In at least one medieval feast, for example, “Marigolds seasoned the venison, roses graced the stew, and violets mingle with wild onion in the salad,” making that long-ago meal sound pretty modern, indeed. Culinary flowers have also been used in these times and places, as well:
Dandelions were considered a bitter herb in the Old Testament.
Ancient Chinese used them regularly in their recipes.
Ancient Romans used rose, violets, and mallow in their dishes. They also added lavender to sauces.
Native Americans used blossoms from squash plants and pumpkins.
In 17th-century France, inventive people who loved fine things developed Chartreuse, a green liqueur that included carnation petals.
People in the Victorian era loved to use edible flowers, including roses, in dishes and desserts.
It probably isn’t even possible to create a comprehensive edible flower list, one that includes every blossom used throughout time for culinary purposes. We can, though, share a list of those we grow at The Chef’s Garden, noting that not all are available year-round.
These edible flowers include:
Cuke with Bloom
White Pea Blossoms
As you look at this edible flower list, you may be imagining how you could use these beauties in your dishes. If so, here are seven benefits of doing so; culinary flowers:
Provide texture and crunch
Offer up a pleasing aroma
Add a punch of nutrition
Allow you to tell a story
Permit people to dine with purpose
By the time the Victorian era arrived, a language of flowers developed, one called floriography. This allowed “even the most prudish and reticent to speak covertly of love or affection as well as darker emotions such as envy or rejection.”
An expert at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center shares that no one knows exactly how many floral colors exist on our planet, in part because floral diversity is so great around the globe, and in part because subtle shades can exist within each color group. When, for example, does a stunning white plant with just a hint of yellow go from being a white blossom to a yellow one? Where does a particular bloom fall on the blue/lavender/purple spectrum? Are there unique colors in between hues that should be recognized?
Plus, as the expert reminds us:
numerous flowers are multi-colored
some flowers evolve in color as they age
some plants offer up flowers in different colors, all on the exact same plant
If pushed for an answer, the expert suggests that green may be the most common floral color of all, given that trees often bear green-colored flowers. These arbor flowers may also be in a shade of brown. If we eliminate tree flowers, the most common colors (as this expert’s guess only!) are as follows:
Because we’re so used to seeing flowers in a rainbow of hues, ranging from pure white to delicate yellow to eye-catching blue and purple to brilliant oranges, golds, reds and more, we don’t often stop to think about how miraculous each and every flower is in this world. Look at any one garden, at any cluster of wildflowers along a path, and the diversity can be truly incredible.
And, let’s take a step even further back. We invite you to put a seed of a flower in the palm of your hand. Just one tiny insignificant-looking seed. Looks pretty small, doesn’t it? Now imagine all the potential contained in this organic dot in your hand. Incredible, isn’t it?
Now, here’s a quick look at what’s needed to bring that flower to its full potential.
You would first need to take this miniscule seed and put it in soil. In other words, in dirt—the same dirt that parents don’t want their children or pets to drag into the house. The same dirt that transforms into mud when wet or flies into dust-filled breezes when ultra-dry. The same dirt that, yes, serves as the home of the most marvelous flowers ever grown—and we’d like to share that nice, fresh, clean dirt (yes, clean dirt!) in fact has the most unbelievably refreshing and invigorating smell that you can ever imagine.
To grow the best edible flowers possible, we lovingly take care of our soil, using time-tested methods used by farmers throughout the ages along with today’s technology. Fortunately, The Chef’s Garden is only about three miles south of Lake Erie, and the land we farm is actually some of the world’s richest sandy loam, part of an ancient lake bottom.
Our soil is one big reason why our products grow the way they do, as we manage the sand, silt and clay that makes up our soil. The first two give our soil its texture and supports plant roots, while allowing both oxygen and moisture to be closer to those roots. The clay, meanwhile, traps nutrients in place to feed the plants.
We work with living and non-living organic matter in our soil and the reality is that everything has a job, whether dead or alive. We could do a deep dive on this subject but, in short, through cover cropping techniques, the study of soil biology, and use of technology, we make certain that everything we grow is the best from the ground up.
Then, when each seed is ready, resting in conditions that are ideal for its unique growth, the seed breaks open and the miraculous embryo insides grows. The plant puts down roots, anchoring itself firmly in our rich soil, creating a system in which it can drink up water, take in nutrients and store food. The plant instinctively knows to grow upwards towards the sun, which provides it with its food.
Sunlight and Water
Yes, we’ve probably all heard the term “photosynthesis” in one science class or the other, and that works well as a scientific explanation of how plants use the sun for energy. But, since we’re focused today on the miracles of edible flowers and their growth, we’d like to simply say that plants eat light, they absorb sunshine, and that’s how they can thrive. While all flowers need sun to live, the amount each one needs varies, along with how direct the sun’s light should be for optimal growth, making each variety of flower as individual as the people who enjoy them. The same is true about the amount of water needed—which leads us to the next ingredient needed for optimal growth of edible flowers.
Patience, Time, Attention and Loving Care
We provide each plant with exactly what it needs, following our sustainable farming philosophy. Our soil is at the heart of it all, and we rotate which parts of our fields we use, allowing other parts to lay fallow, to rest. In those areas, our dedicated farming team plants cover crops to enrich the soil with nutritionally-dense compost. The strong and healthy plants we use in fallow fields naturally fight off weeds and insects, which allows us to avoid the use of harmful pesticides and other chemicals.
Through patience, time, attention and loving care, we naturally replenish our soil with vital life-giving nutrients, which results in remarkable fresh edible flowers and more.
Although ProFlowers.com does not focus on edible flowers, they do provide a nice explanation about how flowers get their colors. Just like with people, flowers have a genome, meaning they inherit certain characteristics. For example, their inherited anthocyanins help to provide colors of red and pink, blue and purple, while the chlorophyll gives the stems, leaves and so forth their lovely green color. Carotenoids provide shades of yellow, red and orange, and so on.
From Mother Nature’s perspective, flowers are colorful so they can attract birds, bees, butterflies and more to help with the cross-pollination process that allows more flowers to grow.
Earlier in this post, we talked about growing cover crops to enrich our soil. Well, one type of cover crop is buckwheat and, when we plant buckwheat, it also becomes a pit stop for Monarch butterflies, edible flowers ideal for their needs. We find them flitting every which-way, numbering in the hundreds over the grassy buckwheat plants that roll like waves in the wind.
These stunning butterflies precisely balance themselves on the buckwheat flowers’ long stems, looking like “bright orange flags on a ship’s mast, drawing nectar through their thread-thin proboscises as if sipping through a straw.”
It really is a sight to behold, and we’re blessed to be able to watch this happen! In fact, it’s an honor to be a fueling station for these Monarch butterflies during their annual migration from Mexico to Canada.
Buckwheat also makes the honeybees quite happy, as they collect powdered gold that they’ll spin into buckwheat-flavored honey.
Nutritional Benefits of Edible Flowers
Healthline.com explores the possibilities of nutritional enhancement when you add edible flowers to your dishes, and we’ll highlight just a few here. In their edible flower list, they include the following.
These blossoms can add a bold and peppery flavor to brighten any chef’s dish, while also livening up how it looks on the plate. We’ve been growing nasturtiums for nearly 30 years and, over the years, we’ve noticed how chefs have been shifting from seeing this vibrant edible flower as a garnish to one with complex potential.
The flavor of the blossoms is typically less peppery than nasturtium leaves, with blossoms typically in bright shades of red, orange or yellow. Healthline.com points out how this plant contains a “variety of minerals and health-promoting compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.”
We know, too, that Incas used the petals of this edible flower in their medicines and elixirs. Plus, Thomas Jefferson planted them in the now-famous gardens of Monticello, and he enjoyed eating pickled nasturtium seeds. We also know that, in Victorian times, nasturtium was kept on ships because its powerful infusion of vitamin C helped sailors to fight off scurvy.
From a chef’s perspective, these delicate, star-shaped flowers add a nice, salty cucumber flavor to creative dishes, along with a stunning touch of color and juicy texture. You can freeze them in ice cubes and use them in lemonade or iced tea, float them in mocktails and cocktails and more.
Healthline.com points out that, in herbal medicine, this bloom is used to treat coughs and sore throats, noting that more research needs to be done in that area.
Oh, don’t let us get too sidetracked on the subject of squash blossoms, because it’s this floral beauty that got us into serving chefs. (For a touch of whimsy and fun, we dug into our archives and found this short video on the excitement surrounding squash blossoms.)
Healthline.com notes that squash blossoms can be eaten raw in salads, stuffed with herb cheeses, then baked or fried, and more. If the latter idea appeals to you, then we recommend that you explore the sustainably grown fresh herbs we have to offer.
We invite you to contact your product specialist today to discuss which edible flowers can add exactly what you need in dishes.