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Foraging is a great way to find natural foods which will save you money on groceries and puts you back in touch with nature. Many foods you can forage are super healthy, but there are some you’ll need to avoid.
In this guide, we will introduce you to some of the safest and delicious edible flowers you can look for on your next foraging adventure.
There are thought to be around 32,000 types of flowers in the USA alone. Many of these are edible but be mindful only to choose ones you can be certain are safe. Here is a list of some of the most common edible flowers and how you can use them.
Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
Chamomile has a crisp, fresh taste that’s similar to apples. This flower is most commonly used to make herbal tea but it’s also often candied and used to decorate desserts.
The leaves and flowers are edible and can be used fresh or dried for later. However, those with an allergy to ragweed may have an adverse reaction to this flower.
Cape Jasmine/Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides)
Cape jasmine, which is commonly referred to as gardenia, is often used in baking but the edible flowers can also be pickled. This flower has a highly fragrant taste and is believed to have a lot of valuable medicinal properties. For example, it’s thought to reduce inflammation, treat jaundice, and bring down a fever.
Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum spp.)
The chrysanthemum is a popular garden flower but did you know that it works incredibly well in soups and chowder? You can also blanche the flowers and use them in a salad.
Chrysanthemums vary in taste with some being bitter or peppery and others resembling cauliflower.
The petals can be eaten, but you should remove the flower stem. The leaves are also edible and are often used in Japanese cuisine.
Clover (Trifolium pratense)
Clover is often used to make herbal tea and there is some suggestion that this can improve the quality of your nails, although there is no hard evidence to back this. But the sweet, anise-like taste certainly makes it an enjoyable drink.
However, there is some suggestion that using red clover can improve symptoms of menopause, and there is research to back this.
Clover can also be used in a salad, but we’d suggest going for the brightest flowers, as those that are turning brown tend to have a more bitter taste.
Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
The cornflower is typically used to garnish dishes and has a slightly spicy flavor that isn’t all that dissimilar to cloves.
Many people also used cornflowers in baking shortbreads and cakes and they’re very commonly used in ice cubes to flavor cocktails.
However, it is important only to harvest homegrown cornflowers as wild ones are important in the ecosystem and should be left alone.
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale)
While many see dandelions as nothing more than a pesky weed, the yellow flowers can be picked while they are young. They have a taste similar to honey but get more bitter as they age.
You can use whole dandelion flowers along with the leaves of the plant in a salad. It’s also possible to steam them or sprinkle them over rice.
Many people enjoy using dandelions in teas, wines, and beers, and in Indian cuisine, they’re often coated in batter with chickpeas and garam masala which creates a type of bhaji. Yum!
Daisy (Bellis perennis)
The daisy has a light, mild flavor that can sometimes be a little bitter. Because of this, they’re usually used as a garnish or decoration for things like desserts and salads.
Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)
The flowers and buds of the daylily are both edible and are often used in soups, salads, and even stir-fries. However, you have to be mindful that eating too many of these could have a laxative effect.
Daylilies have a crunchy, chewy texture and a flavor that can range between sweet and peppery.
Be careful not to confuse these with true lilies which are not edible and should be avoided.
Dianthus/Pinks (Dianthus spp.)
The flower base of dianthus is too bitter to eat so you’ll want to remove this and use only the petals. These have a sweet to spicy taste depending on the plant with many tasting not all that dissimilar to nutmeg or cloves.
The dianthus can be used in many ways including to adorn ice creams and desserts. However, for savory meals, they’re ideal in a salad and also pair excellently with seafood.
Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)
Many people are familiar with elderflowers being edible as there are lots of elderflower cordials and juices in the grocery store. Pick your own and you can use the flowers to make cordials and wines.
Alternatively, some people like to use the petals to flavor desserts but you must place them in a muslin bag and remove them before eating.
The flowers have a fresh, fruity, green flavor and if you want to try something a little different, you can deep fry them in batter.
Fuchsia (Fuchsia x hybrida)
Due to the unique shape and bright colors, fuchsia is great as a garnish for salad. The flowers can have a slightly acidic taste, but you can also eat the berries which are tart and similar to kiwi fruit.
Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea)
If you’re into baking then you’ll love hollyhocks as you can crystallize them for use in cake decoration. The flowers are also often used to make syrups to flavor desserts but you can also use them in salads and soups.
Hollyhocks have a fresh taste that’s a lot like cucumber. For this reason, they’re often used in drinks.
Honeysuckle flowers and their nectar are both edible and have a highly fragrant and sweet taste. However, the berries are not edible and are, in fact, poisonous to humans.
Honeysuckle is often used in sweet dishes such as a garnish for desserts. It’s also possible to make a sweet syrup with the flowers or pop them in ice cubes and add to your favorite botanical cocktails.
Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
Hibiscus has a gorgeously fresh citrus flavor which makes it ideal for use in herbal teas. While you can use the flower heads whole, they often contain a lot of pollen so it’s usually best just to use the petals. These can also be used to add a pop of color to a salad.
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
Lilac has a very versatile taste depending on the plant. They all have a citrusy flavor but some are more bitter while others are more fragrant.
The bright petals can be used in cocktails and soft drinks but are also excellent when candied with egg whites and sugar and used to decorate desserts. If you are making a salad, throw a few petals in to brighten it up.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
The slightly spicy taste of nasturtium is rather similar to watercress and these are among the most common edible flowers.
You can eat both the flowers and the leaves and these go great in a salad. However, for something a little different, nasturtium pairs very well with eggs and pasta.
Pansies, Viola & Johnny-Jump-Ups (Viola x wittrockiana, Viola spp., Viola tricolor)
You can either eat the whole pansy flower or just the petals. If you have the petals then the taste is sweeter whereas the whole flower has a more green, wintery flavor.
Pansies can be crystallized for use in desserts but also add a glorious pop of color to a salad. Add them to cocktails and soups as a garnish but be mindful never to eat commercially grown pansies.
Marigold (Calendula & Tagetes)
Marigolds have a bitter and citrusy flavor and their bright colors certainly make a dish more visually appealing. They’re excellent in pasta and rice dishes but also work well as a decoration for a variety of desserts.
What’s great is that it’s not only the flowers that are edible but the leaves can also be used in stir-fries, salads, and desserts.
Rose (Rosa spp.)
Rose has a sweet, delicate, and fresh flavor that’s perfect for adding a little something special to drinks and desserts. Generally speaking, the darker the color, the more intense the flavor but every type of rose is edible.
Make sure to remove the petal base as this tastes sour and isn’t pleasant. You can then use the petals to make jams, syrups, and garnishes.
Scented Geraniums (Pelargonium)
Both the leaves and the flowers of the scented geranium can be eaten and they have a delicate flavor with the petals being even milder.
They’re often used to add a delicate taste to drinks and cocktails as well as for crystallizing for use in desserts and sweet treats.
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
The majestic sunflower can be used in many ways as the seeds, buds and flowers can all be eaten. The flowers are often used in stir fries and salads while the buds are delicious served with garlic butter.
Many agree that the buds are the tastiest part of the sunflower and have a flavor similar to artichoke. The petals have a more bittersweet flavor.
Tiger Lily (Lilium leucanthemum var. tigrinum)
One of the most unique ways to use tiger lily is for stuffing fish, but it also works very well with poultry and as a salad component.
The flowers have a delicate flavor which isn’t too overpowering.
Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)
Wisteria petals are great for making vinegars and cordials which are commonly used as a mixer for cocktails. The flowers have a very fragrant flavor.
Edible Flowers from Herbs & Vegetables
We are more familiar with using herbs and veggies for food so let’s explore some of the flowers you can eat from this range of plants.
Alliums (Chives, Garlic, Leeks)
There are around 400 species of alliums, and all are edible. What’s great is that you can use the whole plant, but the flowers tend to have a much stronger flavor. They’re usually used alongside the leaves as part of a salad.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
As you might guess from the name, this plant has an anise-like taste and both the flowers and the leaves are edible. You will normally find these flowers being used in Chinese cuisine, but they also work really well as a garnish for cheese platters.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil flowers come in a range of colors, and they have a similar taste to the basil leaves, which are also widely used in cooking. However, the flowers are a little milder.
You can use them in pasta dishes and in salads and they’re also ideal for brightening up dishes with their pretty colors.
Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
Bee balm has a flavor that’s somewhere between mint and oregano; not surprising when you learn that it pairs extremely well with oregano. Whenever you use these leaves, bee balm flowers and leaves will be the perfect compliment.
You can also use these leaves to flavor teas and they have a very similar taste to Earl Grey.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
The petals of the borage plant taste very similar to cucumber, and this light, fresh taste lends itself very well to flavoring iced tea, especially when the petals are used in ice cubes. However, you can also use them in salads, with cheese, and in dips.
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
These white flowers have an anise flavor but it’s best to use them fresh. If you dry them or alter them in any other way, they quickly lose their flavor. It’s also a good idea to add them to salads fresh or if you have to cook them, add them last.
Cilantro/Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
You can eat the flowers of the coriander plant as well as the leaves and the seeds. The flowers have a very herbal flavor and are ideal when sprinkled over salads and stir-fries. Cilantro is also perfect as a garnish with its citrusy taste.
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Dill leaves are often used in cooking but the small yellow flowers are also edible. You can use these in fish dishes and to make oils. It’s thought that dill flowers have a wide range of medicinal properties and have been used for thousands of years in the ayurvedic traditions.
The flowers taste similar to the leaves but have a much stronger and more prominent flavor.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fennel produces yellow flowers that have an anise-like flavor not all that dissimilar to the rest of the plant. You can eat all parts of this plant, including the stalk, bulb, and flowers which are perfect as a garnish for appetizers or in cold soups.
Garden Pea (Pisum sativum)
Any dish that uses peas will also benefit from a sprinkling of garden pea flowers. Be careful not to confuse these with the sweet pea as this is toxic to humans.
You can use garden pea flowers in salads and they have a grassy and slightly earthy flavor.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Lavender has a very floral and sweet flavor that is quite potent. The buds, stems, flowers, and leaves can be eaten and the flowers go very well in desserts, jams, and syrups. You can also crystallize them for decorating cakes or pop fresh flowers into champagne and other drinks.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm flowers are pretty versatile and go incredibly well in a salad. If you’re looking for something that will compliment a poultry dish then these small flowers are also ideal.
Lemon balm flowers have a bright taste with hints of citrus that pairs very well with mint since they are from the same family.
Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
Lovage has a flavor that’s very similar to celery and produces white edible flowers. The leaves and seeds can also be eaten and this plant is commonly used in soups and salads. It pairs very well with parsley.
Mint leaves are a very common cooking ingredient but the flowers are also great in several types of dishes. They range in color from white to pale pink or purple and have a very similar taste to the leaves. Use mint flowers in Middle Eastern dishes or to liven up a dessert.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
If you are cooking with oregano leaves then you can also use the flowers in exactly the same way. Great with pasta and meat dishes or for use in a soup or salad. The flowers have a similar taste to the leaves.
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
The flowers of the rosemary plant come in a variety of colors, including white, blue, or pink, so can be used to brighten up a dish.
The taste is similar to the edible leaves and is slightly piney with a hit of citrus. Although it’s not as intense and works very well in sorbets.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
You may have used sage leaves in the past, but the flowers are also suitable for eating. Their flavor is similar to the leaves but not quite as strong.
Sage flowers are ideal in herbal tea but can also be used in salads. If you’re making a homemade pate, then sage flowers are the perfect compliment to this.
Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
Sorrel flowers have a very prominent citrus flavor and these can be used as well as the leaves in a variety of dishes.
Most commonly, sorrel flowers are used in salads. But if you need an alternative to lime or lemon to add some zing to a dish then these flowers are the perfect substitute.
Squash, Zucchini (Cucurbita spp.)
Zucchini and squash flowers can be used in the same way, although most people are familiar with the edible fruits. These large flowers are often battered and fried but you can also add them to tomato sauces, rice dishes and serve with cheese.
The flavor of the zucchini and squash flowers is vegetative and mild.
Thyme (Thymus spp.)
The flowers and the leaves of the thyme plant are both edible, and the flowers have a similar taste to the leaves, just a little milder. They are often used as a garnish or can be sprinkled over a soup.
Storing & Preserving Edible Flowers
You may have picked more edible flowers than you can use in one go, but that’s OK because, for the most part, you’ll be able to store them.
Make sure that you always wash your harvest as this will remove pesticides and insects. To do this, simply wash the flowers in lukewarm water by soaking them and then spread them out until they are dry.
Some flowers can be eaten whole, such as pansies, whereas others need to have parts removed. In most cases, you will need to remove the pistils, stamen, and calyces. When you have done this, you can prepare them for storage.
If you intend to use the flowers within a couple of days, then putting them into an airtight container in the fridge is the best way to keep them fresh. Alternatively, you can freeze the flowers in ice cubes. Fill the tray halfway and then add the flowers into each section. Top up with water and freeze.
It is also possible to dry your flowers which will take around four to six hours in an oven set to 50 degrees. You will need to keep turning and moving the flowers to ensure they dry evenly. You can also use the same method but with a dehydrator, and this will take around the same length of time as using the oven.
If you are going to use the flowers for desserts, then it’s often best to candy or crystallize the flowers ready for use. Things like roses, violets, and borage are ideal for this.
With all of this in mind, it’s generally best to leave the flowers on the plant until you are ready to use them. Fresher is better!
Tips & Tricks When Picking Edible Flowers
Whether you are out in nature gathering your harvest or picking flowers in your garden, there are a few things you need to keep in mind to get the most out of your foraging.
1. Only Pick Flowers you’re Sure Are Edible
Not all flowers are edible. In fact, some are highly poisonous and can cause some nasty side effects when eaten. For this reason, it is vital that you only ever choose flowers that you know for certain are edible.
If you are in any doubt then move on to the next flower. The problem is that some flowers have lookalikes and this can be misleading so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
While we cannot include an exhaustive list of toxic flowers in this guide, here are some of the most common.
- Sweet pea
- Lily of the valley
2. Gather Edible Flowers in Prime Condition
You want your flowers to add something special to your cooking so it’s important only to choose those that are in prime condition.
As the flowers begin to deteriorate, they lose much of their flavor and some can start to taste bitter. The texture and quality won’t be great so it’s best to go for fresh, new blooms. That said, avoid picking those that are not yet opened as they won’t have developed enough and may not taste as good.
3. Avoid Picking Edible Flowers Early Morning When it’s Damp
Picking your flowers at the right time will ensure excellent quality. Head out too late in the day and many of the flowers might have dried up and lost much of their flavor. However, if you go out too early in the morning, there will still be a lot of dew which could cause the flowers to wilt and lose quality.
Aim to pick the flowers when it is cool and dry; late morning is ideal. They will be well hydrated but not too wet and will be fully open with the best flavor.
4. Avoid Flowers that Have Been Sprayed with Pesticides or Harmful Substances
Your flowers should be free from chemicals like pesticides as this isn’t going to do you any good if you ingest them. If you’re purchasing from a florist or garden center, it’s wise to ask a member of staff if the flowers have been treated with chemicals.
When foraging, be mindful of areas where flowers may have been treated with chemicals, This includes near agricultural land. Flowers that are found growing on the roadside might not have been treated but could be contaminated with things like dog pee, animal droppings, car fumes, and many other harmful substances.
5. Thoroughly Wash Edible Flowers before Use
Even if you have taken great care not to pick flowers that may have harmful substances on them, it’s still good practice to thoroughly wash them before use. This will remove any insects, chemicals, and other nasties that could cause you unpleasant symptoms should you eat them.
6. Try a Small Amount First if you’ve Never Tried Them Before
While the flowers we have discussed in this guide are all edible, some people may have an adverse reaction to them due to an allergy or sensitivity.
For this reason, we would always suggest trying a small amount first before diving in and taking your fill.