Flowers often look pretty enough to eat and the good news is that you can eat some flowers. In fact in your Michigan garden there are bound to be a variety of flowers that you can use as edible decorations or even in cooking. There will be a list of edible flowers at the end of the article but there are some important things to keep in mind before harvesting the flower bed for edibles.
First, there are some flowers that could make you very ill or even kill you if you ate them so you must know how to properly identify flowers before you experiment with them. If you aren’t sure about a particular flower ask an experienced gardener or take a sample to your local county Extension office for identification. You could also check garden catalogs and reference books.
Just because a plant has some edible part doesn’t mean that all parts are edible, including the flowers. A good example is the flowers of tomatoes and potatoes, which would make you pretty ill if eaten. So even after identifying the plant as a food plant, make sure the flowers are edible.
Second you should only eat flowers that you know haven’t been treated with pesticides. Many garden flowers get regular applications of pest control products, and some flower products are not formulated for plants that are going to be consumed. This includes systemic products that get taken into the plant tissues and can’t be washed off. If it isn’t your garden that you are plucking edible flowers from you need to get information from the gardens caretakers.
Plants growing along roadsides, such as the common daylily, are also not a good choice for edibles. They may have been contaminated with all sorts of chemicals that leach and blow off the road. Plants growing near field crops may have accumulated pesticide drift and also should be avoided.
Choosing and using edible flowers
For the prettiest edible flowers choose newly opened, unblemished flowers in the early morning. While in the garden examine flowers for bugs and shake them off if you can. Avoid flowers with dirt on them or flowers that look like they may have a mold or fungal growth on them.
If they are not going to be used right away pick edible flowers with stems so they can be put into water. Keep the flowers cool, put a plastic bag over them loosely as they sit in a vase of water and place them in the refrigerator.
Handle edible flowers gently, petals bruise easily and they can tear or bend. Don’t pick the flowers longer than a few hours before they will be used or eaten. Flowers can be washed by filling a bowl with cool water and gently swishing the flowers in it. They should be allowed to air dry before use.
In most cases the stems and even the sepals- the green leaf-like structures on the back of some flowers are removed before preparing them for eating. Scissors or a small knife is used for this. Some flowers need the sepals to hold them together and in some flowers the sepals look just like petals. If the flowers need to be poked into a cake or other item for decoration a toothpick is generally used through the back of the flower. In some elaborate flower decorating schemes the stems of flowers are inserted into tiny tube-like vases that florists use, which are then inserted into the food.
There are several ways to use edible flowers. One is to simply lay them on a plate or food item as a garnish. Most people won’t eat these flowers, but you should still use safe, known to be edible flowers. Some edible flowers are incorporated into salads, for color and flavor. Some are candied, by dipping them in coatings of sugar water. Some may be stir fried or stuffed with fillings for beautiful edibles. Some are even battered and fried, like squash blossoms. And many flowers can be used in herbal teas, dried or fresh.
An interesting way to use flowers is to soften some butter and thoroughly mix some colorful petals of edible flowers into it. Use a ratio of a 1/4 cup or stick of butter to a 1/4 cup of petals. Let the mixture sit in the refrigerator for a few days to blend the flavors. Flowers from herbs like chives and rosemary, or rose or violet petals are good choices.
List of edible flowers
anise hyssop clover honeysuckle peony
apple blossoms dandelion lavender rose
bachelors buttons daylilies lemon, lime* rosemary*
borage dianthus lemon balm spearmint
calendula dill lilacs squash flowers
carnation English daisy marigolds thyme
catnip fennel monarda tuberous begonias*
chicory geraniums* nasturtiums tulips
chamomile gladiolus oregano violas
chives hibiscus pansies Violets
chrysanthemum hollyhock peppermint Yucca
* potted plants in Michigan
Remember that while these plants aren’t poisonous anyone can have an allergic reaction to a plant. Try small amounts of any new flower to see how you react to it.