Flowers mingling with food may seem like a recent trend, but human beings have been enjoying edible flowers since as early as the first recorded mention in 140 B.C. Flowers in cuisine spanned the ages and coincided with many different cultures.
Ancient Greeks and Romans feasted on flowers. Queen Victoria was a big fan of flowers as a part of her meals. Chinese, Indians and South American cultures all use flowers in teas and cuisine. Some flowers add flavor and others have purported medicinal properties.
It’s important not to be fickle about flowers. Some flowers are deadly. When in doubt, leave it out. For safety’s sake, we made a list of popular petals for your palate.
It is important to note that flowers you plan to eat must not have had chemicals or pesticides on any part of the plant. Many flowers growing on the side of the road have been sprayed with pesticides and are not safe to eat.
When using flowers, keep the recipe simple, so other flavors do not overwhelm the flavor of the flowers. Clean flowers by gently washing them in a bowl of cold water. Set them on a paper towel to dry. They can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container with a damp paper towel. They will last a week stored this way.
Since many people enjoy sharing a snack with a beloved pet, we are adding in some info about pet-friendly petals.
Edible Flowers for People
The borage plant has vibrant blue flowers that some say taste like cucumber. Used in salads since the Elizabethan Age, borage flowers are beautiful and delicious in cocktails. The greens of this plant are also edible and can be eaten in salads or even cooked and used in place of spinach.
In floral arrangements, carnations are beautiful but not appropriate for a snack due to the chemicals. However, if grown organically and free of pesticides and chemicals, carnations’ delicate petals have a sweet taste.
The base of the flower is bitter, so cut the petals away from it. The petals can be used in desserts, candy, salads and wine. The petals have been used to make Chartreuse, a French liqueur, since the 17th century.
The versatility of roses is boundless, even in the kitchen. The flavors vary, depending on the type of rose and growing conditions. Flavors are often subtle, fruity and compared to strawberries or green apples yet distinctly floral. As tasty as the sweet fragrance would have one imagine.
All roses are edible and can be used in soups, salads, desserts, teas, ice creams, syrups, jellies, butters and sweet spreads. There is a portion of the petals that has a bitter taste and white color. Remove this part before using it in recipes.
Hibiscus flowers are popular for their tropical appearance, and good looks aside, they are also edible. Hibiscus petals taste a bit like cranberry with citrus notes. The petals can be used in salads as a garnish. When used in cooking, the petals tend to stain foods bright red.
Hibiscus is well-known used as a tea. Unlike some flowers that seem destined only for dessert, hibiscus flowers are versatile enough to be in all kinds of dishes, especially in Latin American cuisine. These flowers are also great for cocktails. If you drop fresh hibiscus buds in a glass of alcohol, they will bloom.
Chrysanthemums vary in color and taste. Their taste is comparable to cauliflower. Petals can be used in salads. The leaves can be used in vinegar, salad seasoning. The young stems and leaves can be used in stir-fries and are popular in Asian cooking. Remove the bitter flower base before using in dishes.
Dandelions are not always appreciated, but every part of the plant is edible. The greens can be cooked into savory dishes or eaten raw in salads. The flowers are often made into wine and can even be made used in ice cream.
Known for being plump, popular wedding florals, peonies are edible. The petals can be lightly steamed and sweetened. In China, peonies are medicinal, and the dried peony root is sold as Bai Shao. They are reported to have many medicinal uses for treating a variety of health concerns ranging from gout, cough, PMS, hepatitis and epilepsy to name a few.
The same way the sun sustains life by giving warmth, sunflowers give life because all parts of the plant are edible. Young sunflowers can be steamed and cooked like artichokes before they open fully. Once open, the petals have a bit more of a bittersweet taste but can add color to recipes.
Sunflower seeds are a favorite of many people and even animals, and sunflower sprouts are very nutritious microgreens.
Like many other flowers, violets have a sweet, floral taste. They complement salads, desserts and drinks. They come in many beautiful colors. The flowers add a unique appearance to whatever dish they decorate, and they can be crystallized. The leaves are edible and very savory when cooked like spinach.
Before snacking with a pet, make sure the flower is safe and free from chemicals and pesticides. Some pets may be able to have some of a few flower petals or pieces of petals, but it is always best to consult a veterinarian before feeding them something new. Always feed any treat beyond the normal diet in moderation.
Hibiscus, roses and sunflowers are flowers that can be eaten and enjoyed by rabbits, birds and bearded dragons. Birds also eat dandelions, carnations and violets. Some flowers that are safe for dogs and cats to eat are roses and sunflowers. Chickens also love to eat sunflowers.
The best plant on our list for pets may be dandelion greens. Good for all the pets we mentioned, dandelion greens are high in potassium, and they are an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K. They also contain folate, vitamin E and small amounts of other B vitamins.
Animals are like small children. They explore the world and the many things in it by putting it in their mouths and sometimes eating it. Dogs and cats may also eat your plants out of boredom. Even non-toxic plants can sometimes cause stomach upset or even make your pet throw up.
With dogs and cats, you can try to prevent them from chewing your plants by making a safe spray that will repel them. Both animals are extremely sensitive to smells. Vinegar sprayed on or cinnamon mixed with pepper sprinkled around your plants may make your dog “paws”.
For cats, they despise the smell of citrus, so a lemon peel or two may do the trick. However, concentrated citrus oils and many other essential oils may be toxic, so do not use without veterinarian approval. Cats also loathe cayenne pepper, so sprinkling it around your plants is a safe alternative.
For the exotic pets like bearded dragons, tortoises, birds and rabbits, simply keep these animals away from any flowers or plants you don’t want them to eat, especially those that are not already known to be safe. These smaller animals have more severe reactions to anything toxic compared to dogs and cats.
It is always best to err on the side of caution, especially when it comes to the health of your pet. Know what flowers and plants are in your pet’s environment. Remove any that are not known to be non-toxic. A pet consuming the wrong plant is a quick accident that can have a lasting and devastating conclusion.
Our florists at Rose Cart of San Jose serving areas around Santa Clara, CA, care about pets. Let us know if you or the intended recipient have pets and what kind of pets, so we can substitute certain flowers or plants with safer alternatives.