Please do eat the flowers

Add a pretty pop to any plate or platter with edible flowers

Some flowers are so pretty, you could just eat them. Take pansies, nasturtiums, violas and other edible flowers: They’re not only beautiful in the garden but also add color and life to any dish or beverage. Many edible flowers are easy to grow in Alaska, given the rich soils and cool seasons. Some flowers, such as the prolific nasturtium, are annuals, while others, like roses, are perennials. Toss them on top of salads, garnish soups or hors d’oeuvres, decorate cupcakes or puddings with petals, or freeze the flowers into ice cubes for tea, lemonade or just plain water for depth and beauty.

The options are endless. So go ahead: Enjoy edible flowers because they are pretty, tasty, fun, unusual and – best of all – just because you can. Here's some inspiration to get you started on the right flower path, courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.

Some common edible flowers for Alaska

These popular edible flowers come in a variety of colors, from bright and muted yellow to orange, red and even bicolor blossoms, and they are well suited for growing in Alaska. Their initially sweet taste is soon followed by a terrific peppery punch. They can be substituted for radishes in salad or added for their visual appeal only. Nasturtium is one of the few edible flowers of which you can eat the leaves as well as the entire flower. The leaves have 10 times the vitamin C found in lettuce and even more zest than the flowers. Nasturtiums can be used in vinegars, butters and garnishes for several dishes, pressed into foods such as homemade tortillas, added to scrambled eggs or crepes, or frozen into ice cubes. Nasturtiums can be sown in the garden when the danger of frost is past, or they can be planted as transplants.

Pansies, violas, and Johnny- jump-ups
These beautiful flowers love our Alaska climate. They are splendid fresh in salads, candied in sugar, frozen in ice cubes or simply used as a garnish. The flavor is described as slightly sweet or wintergreen-like. Some people can’t taste them at all, but they are beautiful in a dark green salad.

This hardy perennial is a member of the carnation family and does well in Alaska. It has a sweet, clove-like flavor, but the white base of the petal should be removed because it is sometimes bitter. Dianthus can be used in syrups, jams, jellies, vinegars and fruit salads.

Although this flower grew well and produced showy blossoms, none of our crew enjoyed the flavor. It was noted that the darker flower colors were associated with stronger flavors. Use snapdragon petals sparingly.

Herb flowers
The flowers of many aromatic herbs have a taste that is similar to the leaves. Break apart chive florets and sprinkle them on salads, cooked vegetables, casseroles, eggs, potatoes or any place you would use onion. Beautiful pink vinegar can be made with the flowers. Chives are the most commonly used herb flower, but the blossoms of basil, cilantro, dill, fennel, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme and many others can be used in the same way their leafy counterpart would be used. Try freezing mint blossoms and leaves into your ice cubes for delicious and refreshing drinks on a summer day.

Vegetable flowers
Broccoli florets have a mild, spicy, broccoli flavor and are delicious in salads and stir-fry. Radish flowers have a distinctive radish bite. The large blossoms of squash and pumpkin are used as garnishes or can be stuffed, fried or sautéed. Some suggested edible flowers include baby’s breath, dandelion, day lilies, petunia, impatiens, lilac and yarrow. As with all new foods, one should eat flowers sparingly the first time, and remember that correct identification is key to knowing what flowers are considered edible.

All marigolds are edible, but the flavor of some of the traditional varieties is less pleasing than others. Although they are quite showy as a garnish, use them sparingly. Local taste-testers did enjoy the Golden Gem and Lemon Gem varieties of signet marigolds (tagetes tenuifolia). They produce large mounds of small yellow or orange flowers. This flower is a beautiful addition to any ornamental garden and produces hundreds of edible flowers. The blossom flavor is best described as bland to slightly spicy or citrus flavored.

Calendula was once known as poor man’s saffron because the petals can substitute for the spice. (True saffron comes from the stamens of a crocus flower.) In taste tests, the calendula flower was described as sweet, and it can be sprinkled on salads, soups, pasta or rice dishes. The petals are easy to pick off this large flower. It was the favorite of our crew to nibble on while evaluating the edible flower plots.

The Rugosa varieties are the roses of choice as edible flowers, but all rose petals are edible. If a rose smells good, it will taste good. You can use the petals in jams and jellies, syrups, ice creams and salads. The rose hip (the round portion of the flower just beneath the petals) is very high in vitamin C and is best picked just after the first frost. Rose hips can be halved and dried with the seeds removed. These dried hips can be used in place of raisins in any recipe.

TIP: Harvest the petals when the flowers are in peak condition. Like all produce, the blossoms should be picked while they are cool – for example, dur­ing the early morning or late evening – for best storage and highest sugar content. To preserve them for later use, refrigerate the flowers in a plastic wrapping along with a moist paper towel.

– Source: University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service in cooperation with the US Department of Agriculture.

Things to remember

The best way to get safe, edible flowers is to grow them yourself.

Not all flowers are edible. Some are poisonous, such as sweet pea, lupine, foxglove, nicotiana, larkspur, lily-of-the-valley and many more. EAT ONLY FLOWERS YOU KNOW ARE EDIBLE.

If you suffer from asthma, hay fever or other allergies, use caution when eating flowers because the pollen may trigger a reaction. Eat flowers sparingly the first time, as you would any new food.

“Edible” does not mean delicious. Flowers are chosen primarily for their looks, not their taste. For example, all marigolds are edible, but the signet marigolds are generally considered tasty.
Never eat flowers from the roadside because of potential contamination.

Never eat flowers from a florist – they may have been sprayed with pesticides and are not labeled for use on food.

If pest control is needed, use cultural or integrated pest management (IPM) solutions first. If cultural methods are not adequate, consider using pesticides only if the product is labeled for use on edible flowers. Follow label instructions explicitly.

Only the petals of most edible flowers should be eaten. Some roses and dianthus have a bitter, white base or heel on the petal that should be removed.