Nothing says summer to me like a good fresh salad, especially one filled with the garden's bounty. And it doesn’t hurt that this salad is as beautiful as it is tasty. One of my favorite things in the summer is the joy of edible flowers. When I plan out my garden each year, the main rule is that everything must be edible, flowers included. As a bonus, this gives me plenty of fresh flowers to pick and eat each season.
A Note on Edible Flowers
Before consuming any plant or flower, be absolutely certain of its identification. Many edible plants have very poisonous look-a-likes! Never consume plants or flowers that have had any form of pesticides or chemicals sprayed on them, and never harvest edible plants that are growing near the roadside, as they may be contaminated by car exhaust and other chemicals. Always remember to use flowers sparingly in your recipes due to the digestive complications that can occur with a large consumption rate.
Types of Edible Flowers
There are plenty of edible flowers that grow wild and plenty that are easy to cultivate in the garden as well. Below is a partial list of some of my favorite edible flowers.
Anise Hyssop - Both the flowers and leaves have a delicate anise or licorice flavor reminisce of root beer.
Basil Flowers - Depending on the type, the flowers are either bright white, pale pink, or delicate lavender. The flavor of the flower is milder but similar to the leaves of the same plant.
Borage - Has lovely cornflower blue star-shaped flowers. Blossoms and leaves have a cool, faint cucumber taste.
Calendula ( aka Marigold) - Only the petals are edible, and the flavor ranges from spicy to bitter, tangy to peppery. Their sharp taste resembles saffron (also known as Poor Mans Saffron).
Clover - The flavor is sweet and anise or licorice-like. Avoid flowers that have started to brown, as they will be bitter. Note: Raw flower heads can be difficult to digest. Eat in moderation.
Cornflower (aka Bachelors Button) - They have a slightly sweet to spicy, clove-like flavor. The blooms can be used as a natural food dye. Most commonly used as a garnish.
Dandelions - They have a sweet honeylike flavor that is best when the flowers are picked young. These are good raw or steamed, but my personal favorite is dandelion jelly or syrup. A
Hibiscus - This exotic flower has a vaguely cranberry-like flavor with citrus overtones. Use slightly acidic petals sparingly in salads or as garnish. The flower can be dried to make an exotic tea.
Honeysuckle - As the name implies, these blooms have a sweet honey flavor. Note: Only the flowers are edible. The berries are highly poisonous – Do not eat them!
Jasmine - The flowers are intensely fragrant and are traditionally used for scenting tea. True Jasmine has oval, shiny leaves and tubular, waxy-white flowers. Note: The false Jasmine is in a completely different genus, “Gelsemium,” and family, “Loganiaceae”, is considered too poisonous for human consumption. This flower has a number of common names, including yellow jessamine or jasmine, Carolina jasmine or jessamine, evening trumpet flower, gelsemium, and woodbine.
Johnny-Jump-Ups - The lovely yellow, white, and purple blooms have a mild wintergreen flavor and can be used in salads, to decorate cakes, or served with soft cheese. They are also a great addition to drinks, soups, desserts, or salads.
Lavender Flowers - These beautiful flowers have a sweet, floral flavor with lemon and citrus notes.
Lilac - The flavor of lilacs varies from plant to plant. Very fragrant, and slightly bitter. Has a distinct lemony taste with floral, pungent overtones.
Nasturtiums - These blooms rank among the most common of edible flowers. Blossoms have a sweet, spicy flavor similar to watercress. The leaves add a peppery tang to salads. Pickled seed pods are a less expensive substitute for capers.
Pansies - Pansies have a slightly sweet green or grassy flavor. If you eat only the petals, the flavor is extremely mild, but if you eat the whole flower, there is a winter, green overtone. Use them as garnishes in fruit salads, green salads, desserts, or soups.
Pea Blossoms - Edible garden peas bloom mostly in white but may have other pale coloring. The blossoms are slightly sweet and crunchy, and they taste like peas. The shoots and vine tendrils are edible, with a delicate, pea-like flavor. Here again, remember that harvesting blooms will diminish your pea harvest, so you may want to plant extra. Note: Flowering ornamental sweet peas are poisonous – do not eat them.
Primrose (aka Cowslip) - This flower is colorful with a sweet but bland taste. Add to salads, pickle the flower buds, cook as a vegetable, or ferment into wine.
Roses - The flavor of the rose depends on the type, color, and soil conditions. Flavor reminiscent of strawberries and green apples. Sweet, with subtle undertones ranging from fruit to mint to spice. All roses are edible, with the flavor being more pronounced in the darker varieties. Note: Be sure to remove the bitter-white portion of the petals.
Sunflower - The flower is best eaten in the bud stage when it tastes similar to artichokes. Once the flower opens, the petals may be used like chrysanthemums, the flavor is distinctly bittersweet. The unopened flower buds can also be steamed like artichokes.
Squash Blossoms - Squash and pumpkin blossoms are edible and taste mildly like raw squash. Prepare the blossoms by washing and trimming the stems and removing the stamens. Squash blossoms are usually taken off the male plant, which only provides pollen for the female.
Violets - These offer a sweet, perfumed flavor. The heart-shaped leaves are edible and tasty when cooked like spinach.
Picking and Cleaning Edible Flowers:
Edible flowers are best picked in the morning when their water content is at its highest. Remove the stamens and styles from the flowers before eating. The pollen can detract from the flavor of the flower. In addition, the pollen may cause an allergic reaction in some individuals. Remove the sepals of all flowers except violas, Johnny-jump-ups, and pansies.
If only the petals are edible of the flowers you’ve chosen, separate them from the rest of the flower just prior to use to keep wilting to a minimum.
To clean, shake each flower to dislodge insects and debris hidden in the petal folds, then wash in gently flowing water and allow to dry flat on paper towels. The flowers will retain their odor and color, provided they dry quickly and are not exposed to direct sunlight.
Wildflower Salad With Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette
This summer wildflower salad comes together in a snap, providing you with a dish that's as elegant as it is flavorful and unique.
6 oz preferred greens (I like to use a mix of spinach, beet greens, nasturtium leaves, and leaf lettuce from the garden)
1 apple, diced
1 cup slivered almonds
½ cup diced strawberries
½ cup mixed edible flowers (clover, nasturtium, violet, dandelion, borage, sweet pea, honeysuckle, columbines, lavender, lilac)
½ cup Blue Cheese Fig Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Place all ingredients in a large bowl and toss with the honey balsamic vinaigrette.
Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette Ingredients:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1-2 tablespoons honey, more or less, depending on how sweet you like it
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
Place all ingredients in a glass jar and shake or stir until fully combined.
If you try this beautiful salad this summer, be sure to tell us about it in the comments, and as always,