The Cocktailian's Guide to Edible Flowers
Update May 20, 2019: I’ve added lots of additional info in the reference guide below! Scroll to the bottom to get right into the list of edible flowers.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of edible flowers. A large percentage of the cocktails I share everyday on Instagram feature floral garnishes, and I’m moderately obsessed with wandering around in the field behind our house looking for things I can eat, turn into a syrup, or use as a garnish. There’s just something so naturally appealing about flowers. They can transform a tasty but visually lacking drink into a masterpiece, take a cake from boring to extraordinary, or add unique, delicate, vegetal flavors to a weeknight dinner.
With the last few weeks of summer closing in, I was inspired to assemble a collection of some of the easy-to-identify edible flowers and plants from around my yard and create a cocktail inspired by all of this summer’s foraging. Below you'll find a list of common edible flowers that make for gorgeous garnishes. Some you can find in your backyard, others are easy to find in stores or online.
In addition to being top notch garnishes, wild edibles make a lovely addition to salads, soups, crudite or charcuterie platters. I gathered a basketful, gave them a thorough shake (to remove any lurking little creatures), a good rinse, and a gentle pat dry, and served them as a topping for a large garden salad with an oxymel-based dressing.
Oxymels are a delicious way to preserve the flavors of summer and create herbal infusions to use in cocktails, salad dressings, as herbal medicine, or with diluted with sparkling water like a shrub. An oxymel, meaning ‘acid + honey’, is just that - a mixture of equal parts honey and vinegar. I like to use local wildflower honey and organic apple cider vinegar. You can combine both ingredients in a jar, shake it well, and enjoy as is, or you can add herbs or other botanicals and let it sit for a few weeks to make an infusion. My current favorite oxymel to make is elderberry, which is both delicious and good for you! Elderberry has long been known for its antiviral properties, making it a powerful ally during cold and flu season.
In today's garden-fresh cocktail recipe, I've use a touch of rosemary & thyme infused oxymel combined with blueberry syrup, Standard Wormwood Distillery's Wormwood gin, lime juice, and an absinthe rinse. This complex, herbal gin sour is garnished with a miniature garden of tiny edibles (from left to right: Queen Anne's lace leaf, yellow hawkweed, red clover (back), fleabane daisy, oregano leaf, purple basil blossom.)
Garden Variety Gin Sour
2 oz Wormwood Gin (Standard Wormwood Distillery)
1 oz lime juice
.75 oz blueberry syrup (equal parts water, sugar, and ripe blueberries)
.25 oz rosemary & thyme infused oxymel
1 egg white
Add less than a 1/4 ounce of absinthe to a chilled cocktail glass and swirl to coat. Discard absinthe. Shake remaining ingredients hard without ice for about 1 minute. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into absinthe-rinsed cocktail glass and garnish with tiny edible flowers and herbs.
Below I've started a list of some of the edible flowers and plants I'm familiar with. This list is by no means exhaustive, and mainly focuses on what's readily available to me or native to New England. I will add to the list as I come across new flowers and I'll update with more photos as I have the opportunity to shoot them!
If you're looking to purchase edible flowers, I have come across a few sites and the one that seems to have the best selection is Gourmet Sweet Botanicals. I’ve now ordered from them a few times and I’ve been really happy with their products!
A List of Edible Flowers to Elevate your Garnish Game
IMPORTANT: Never eat a plant or flower if you cannot identify it with absolute certainty. Many flowers are toxic and may look like those that are edible. Use common sense and if in doubt, don't eat it! Flowers from florists or grocery stores have been treated with pesticides and should not be eaten unless labeled as edible.
For quick reference, here is a list of some common plants that ARE NOT safe to eat: rhododendron, azalea, daffodil, hydrangea, ranunculus, lily, lily of the valley, foxglove, oleander.
Aster, New England: Symphyotrichum novae angliae. Both the leaves and flowers are edible.
Baby’s breath: Gypsophila sp. Clusters of tiny white flowers. Slightly sweet flavor.
Bee balm: Monarda didyma. Bright pink to purple colored blossoms. Also called Bergamot because of the scent and flavor resemblance to the citrus fruit of the same name. Red blossoms have a minty flavor.
Bluets: Houstonia coerulea. Tiny blue to white flowers with four petals. Very mild vegetal flavor.
Borage: Borago officinalis. Beautiful blue blossoms with a mild cucumber flavor.
Calendula: Calendula officinalis. Also called Marigold. Orange to yellow colored blossoms. Flavor can range but is somewhat characteristic of saffron.
Carnation: Dianthus caryophyllus. Carnations are a species of Dianthus. Wide variety of colors. Petals have sweet to spicy flavor. Cut the white base of the petals off to avoid bitter flavors. One of the ingredients in the mysterious Chartreuse secret recipe!
Chamomile: Matricaria recutita. Slightly bitter, sweet, earthy, somewhat floral flavor.
Chrysanthemum: Chrysanthemum coronarium. A wide variety of colors. Slightly bitter, vegetal flavor. Use petals only.
Columbine: Aquilegia canadensis (red) and aquilegia caerulea (Colorado blue) ONLY. Flowers only.
Cornflower: Centaurea cynaus. Also called Bachelor’s Button. Bright blue blossoms with clove flavor.
Dahlia: Edible petals. Flavors range from mild water chestnut to apple to carrot.
Dandelion: Taraxacum officinalis. Fluffy, yellow flowers. Honey flavor when flowers are small and young.
Daylily: Hemerocallis. Orange and yellow, six petaled blooms. Slightly sweet, lettuce-like flavor. Use caution as true LILIES are not safe to eat.
Dianthus: Wide range of colors and varieties. Consume petals only, avoid the bitter tasting white ends of the petals.
Evening primrose: Oenothera biennis. Also called Sundrop. Beautiful yellow, four petaled blossoms. Slightly sweet flavor.
Fleabane: Erigeron annuus. Tiny white, daisy-like flowers with many spiky white petals. Mild, vegetal flavor.
Forsythia: Forsythia x intermedia. Clusters of small, bright yellow, four petaled flowers. Blooms early in spring. Honey-like to green in flavor.
Fruit blossoms (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, cherry, apple, pear): Many are edible, in moderation. Research individual varieties for more information.
Fuchsia: exotic, two tone blossoms. Both flowers and berries are edible.
Geranium: Pelargonium. Scented geraniums are edible and taste like their individual scent variety.
Goldenrod: Solidago cnadensis. Long clusters of tiny, bright yellow flowers. All aerial parts of the plant can be eaten.
Hawkweed (yellow and orange): Hieracium. Related to dandelions. Also called “devil’s paintbrush”. Bright yellow or orange fluffy blossoms.
Herb blossoms (basil, thyme, mint, oregano, sage): Research individual varieties for more information.
Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Blossoms range from white to deep red. Sweet, tart, acidic flavor.
Hosta: All varieties cultivated in the United States are edible. Colors range from white to purple. Mild, vegetal, slightly bitter flavor.
Kousa dogwood: Cornus kousa. ONLY this variety of dogwood has edible flowers and berries. White, rigid flowers with four petals.
Lavender: Lavandula angustifolia. Pretty, tall purple flowers. Clean, sweet, floral flavor.
Lilac: Syringa vulgaris. Large clusters of pale purple or white blossoms. Strong floral scent and flavor.
Magnolia: Magnolia grandiflora. Intense flavor comparable to scent. Best pickled.
Marigold: See Calendula.
Moonbeam coreopsis: Coreopsis verticillata. Also known as Tickseed. Yellow flowers with delicate petals and leaves.
Nasturtium: Tropaeolum majus. One of the most popular edible flowers. Wide range of colors.
Orchid: All flowers of the family Orchidaceae are considered safe to eat, although some may cause stomach upset.
Pansy: Viola x wittrockiana. Many colors available. Very mild flavor. Some are sweet, some are more grassy.
Peony: Paeonia lactiflora. Variety of colors. Petals are fragrant and slightly sweet.
Phlox: Phlox paniculata. PERRENNIAL variety ONLY. Tall, brightly colored flowers in clusters. Spicy flavor.
Queen Anne’s Lace: Daucus carota. Also called Wild Carrot. Lacey, white blooms. Mild carrot-like flavor. Take care not to confuse with other similar looking plants that are toxic. Look for a hairy stem.
Red clover: Trifolium. Sweet, licorice-like flavor.
Rose: Rosa rugosa, R. gallica officinalis. Wide range of colors. Characteristic flavor and aroma.
Sunflower: Helianthus annus. Petals and young unopened buds are edible. Petals have a bittersweet flavor.
Squash blossoms: Curcubita pepo. Yellow blossoms. Mild, squash-like flavor.
Tulip: Tulipa. Only the petals are edible. Pea-like or lettuce-like flavor. Vegetal. Never consume the bulbs.
Violet: Viola. Small violet-purple-blue flowers with a very sweet, floral flavor.
Wisteria: All varieties grown in the United States produce edible flowers, but ONLY the flowers, other parts are VERY poisonous and should never be consumed! Pale purple flowers that grow in large clusters. Very perfumey, characteristic flavor. Green parts have a bitter flavor.
Wood Sorrel: Oxalis. Very easy to identify with heart-shaped leaves and small yellow flowers. No toxic plants are similar looking. Classic cartoon “clover” appearance (true clover actually have oval leaves, not heart-shaped leaves). Sour, lemon-y flavor. All parts are edible.
Yarrow: Achillea millefolium. Clusters of small white flowers with yellow centers. Sweet, herbal and bitter flavor.