The Best Ways To Cook With Edible Flowers

Pansies. Rose petals. Hibiscus. Lavender. These are all flowers we know the look and smell of, but have you ever tasted them? Because they are all edible! Cooking edible flowers may not be standard fare in American kitchens, but according to My Garden Life, they're a hot food trend right now. Not only can they make a dish look pretty, but they can also add a unique complexity of flavor. Edible Austin points out that many cultures in the Middle East and India actually even consider rose petals a herb, just like rosemary or thyme. So much so, that in 2012 the International Herb Association named roses the herb of the year.

Eating flowers isn't a new trend. Humans have been eating flowers since ancient times. As Lionesse writes, historical records exist showing that Romans, Aztecs, ancient Chinese, and the Peruvian Incas all ate flowers. And in Victorian England it was popular to eat candied violets.

But one thing most experts stress is that you should only eat freshly-picked flowers from your own garden, ones purchased from a preferably-organic farm stands, prepackaged flowers marked as edible, or blooms from another reputable source, so you know the flowers won't have pesticides or any other harsh chemicals (via Good Housekeeping).

Know what you're eating and where it comes from

Most experts emphasize before eating any flowers that you must make sure they're actually edible, because, as Eating Well reports, some flowers are extremely poisonous. Lionesse also says not to assume that any flower placed on food is edible, as many non-edible flowers, like hydrangeas, are often used as decoration but shouldn't be ingested. However, there are many reputable sources, like Gardening Channel, that provide comprehensive lists of all edible flowers.

But once you understand the types of flowers you can work with, how do you cook with them? The exciting news is they can provide so much more than a garnish! In its guide to edible flowers, Eating Well provides a starter list of flowers, with photos and descriptions of what they taste like and how to use them. Like the Victorians, you can coat flowers like violets and rose petals in sugar and eat them as candy or sprinkle them onto a cake for a pretty topping. Mix pansies with greens for a colorful, flavorful salad. Or batter and deep fry zucchini blossoms for a crispy appetizer. 

The flavor profiles of edible flowers vary, and What's Cooking America states that the taste can change depending on the variety of the plant; some are bitter and some are sweet. Some, like hibiscus, have a tart flavor, where others like nasturtiums can be peppery (via My Garden Life). As a good rule of thumb, Good Housekeeping notes that most edible flowers will taste similar to how they smell.