Edible Flowers: Learn How to Identify Edible Flowers

picture of a camas flower, one of many edible flowers

Flowers can add a splash of color as a garnish for many meals, and the list of edible flowers available as either nutritious or decorative additions to any dinner table is endless.

One of the big drawbacks associated with edible flowers is similar to the drawbacks associated with edible mushrooms. Without having a botany background or expertise in the area, it’s often difficult for lay persons to identify edible flowers and differentiate between them and poisonous flowers.

Without resorting to too much drama and Hollywood movies, consider the Lilies of the Fields. The bulbs of many lily species like the camas in the top picture, for example, are considered edible, and they served as staple foods for Native Americans.

On the other hand, not knowing how to identify an edible lily and a poisonous lily such as the Death Camas (Zigadenus venenosus) can cause severe health problems.

Fear not, the recent increased interest in edible flowers means there is a high probability that a local horticulture organization offers seasonal based edible flowers classes or seminars. Often they take the form of a sunny day walk to explore the local blooms.

In addition to providing edible flower identification tips, any reputable edible flowers class will also provide a couple of general picking tips. For example, flower location is always an important determinant when picking flowers for consumption. Flowers growing along a roadside, might technically be edible. However, it’s also important to take into account the toxic exhaust fumes from passing roadside vehicles prior to making a decision to consume the roadside flowers.

Edible flowers grown in gardens that use pesticides should also be avoided.

Flowers should be picked in early morning when they are in full bloom. Removing the stems, sepals, pistils, and stamens is also recommended prior to use.

Flowers as food sources takes many different culinary paths, from broths to proteins to vegetables. Chicory roots, for example have a long edibility history, specifically as a coffee substitute. Dried, cut and put in a cup of boiling water, the root produces a caffeine free coffee-like beverage.

picture of a candy flower also known as Siberian Miner's Lettuce

Young plant leaves of many native flowers also have a history of use as a salad ingredient as well as cattle feed. Two Claytonia species, Candy Flower and Miner’s Lettuce also provide lettuce alternatives for salad connoisseurs. Candy Flower, (Claytonia sibirica), pictured, goes by a variety of regionally preferred common names, known to some as Siberian Miner’s Lettuce or Siberian Spring Beauty. It’s a member of the Purslane family (Portulacaceae) and an early bloomer in the Pacific Northwest, showing flowers starting in mid-March.

Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) also means the start of a great salad. They are a good source of Vitamin C and fiber. Start looking for them at the first sign of spring as they begin blooming early. The picture shows a small white flower growing close to a comparatively larger single round leaf.

Plants are shade resistant. They often grow in clusters in and around forested areas, making them easy to find and identify.

picture of a violet

Violets, (viola), bloom early in a variety of habitats, however they prefer meadows and around forest edges. Their popularity as garden flowers makes them one of the first out of the ground in many spring gardens. common early blooming flower are found in a variety of habitats, however they prefer meadows and around forest edges.

The purple color makes for a splashy garnish or salad additive.

picture of a nasturtium flower

Nasturtium (Tropaeolaceaeare), a group of introduced plants from Mexico, Central and South America, grow annually in many areas of the United States. Varieties are chosen based on petal color, their utility as ground cover or as trailing vines. The orange flower showing the picture is only one example the group’s bold colors.

In addition to being colorful, the flowers and leaves are also edible. The leaves can substitute for lettuce.

Additional Edible Flowers List

picture of lilac flowers

Having introduced the topic of edible flowers, it’s important to note that the pictures and accompanying details are provided on an as is basis. Please do not use this, or any one source, as a definitive guide for picking and consuming any flowers.

The following list of flowers (without pictures) also make most edible flowers lists.

  • Bee balm (Monarda didyma): citrus, minty flavor
  • Borage (Borago officinalis): cucumber flavor
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis): bitter saffron substitute
  • Chamomile (Matricaria recutita): sweet tea
  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum): mild onion flavor
  • Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana): sweet
  • Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris): perfumed taste