Edible flowers have been enjoyed for centuries and are a wonderful addition to any table, but there are a few basic rules to follow when choosing or foraging for edible flowers:
KNOW THE PROVENANCE OF ANY FLOWERS YOU PLAN TO EAT
You cannot wash edible flowers so ensure that they are organically grown and from a reputable source. Even if you are sure of the variety, don’t just pick any old flower and eat it. Flowers that have been sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals, should be avoided. This might sound like common sense & me banging the organic drum but it must be reinforced. Plants from garden centres, nurseries, supermarkets and florists are designed to be looked at and not eaten. They are sprayed with insecticides and fungicides which are absolutely not fit for human consumption and could make you extremely unwell. There are often residual nasties lurking in the compost that they are grown in as well.
Avoid flowers that grow by the roadside because of the build up of vehicle pollutants.
Another sensible precaution is to avoid picking any flowers near footpaths or where dog walkers frequent, particularly those that grow close to the ground such as wild garlic!
Do not assume that restaurants and caterers know which flowers are edible. Just because it is on your plate does not mean it is edible. A lot of wedding cake makers will decorate wedding cakes with non-edible flowers. If this is the case then it is imperative that they use flower ‘picks’ which look like small golf tees to ensure that the cake is not contaminated.
BE CAUTIOUS OF POLLEN ALLERGIES
If you suffer from severe hay fever or any other plant allergies, be extremely cautious about eating flowers.
Flowers contain pollen which is a well-known allergen. Even if you don’t have these intolerances, try a little bit, like a food tester, the first time you taste a particular flower and be careful when serving to guests.
Eat only the petals of flowers; always remove and discard the pistils and stamens before eating. (Except for the tiny flowers like thyme where it would be like performing microsurgery to remove the pistils and stamens.)
DON’T EAT ANY FLOWERS UNLESS YOU’RE 100% CERTAIN WHAT IT IS
Not all flowers are edible and some are poisonous. Don’t assume that if the leaves, or roots are edible then the flowers will be too (for example tomatoes & potatoes flowers are not edible). Don’t assume that just because close plant relations are edible then the rest of the plant family will be too (sweet peas are not edible but runner beans are).
Whilst many flowers are edible, many more are either tasteless or have an unpleasant texture but there are also some flowers which are actively poisonous.It’s not just that they don’t taste nice, they would actually cause you harm.
Words by Jan Billington