9 Flowers You Can Eat, and Their Surprising Health Benefits
Did your mother ever tell you to “eat your greens” when you were little? Well she was right, you should. But did you know you should also be eating your purples, pinks, reds, oranges, yellows and blues? A full spectrum of colors means a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals, and one of the prettiest ways to get your vitamins is through edible flowers.
Not a lot of people know this, but many of the floral blooms you see in fields, in forests, and maybe in your own backyard are not only edible, they’re actually really beneficial for for your overall health. Many edible flowers pack a punch with health benefits, and taste delicious besides. Let’s look at how to turn the world into your own personal salad bowl.
Where to Get Them
If you want to gather edible flowers yourself, exercise some caution and common sense. Steer clear of flowers growing on the sides of busy roads, because they have been bathing in exhaust fumes. Only pick flowers if you are sure of what they are. Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Because as with any other wild foods, you are relying on your own knowledge and senses to make sure you’re picking something safe to consume, and not something that might poison you. If you want a cautionary tale, consider the wild carrot: edible, delicious, and nearly identical-looking to wild parsnip, which will give you hives.
If you’ve got a green thumb, one of the best ways to ensure you know what you’re eating is to grow it yourself. When you’re planning your garden for this summer, consider the edible flower! Your backyard will be beautiful, and you can go outside on an August afternoon and collect a salad for dinner, like you’re living in Under the Tuscan Sun.
Now that we’ve covered those ground rules, let’s move on to some of the best flowers you can eat.
Roses have long been one of the best ways to show someone you love them, but did you ever give someone a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses and tell them it was a salad? You could have!
You’ve probably come across rose-flavored honey, jam, or sorbets in the past, because the full-bodied pungence of this flower goes well with sweet things. All rose types vary in flavor, from gently sweet to slightly metallic to just a little bit gingery, so it’s important to taste test before you commit to a full recipe. The darker the petals the more intense the flavor. Make sure to remove the white part of the petal before consuming them—they’re extremely bitter.
Nasturtium are the most diverse flowers out there. Every part of the plant is edible: petals, leaves, and seeds. In terms of flavor, they’re like a cross between a radish and a watercress: peppery, spicy, and with just a little bit of a tang. Nasturtium is also high in vitamin C, and flowers range from yellow to orange, to red, making them a very versatile addition to a salad or pasta dish.
Daylilies are maybe the best example of flowers you have seen in all your neighbors’ yards, without any idea of what they were called, and certainly with no clue that you could eat them. Daylilies are chosen as ornamental plants because they’re very hardy and easy to grow. They come in a wide range of shades from yellow, red, and orange, to purple or white.
Daylilies have a mild vegetable flavor, sort of similar to asparagus. Depending on the variety, they can be sweeter, more floral, or more vegetal or slightly metallic. You want to harvest the buds of these plants, just before the flowers open, for the best flavor, but the petals are also edible. Once picked, they’re great in stir frys or fritters.
Lavender is one of the flowers you may well have used in baking before. The fresh floral sweetness of them goes so well in scones, in jams, and in teas. They’ve got a very strong flavor, so if you’re cooking or baking with them, use a light hand.
In terms of the health benefits, lavender is famous for helping to promote a sense of calm, ease, and relaxation. It can also improve your sleep, and is a powerful friend if you’ve got a headache you want to get rid of.
Borage is an adorable, hilarious flower. The plant is covered in coarse, stiff hairs, and its leaves are rough and wrinkled. But the bloom is a beautiful blue, and the flavor is subtle. It tastes a little bit like cucumbers, though some would say it’s a grassy taste.
Borage is a great addition to teas, because its mild flavor won’t overpower anything else you’ve got in your cup. The flower is a good source of fatty acids that can help regulate your metabolism. It also supports good cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Red clover is a great bloom to start out with if you’re nervous about getting into eating flowers. Their small, red-purple globe structure makes them easy to identify, and they grow wild in pretty much any field you wander through in the summertime. They have a lovely light sweetness and are extremely easy to identify.
Red clover is a real help in reducing inflammation throughout the body, and the greens are very high in vitamin C, so they’re a big immune system boost as well. Women who suffer from menstrual symptoms would do well to make a tea from the petals, which can help balance hormones and reduce PMS symptoms.
Calendula is a very happy flower. It looks happy, it smells happy, it makes you happy when you eat it. These daisy-like blooms are a bright yellow-orange, and have numerous health benefits. The flowers have been made into topical creams to treat wounds and burned skin. They have been known to aid in digestion, to reduce fevers, and to support the immune system. They make life better.
In terms of the flavor profile, calendula is akin to saffron. It ranges from spicy to bitter to tangy and peppery. It also adds the saffron-like yellow tinge to foods. Throw the blossoms into a salad, make them into a tea, or dry them, ground them, and use them as a spice.
If you are one of those people who aggressively weeds all of the dandelions that pop up in your backyard, stop that. Stop that right now. Because dandelions are fantastic. The flowers contain Vitamins A and C and the greens are high in calcium, iron and phosphorous. The stems have a milky liquid inside that will help heal cuts and scrapes (think like the insides of an aloe plant). The flowers are sweet and can be the stars of cookies or fritters. The leaves are spicy and delicious in any salad.
And they grow anywhere, with zero effort on your part. They’re like the great not-so-hidden secret of wild food. They are the lettuce of nature’s salad bowl. Stop weeding them, I beg you.
Did you know that all of your favorite culinary herbs produce flowers? It’s true! Basil, oregano, rosemary, dill, thyme…they all produce blooms. These herb flowers have the same medicinal properties and flavor profile as the leaves (which is what we traditionally use in cooking), but in a milder, more subtle way.
Mint flowers are also lovely, and great for use in tea. There’s a huge variety of mints whose flowers are worth a try: peppermint, spearmint, catnip, the list goes on. If you’ve never tried a chocolate mint flower, you have been missing out.
How to Use Flowers
We’ve covered a few of the best use cases for the individual flowers, but let’s cover a few more ways you can incorporate flowers into your diet. If you’re picking flowers right out of your garden, it’s best to get them first thing in the morning, after the dew has dried and just as they’re starting to open. If you pick them at that time, you’ll get the most flavor.
Some culinary inspiration for your edible flowers:
- Use them to flavor butter
- Put them in your favorite biscuit or muffin recipe
- Add them to sandwiches along with other greens
- Decorate salads with them for extra flavor and visual excitement
- Make teas, punches, or any other type of beverages by infusing flowers
- Add them to soups (they’ll add some bite and freshness)
Milk thistle can look like a common weed, but its blooms are a gorgeous purple fluff ball, and the health benefits from the whole plant are huge. It’s the liver support plant your body will thank you for—it’s been used to detoxify the liver for over 2,000 years. Milk thistle also supports cell regeneration, supports balanced hormones, and balances blood sugar.
Here at Activation, we use the seeds of the milk thistle plant and press them with our Perfect Press® technique to get every last bit of benefit out of the seeds. Every bottle contains the oil of thousands of seeds, completely undamaged and stored in UV-protective Miron glass bottles to maintain quality over time.
This is the purest, most carefully pressed milk thistle oil you can buy.
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