  • Carnation – I always feel sorry for the carnation as she gets a bad rap being mainly associated with cheap dates and those ones your husband buys on his way home from a service station. Lets give her some credit, she comes in many a colour from yellow to pink and her petals look superb as garnish on just about everything. Try the petals in any desert as they have a hint of clove and are a little sweet.
  • Cornflower – Easy to grow, easy to dry and great in everything from the perfect cup of earl grey tea to elderflower jelly. They come in blues and purples and have a hint of clove. They are very east to dry out and make a great natural food colouring.
  • Cucumber Flowers – Bright yellow, found on top of the cucumber in its baby years and absolutely wonderful in sweet savoury and sweet dishes. Think cold soups like gazpacho, roast veggies with pesto and anything with honey.

Read more related articles about lifestyle:

Almond and flower fudge recipe by Rebecca Sullivan

Almond and flower fudge recipe by Rebecca Sullivan

Makes 20 pieces

Ingredients

  • Coconut oil, 200g
  • Icing sugar, 200g
  • Almonds, 100g, chopped
  • Dried cornflowers, 2 tbsp
  • Powdered dried edible flowers (such as calendula, carnations, chamomile, marigolds, roses or violets) 2 tsp

To make the petal powder:

  1. Place dried petals in small batches into a spice grinder and blitz until a fine powder. Store in airtight containers.

To make the fudge:

  1. Line a shallow tin measuring about 15-20cm square with baking paper.
  2. Place the coconut oil and icing sugar in a bowl and use a stick blender to blend until emulsified. Stir in the nuts and around half of the powdered flowers.
  3. Transfer the mixture to the tin and spread it out evenly, smoothing the surface. Sprinkle the remaining flowers on top and place in a fridge for a couple of hours until set. Slice into small pieces to serve.
  4. Store in the fridge and eat within two weeks.

Taken from The Art of Edible Flowers by Rebecca Sullivan. Published by Kyle Books. Photography by Nassima Rothacker.

Rose and turmeric latte recipe by Rebecca Sullivan

Rose petal and turmeric latte recipe by Rebecca Sullivan

Turmeric has been widely researched and the compound curcumin is believed to provide a plethora of health benefits.

Serves one

Ingredients

  • Almond or coconut milk, 250ml
  • Fresh turmeric root, 3.5cm, peeled and roughly chopped
  • Cardamom pods, 2 seeds, crushed
  • Freshly ground black pepper, pinch
  • Rose water, 1-2 tbsp
  • Coconut oil, 1 tsp
  • Raw honey or maple syrup, 1 tsp to taste
  • Dried rose petals, to garnish

Method

  1. Place the almond or coconut milk in a blender with the turmeric, cardamom, pepper, rose water and coconut oil.
  2. Warm a small saucepan to a light simmer if drinking warm.
  3. Turn off the heat and sweeten with honey or maple syrup to taste.
  4. Drink cold or warm, garnished with rose petals. (If you want to increase the quantities and make a batch to drink throughout the week, it will keep in a covered jug in the fridge for 4-5 days.)

Taken from The Art of Edible Flowers by Rebecca Sullivan. Published by Kyle Books. Photography by Nassima Rothacker.

Giulia Scappaleggia

Recipes using edible flowers from Julskitchen

Giulia Scarpaleggia is a food writer and photographer. She teaches Tuscan cooking classes and has written five cookbooks. Born and bred in Tuscany, she lives in the house her family built in the Tuscan countryside between Siena and Florence with her partner Tommaso and her Maremmano sheep dog, Noa. She started her blog, Juls’ Kitchen (www.julskitchen.com) in 2009. Follow her on Instagram @julskitchen. Read on to try some of Giulia’s recipes…

Fiori di zucca

Fried zucchini flowers recipe by Giulia Scarpaleggia

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • All-purpose flour, 4 heaped tbsp
  • Salt, a pinch
  • Ground black pepper, a pinch
  • Beer, 50ml
  • Water, 100ml
  • Zucchini flowers, 10
  • Buffalo mozzarella, 200g
  • Basil leaves
  • Anchovy fillets, 5
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Method

  1. Make the batter. Mix in a bowl the flour, salt and pepper, then add the beer and water slowly, little by little, to prevent lumps. Let the batter rest in the fridge while stuffing the flowers.
  2. Wash the zucchini flowers and dry them gently, remove the pistil and fill them with a piece of buffalo mozzarella, half anchovy fillet and a basil leaf. Close them gently on themselves.
  3. Heat two inches of olive oil in a large skillet, dip the stuffed flowers into the batter and remove the excess. When the olive oil is hot, lay the flowers, well spaced, into the skillet and let them fry for two minutes per side, until crisp and golden. Fry the flowers in batches, so they won’t stick together.
  4. Remove the flowers from the olive oil, lay them in a plate with a few sheets of paper towel to absorb the excess olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Potato and chive salad

Potato salad with chive flowers and soft-boiled eggs by Giulia Scarpaleggia

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • Medium-size waxy potatoes, 6
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Chives and chive flowers
  • Salad burnet, bunch
  • Flaky salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Free-range eggs, 2

Method

  1. Wash the unpeeled potatoes and leave them whole. Cook the potatoes in boiling water until soft enough to be pierced with a fork. Drain and let them cool.
  2. Cut the potatoes into wedges, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with flaky salt, freshly-ground black pepper, chopped chives, chive flowers and salad burnet.
  3. In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil and use just enough water to cover the eggs. Gently place the eggs into the boiling water with a large spoon and simmer for six minutes. Scoop the eggs out and cool them down under cold running water.
  4. Peel the soft-boiled eggs, cut them in half and gently place them over the potato salad. Serve immediately.
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Photography by Nassima Rothacker and Osman Rana and Brooke Lark on Unsplash. Rebecca Sullivan is the author of The Art of Edible Flowers published by Kyle Books, priced £9.99. You can also listen to Rebecca on the In The Moment Magazine podcast on Apple, Spotify and Stitcher.