The Art of Flower Cuisine: Colourful Picks for Your Summer Table

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Grandma used to say that the next best thing to admiring flowers while  strolling around the backyard or  summer woodlands was picking a handful to be used for “prettying up the plate”. For her, dining on a delectable flower was one of life’s simplest pleasures.

My grandparents had a few strict rules about harvesting wilderness plants – one of which was to never pick a plant that is scarce, no matter how pretty it is! Such a rarity is better left untouched with hopes that it might replenish itself, and some flowers are protected by law (i.e., trilliums), so know before you go. Another old rule by which I still abide is to never harvest a plant for the table that I can’t positively identify. Other than that, the woodlands –  and even one’s own lawn and flower garden – dish up an array of wonderful edible flowers and healthful greenery that can turn everyday dishes into gourmet delights.

Eating flowers is a practice that goes back as far as history dates. The Greeks and Romans used recipes that called for roses and violets, and in Elizabethan times various flowers were common table fare. Beautiful squash blossoms were eaten as far back as 2000 BC. Chrysanthemums are served on special occasions in China and are praised as holiday fare in Japan. The Dutch have used sun bright marigolds for ages to color cheese, noodles, soups, puddings and other foods that need a splash of gold to make them more appetizing in appearance. Flowers are deeply-rooted in cookery of the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Indian cultures. And in more recent times they have sprung up on North American tables earning status as the latest in haute cuisine.

Even though aboriginal people, early settlers, and old timers like my grandparents used various flowers for table fare and medicine, many cooks today haven’t yet introduced flowers into their cookery. I know some who admit they’ve only sampled such extravagance in fine restaurants where experienced chefs cash in on flowers as the most elegant of all decorations.

Before heading outdoors in search of possible posies for the table there are a few important things to remember. First, bear in mind that not all flowers edible – some are poisonous. Start out with common edible picks that you can positively identify. Never harvest plants near roadsides or other areas where they may be contaminated with road dust, herbicides or pesticides. And if you are growing flowers in your yard or garden as table fare, do it organically for safe eating. Store-bought flowers should never be eaten unless you are positive they are organically grown.

Gather your pick in baskets which will keep them in fine shape until they reach the table, and always wash your gatherings under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels before using. Grandma’s old rule of thumb is to use flowers sparingly on the table, for if you overindulge they will lose their special effects! Flowers are meant to add exciting visual appeal, a whiff of sweet aroma, and just a hint of romantic flavour. Introduce them into your diet slowly and in small amounts.

Novice flower eaters can start with the dandelion, which is one flower you won’t have to go far to find! Considered a nuisance weed by most lawn enthusiasts, these lowly flowers will take on a new appeal once you’ve tasted them.

Another pick for beginners is sweet white and purple clover blossoms which grow aplenty on lawns and grassy meadowlands. Clovers were brought to the New World by early settlers who recognized a good thing. They have many uses as table fare and were also used by herbalists like my grandmother who claimed that clover tea was good treatment for whooping cough and bronchitis. When used in poultices, the flowers have the power to draw infection from wounds.

Common garden violets (not the wild Bird’s-foot species which is protected in Ontario) make beautiful decoration for puddings, custards and cakes. They grow in profusion in open gardens and are often one of the first flowers that bloom in spring.

Bunchberry, or pigeonberry as I knew them when I was a kid, is a plentiful flower in Ontario spring woodlands and resemble miniature dogwood flowers. The snowy petals make a pretty scattering in the salad bowl and you don’t have to fret about picking a few as there will be plenty left over to ripen into berries (another woodland treat that you can go back for at a later date when berries are on the menu).

Wild leeks come up almost as soon as the snow melts and thrive in great numbers in fertile hardwood stands. These onion-scented pretty white flowers bloom in mid summer. You can bring them home to the kitchen to add excitement to salad bowls or open-faced sandwiches.

The little green flowers or “heads” of pineapple weed make a delightful tea or can be used sparingly to add a peppery-lemony taste to soups and salads. They are easy to find by looking around the edges of pasturelands and on waste grounds where not much else grows. You’ll only need a couple of these as they are very pungent.

Wild rose buds, petals, and fruits or hips are another abundant pick that can keep a flower forager in good eating year round! In spring, rosebuds are a delightful gathering that go nice in salads, soups and the teapot. Come summer when the buds unfold into petals, another treat is to be had. Petals can be used in everything from salads to puddings. When roses fruit in the fall, they offer up fleshy hips which are recognized around the world as being a number one wilderness survival food – dishing up higher content of vitamin C than oranges! And the really good news is, the hips remain on the bare branches all winter long, making them a wonderful reward for a winter walk. Rosehips can be made into healthful tea, soups, jellies and dried into tangy fruit leather. But always discard the seeds, which have bristly hairs that can irritate the mouth if eaten.

From my backyard vegetable and flower gardens, one of my favourite picks is chive blossoms. Since pinching off some of the flowers helps to keep my patch healthy, I always have a few of these wonderfully scented flowers handy to add a splash of purple to salad bowls, for sprinkling on omelettes, and garnishing other dishes. Any flowers from the allium family (leeks, chives, garlic, onions) are pretty and delicious to boot. Use them whenever you wish to add onion-scent and flavour to a dish.

Pretty blue borage flowers emit a cucumber-like aroma making them especially well-suited for summer drinks. I like to make a tea out of the flowers, then serve it chilled over ice with a splash of lime. A refreshing and pretty drink when garnished with a blossom.

Carnation flower petals taste like a cross between nutmeg and cinnamon and can be used to decorate desserts. Don’t eat the base of the flower as it is bitter and will overpower the sweetness of the petals.

Chamomile flowers are slightly sweet with a woodsy taste. They are most often steeped in teas but can be used as garnish for any dish needing a boost of something special. Other picks from the garden are chervil flowers which have a slight anise taste, earthy tasting chicory flowers, and peppery cilantro flowers – all of which can be sprinkled in the salad bowl for colour, aroma and flavour.

Chrysanthemums are a popular flower amongst connoisseurs, perhaps one of the most widely eaten flowers in the world. Since they dish up such a fine array of colour (their flowers range from white and yellow to orange and red), they are appealing on the table. They have a tangy peppery taste and are wonderful sprinkled on salads and as topping for cold summer soups.

Squash flowers are another favourite, often dipped in batter and fried as a gourmet treat. Or stuff them with cooked rice and herbs, or simply use as a garnish for summer meals.

Grandma’s favourite garden blossom was the tangy yellow flowers of dill. You don’t need much for adding a delightful hint of dill to any dish. Rolling the flowers between your fingers and sprinkling it on your food is a tasty way to dill up salads, open-faced sandwiches, dips and cold summer soups.

Grandpa’s pick of the cultivated patch was the lilac flower, which is delicious when used sparingly as topping for puddings or porridge. I like them sprinkled on toast and honey.

Gladiola flower petals taste similar to lettuce and make a pretty topping for open faced sandwiches or as garnish for cold plates.

Although jasmine flowers are traditionally used in teas, they can also be used in grandmother’s old recipe for jasmine rice pudding. Simply decorate the pudding with a few jasmine flowers and let it set long enough for the rice to draw in their flavour and aroma.


Edible wilderness greenery can be gathered on a larger scale than flowers since greenery is more plentiful and dishes up more nutritional value. And as everyone knows, greens are naturally good for you!

One pick for a wild salad bowl or potherb pot is dandelion – its leaves make delicious salads when young and tender, and are a delightful cooked green when the leaves mature and become too tough for the bowl. They can be enjoyed as salad from spring to mid-summer. When the spine of the leaves start to turn milky they are ready for cooking as a potherb.

Plantain leaves can be used for tea, salads or cooked as a potherb. Wild leek leaves make wonderful salads, sandwich filling and potherb, and are reputed by herbalists like grandmother as being good medicine for the stomach and digestive system. Stinging nettles make delightful tea and are a good potherb, but wear gloves for harvesting as they really do sting.

Nasturtium leaves have a strong peppery taste and are excellent in the salad bowl or added to omelettes. Threefold clover leaves look very charming in the salad bowl and if you have the luck of finding a four-leafer, make sure it gets a special place at the table to bring all those seated a dose of good luck.

When I was a kid my favourites were the slightly waxy leaves of the wintergreen plant. They can be shredded and added to salads for a wonderful burst of wintergreen flavour. The tiny pinkish flowers can be used to decorate puddings or other desserts.


When harvesting flowers,  remember that if you want fruits from the same plant, you must leave some flowers intact. For instance, apple and plum blossoms are delicious but since the fruits are even more desirable, you should only pick a small sampling of blossoms, leaving plenty to go into fruit.

Same holds true for berry blossoms such as strawberry and raspberry which make a fine bite but bear in mind that you’re cutting down on your berry crop. According to grandma (who had the best gardens in our neck of the woods), taking a few blossoms is like pruning and can actually encourage growth. But stripping off too many flowers depletes production!

Once you get captivated by the art of flower cookery and the joy of turning wilderness greenery into gourmet dishes, you’ll discover that there are endless picks from your own backyard and Mother Nature’s pantry for sampling at the table. And believe me, you’ll be inspired to take a little more ‘time out’ to stop and smell or, better yet, taste the flowers.

Try the simple recipes below to get you started.


So pretty, so delicious and so readily available from spring to midsummer. Try it with a light fruit dressing such as wild strawberry vinaigrette. If wild strawberries can’t be found, use fresh or frozen tame berries instead.

Wash dandelion leaves under cold running water and pat dry with a lint-free tea or paper towel. Rip into bite-sized pieces and place in salad bowl. Sprinkle with a generous picking of wild or tame rose petals that have been washed in cold water and patted dry with a towel. Add a few thinly sliced onion rings. Just before serving drizzle on strawberry vinaigrette and toss.


When I got married, my grandmother decorated my homemade wedding cake with crystallized violets picked from the backyard gardens where I grew up. It was the most beautiful cake I ever saw.

Gather violets in the morning after the dew has lifted. Lay them in a single layer on a flat basket until they arrive in the kitchen. Wash very gently with fine spray of water and let air dry a few minutes. Using a small brush carefully paint the flowers with the lightly beaten white of an egg. While still damp with egg white, pick up the flowers with tweezers and dip head first into super fine sugar. Dry in warm place until crisp. Grandma dried hers over the hood of her old wood stove. Modern day folks can use the lowest setting on their oven or a food dehydrator. When all moisture is gone, store in airtight container until needed. You can also use this recipe to dry other flowers of choice.


  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp liquid honey
  • Pinch of fresh minced basil

1) Puree ingredients in blender until smooth. Chill until ready to serve.

This is as much of a treat for the eyes as it is for the mouth and totally versatile – using whatever pick is in season. Serve it with wild strawberry vinaigrette as above, or make the dressing using wild or tame raspberries instead of strawberries for a whole new taste sensation.


  • 1 cup of mixed flowers (rose petals, clover blooms, chive or other onion flowers, dandelion flowers, garden violets or other available edible blooms)
  • 4 cups mixed wild greenery torn into salad-size pieces (dandelion, plantain, chickweed, sorrel, clover, leek, lamb’s-quarters, watercress or other greenery that’s on tap)
  • 1/2 cup fresh garden herbs of choice snipped fine (chive, basil, tarragon, mint)
  • 1 grated carrot
  • 1 thinly sliced onion
  • Small handful of cherry tomatoes

1) Toss into a salad bowl and dress just before serving.


An old recipe from the pages of grandmother’s scribblers, noted as being a good cure for sore throat if taken in a cup of clover flower tea. And if sipped before bedtime it will help induce sleep.


  • 1 cup clover blossoms (washed and patted dry)
  • 1 pound honey

1) Mix flowers and honey in a bowl. Cover with a tea towel and set on the stove over a large pot of simmering water. Allow to steep for an hour. Remove from heat and let cool. Put honey in lidded container and within a few days it will be very clover-rich in flavour and aroma.

2) Rose Honey: use rose petals in place of clover blossoms.

3) Lilac Honey: use half a cup of lilac flowers in place of clover

4) Lavender Honey: use half cup of lavender flowers in place of clover



  • 1/2 cup minced rose petals
  • 1/2 cup softened cream cheese
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg

1) Blend together and form into a ball. Refrigerate at least two hours before serving to allow flavour and aroma of flowers to draw into the cheese.

2) To serve, place the ball on a bed of rose petals and surround with plain crackers.

3) This makes a delicious afternoon snack to go with a cup of rose petal tea. To make tea, steep about 1/2 cup of petals in boiling water until desired strength is reached. Sweeten with honey, if you wish.


An Old-World drink that was said to cure whatever ails you. A nice aperitif.


  • 3 cups fine brandy
  • 1 cup liquid honey
  • 2 cups edible flowers of choice (rose petals, carnation, lavender, clover or mixed flowers)

1) Wash and dry flowers. Put them into a jar and cover with brandy and heated honey. Seal tightly and let stand for about a week-shaking several times a day. Strain liqueur into a clean decanter. An Old-World drink that was said to cure whatever ails you.


Flower syrups are delicious on pancakes or mixed with water or soda and served over ice as refreshing summer coolers.


  • 1 cup water
  • 3 cups honey
  • 2 cups clover blossoms, rose petals, lavender.or a bouquet of mixed flowers

1) Put ingredients in small covered saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to steep until cold. Reheat and strain through cheesecloth into clean container.

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