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Meg is a staff writer for The Hudsucker. After going through high school thinking she “didn’t like to write,” she found her love for it her freshman year at college and it’s only deepened since then. Upon graduating from Rutgers University with a BA in Communication in 2013, she began working in online marketing for the hospitality industry. She currently splits her time between NYC, where she works, and NJ, where she lives—but hopes that one day she’ll be able to live & work in the same state (that’s the dream).

How to Use Edible Flowers and Brighten up Your Meals

It’s pretty rare that flowers are seen as more than beautiful objects or as decorations to keep around the house. They completely surround us inside and outside and yet little more is done with them other than staring at and, maybe, sniffing them. It might be time to change that though because flowers can be more than just pretty things to look at — you can actually eat them too. Edible flowers have been around and used in cooking for centuries but died in popularity until recently.

The true reason for their rise in popularity is unknown: possibility due to the general population taking a bigger interest in cooking or perhaps it’s because we have started paying a lot of attention to making our food camera-ready — and is there a better way to up the present-ability of food than by adding flowers? Whatever the reason, let’s explore how to use edible flowers in everyday life.

Image Credit: maggie mccain

What Kinds To Use
It can seem a little daunting the first time you go to explore edible flowers, especially when you realize that there isn’t just one type of flower that is edible. I know that I was surprised to learn that there are a lot of flowers out there that can be safely eaten. Lavender is arguably the most popular edible flower used today. Hibiscus, dandelions, chrysanthemums, and marigolds are all very popular flowers to grow that surprisingly can be edible as well. Borage flowers and nasturtiums are two types of flowers to look into that are popular in the edible-flower-world but not so popular in the regular-flower-world. Additionally, almost every herb you can think of has buds on it, which means they flower, and almost all of them are edible when grown for that purpose. Chive, thyme, oregano, basil, parsley — look for the flower components of all these very popular herbs. In that same vein, many fruits and vegetables have blooms as well. There are apple flowers, citrus flowers, and the ever-popular squash blossoms. Look to this really informative resource from What’s Cooking America for more of the food flowers you can eat.

When using edible flowers keep in mind that in the same way all different herbs taste different, all different flowers taste different too. It can be easy to just assume that they will all taste the same, or at the very least harbor the same “flower-y” taste, because they look similar but this is not the case. For instance, the flowers you get from the herbs have flavors quite similar to that specific herb’s flavor, so you wouldn’t want to use them in a dish where that flavor doesn’t work. Prior to use, be sure to clean the flowers gently with water and, if you picked them fresh, use them that same day. If you want to try holding them until the next day stick them in the refrigerator overnight.

Safely Using Edible Flowers
The most important part about using edible flowers is to make sure you are safely eating them. A major part of the reason why flowers are edible is that these flowers have a lack of pesticides. Unlike a lot of produce, which can handle pesticides without becoming toxic, flowers are very delicate and need to be completely free of chemicals in order to be edible. To get a sense of why, just think about how often we are told not to touch flowers because even the oils in our hands can effect their growth. Even with the lack of pesticides most edible flowers are only okay if you eat a few, but ingesting them in large quantities can make you sick. Stick to only putting a few on the plate or mixed into the dish you are making and you will be fine. If you are picking the flowers themselves, be sure to check if the flowers have pistons or not. If they do, remove them before eating because they can prove to be toxic. Similarly, you want to remove any pollen on the flower for it trigger allergies, just as pollen floating the air can. The good news is if you are buying the flowers from a specialty shop or grocery store this is most likely already done for you!

Where To Get Them
Despite not being used too often, edible flowers are widely available. Your local grocery store might even have them in stock — I suggest asking an employee to see if they do since it’d be quicker than trying to determine where they are kept. Check out specialty food stores or shops because they are likely to have a few as well. If none of these options pan out, you can order them online and have them shipped directly to you from a variety of sources. There is also the option of picking them yourself (better known as “foraging” which is quite trendy right now, if you care about that sort of thing). While this might be the most fun way to get the flowers, it can be hard to do, so if you are just starting out, I suggest buying first and picking later. If you are foraging, make sure you do substantial research about what flowers are edible versus which ones are poisonous and be sure to only pick them from areas that have not been sprayed with pesticides. Like I mentioned previously, these are very hard things to determine for a layman, so if possible it’s best to go foraging with a guide or someone who is very knowledgeable about eating directly from the land. If you’re looking for total control and edible flowers at your beckon call – grow them yourself! If you’ve ever gardened before it’s very simple to do and not that much different then growing regular-non-edible flowers. Just be sure you are not using any soil or fertilizer that has chemicals in it because that will result in a toxic flower.

Image Credit: Jakubowskifoto

How to Use Them
The possibilities for edible flowers are truly endless, and that’s what makes them exciting! A small amount goes a long way because of their beauty and flavor, so just be sure to keep that in mind as you create. Personally, I love these gorgeous flower popsicles. And here is arguably the most popular recipe made with edible flowers that you probably didn’t even know was considered a flower — fried squash blossoms. One of the things that really brought edible flowers back into the spotlight was cake and cooking decorating. A few flowers on top of a cake or sprinkled in the icing of a sugar cookie turns something that looked okay into something that looks like it was purchased from a professional bakery. Candied flowers with candied citrus look absolutely beautiful on top of cakes and tastes great as well. There’s really no instructions or recipes to follow — just let your imagination run wild with the combinations.

Similarly to the popsicles from above, you can also freeze a few flowers into ice cubes to use in drinks as an easy way for some color. Don’t be scared to work them into savory dishes as well. You can use edible flowers as a garnish for just about anything. Think of using them as you would fresh herbs, because in a lot of ways they are basically the same thing. Of course, as with any food item, make sure you are using a flower that compliments the flavors in the dish. Always expect that people will eat everything that you put on the plate — you don’t want to have clashing flavors in anyone’s mouth just because you picked a flower that looked pretty but had an uncomplimentary flavor. Don’t forget that flowers can also be lovely in homemade bath scrubs like this lavender-coffee scrub. You don’t want to eat the entire jar of scrub as it was a meal, but at least you won’t have to worry if you accidentally get some in your mouth.

Have you ever used edible flowers before?

Featured image is from don lavange.

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