Dinner never looked so pretty.

Jerry Traunfeld
Updated April 24, 2020
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Flowers are poetic, sentimental, romantic and ephemeral. Some of them taste good too–in sweet and savory dishes. Azure-blue sage blossoms carry the aroma of the leaf, but softer and sweeter: just the thing to sprinkle over green peas. Blazing orange nasturtiums have peppery flavors and can dazzle any salad. At my restaurant in Seattle, Poppy, I find that cooking with flowers and leaves can add color and unique flavor to any meal. My kitchen garden is packed with delicious, delicate blossoms: pink globes of chive, hearty kale flowers, edible ornamentals like violets or lavender. It's a pleasure to bring such beauty to my table.

Edible Flower Tips:

• Bear in mind that not all flowers are edible. Some are quite poisonous, so do your research first.

• Don't eat florist flowers-they are often loaded with pesticides or other chemicals.

Edible Flowers to Try:

Borage

Borage has soft leaves and star-shaped blossoms with blue flower petals. The flavor is refreshing and works well with chilled dishes (think: gazpacho or summer cocktails).

Calendula

Calendula (also known as marigold) has bright yellow and orange petals. The floral flavor is slightly bitter and peppery. The petals can be used in salads or as a tea, but if the petals are dried and crushed into a powder as a substitute for saffron.

Chive Blossoms

Chive blossoms have whispy purple petals to contradict their oniony flavor. They can be sprinkled in salads or used as a garnish.

Fennel Flowers

Fennel flowers are bright yellow. They have strong anise or licorice flavor that can be used to top pasta and roasted meats.

Lavender Buds

Lavender buds have a very herbal flavor. Dried, the purple flowers can be used in all sorts of baked goods–shortbread, muffins, pies and tarts–but they can also be used in cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks.

Kale Flowers

Kale flowers or kale raab have yellow petals and can be used in more dishes than other edible flowers. They can be sauteed and mixed in with pasta or eaten as a side dish.

Monarda Didyma

Monarda didyma or bee balm has bright red petals that have an herbal-citrusy flavor. The petals can be used in drinks and desserts like ice cream or custard.

Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums are yellow flowers with a peppery flavor. They can be used in pesto, rice dishes like risotto or in herb butter.

Pansies

Pansies might be the most decorative of edible flowers. They can be used to make colorful, vibrant salads and used in cheesecakes and other baked goods, but as whole flowers, they can be laid on top of cookies and cakes before baking for an exquisite final product.

Roses 

Rose petals can have a very strong flavor when their essence is used in desserts like panna cotta or in jam, but the roses are edible, too. They can be candied or dried and used in granola.

Violets

Violets have bright purple petals that make a stunning purple simple syrup, vinegar or jelly. Violets also freeze nicely in ice cubes to make cocktails decorative.

Whatever you pick, be ready to be surprised by the delicate flavors you create. As with gardening, the miracle is always in what blooms. Here are a few other uses for edible flowers.

1. Sprinkle

Nasturtium blooms, borage, monarda and calendula add a vibrant pop to a salad.

2. Stuff

Fill squash blossoms with a soft herbed cheese. Brush with olive oil and bake until wilted and heated through.

3. Cook

Fennel flowers add a wonderful anise taste when roasted with fish or pork. Try a pinch of chopped lavender buds in mashed potatoes.

4. Sweeten

Roses, violets and pansies can be blended with equal parts sugar and water to make delightful syrups for sorbets or beverages.

July/August 2012