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Prairie Fare: Edible Flowers Add Beauty to the Menu

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
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If you want to add flowers to your home menu, you might want to try growing some specifically for this purpose.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“What did you find?” my husband asked.

I was hoping he wouldn’t notice the wagonload of perennial flowering plants I was pulling behind me at the nursery. I can’t sneak anything past this guy.

He grinned at me, then muttered something about having to dig more holes in our yard. All my new purple and blue delphiniums had homes in my backyard flower garden by the next day.

I admit it. I can’t resist flowers. After all, “Garden” is my middle name. Horticulture might have been a good career choice for me.

The plants I selected looked good enough to eat, but I just wanted to beautify my landscape with their vibrant colors and interesting shapes.

Many flowers are edible, and thinking back, I have eaten a few through the years. I have had tossed salads with the burst of color and peppery flavor that nasturtiums offer. I’ve nibbled on the delicate floral garnishes on the side of a dinner plate.

I’ve enjoyed squash blossoms as a side dish and candied flowers as decorative touches on cakes. I’ve sipped chamomile tea and admired flower blossoms frozen in ice cubes.

Most people wouldn’t eat enough flowers for them to make a significant contribution to your diet, but they can add color and a zesty flavor in some cases.

Because I’m not a horticulture specialist, I looked up some information from several Extension Service websites to acquire a few tips to share about edible flowers.

Roses, lavender, geranium flowers, certain violets (not African violets, which are in a different family), impatiens and lilacs are among the edible flowers. The petals of pot marigolds, also known as calendulas, add dark gold color to side dishes when sautéed with oil. Pansies can be candied and used as cake decorations.

Pumpkin and squash blossoms can be stir-fried or breaded and fried. Think about it: The more blossoms you eat ahead of time, the fewer zucchini you will have to use or give away late in the summer.

Even the landscaper’s favorite, daylily, has potential for use in salads or floating in a punch bowl. However, you need to take some special precautions before munching on the contents of your flower pots.

Some flowers should not be eaten, so be sure to identify the flowers correctly before eating them. Other flowers can induce allergic reactions, especially if you have allergies or asthma.

Consider the source of the flowers. Flowers purchased from a florist are meant to look at, not eat, because some of the pesticides used on flowers have not been approved for use on edible plants.

If you want to add flowers to your home menu, you might want to try growing some specifically for this purpose. Then you will know exactly how the flowers were grown and their exposure to chemicals.

For best quality, harvest flowers after the dew has evaporated. Flowers are so delicate that, for best quality, they should be eaten on the day they are picked. Before eating, remove the stamens and pistils (the reproductive parts of the plant usually near the center of the blossom) and the sepals (the leaflike part at the base of the flower). Rinse them to remove soil or insects.

Because edible flowers are not readily available in most supermarkets, this week’s recipe features a vegetable with “flower” in its name: cauliflower. This recipe is courtesy of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Try it as a side dish at your next picnic or barbecue.

Creamy Cauliflower Salad

2 c. cauliflower broken into florets

1/2 c. diced red onion

2 c. chopped romaine lettuce

1 chopped red apple (Braeburn or Honey Crisp)

1/4 c. light ranch dressing

Optional add-ins: raisins, dried cranberries or sunflower seeds

Prepare the cauliflower by rinsing well in cold water just before cutting. Snap off outer leaves and discard. Remove core. Cut or break the cauliflower into florets. Rinse and prepare other ingredients as indicated, then place in a bowl. Stir in dressing. Cover. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes six servings (about 3/4 c. per serving). Each serving has 40 calories, 1 gram (g) of fat, 7 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of protein, 2 g of fiber and 80 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – June 27, 2013

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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