I don’t know about you but I like to make the most of everything we grow in our backyard. So getting a bit more familiar with which herb flowers are going to feed us seems the natural next step!
Herbs that produce flowers are easily split into two groups. On the one hand you have herbs that have bolted and are trying to produce seeds to survive, often spoiling the flavor of the leaves in the process. Then you have these herbs that are beautiful to look at and very welcome as edible flowers in our cooking or cocktails!
There is a fair bit of information to take in to make sure you get the best from your edible flowers so I have broken it down to a list of edibles, as well as optimum conditions for them and a list of 100% not to be eaten ever flowers!
Top Edible Herb Flowers
- Anise Hyssop – Agastache foeniculum has an aniseed flavor that is much stronger in the leaves. The large spikes of flowers are about 8cm in height so you will need to break the flowers down to eat them. Scatter the purple flowers as a garnish for salads, soups and cordials / cocktails.
- Basil when it flowers still retains the flavor in the leaves. Often herbs can go to seed and bolt, this means that the original flavor is lost. As an annual the flowers are a later summer time treat. We grow several varieties of basil and our favorite for flowering is Greek basil. We cut the entire head and then use it for salads and toppings for pasta dishes.
- Borage is a real hero in any garden, mostly overlooked but the flowers have a light cucumber like taste. making them perfect as a refreshing addition to ice cubes to be used in cocktails or cordials alike. The vibrant blue star flower of borage mean that this edible herb is striking in salads and the kids like to eat them from the plant! One word of warning about this is that borage refills with nectar so regularly that the bees will be buzzing around, so make sure to give the flowers a little inspection before popping them into your mouth.
- Chamomile – I guess the question of is chamomile edible is quite subjective. Yes it is, but…We use it liberally in herbal tea to give a light apple like flavor. However I personally don’t rate the taste of the flower on it’s own. The leaves have a bitter taste and it can be easy to have a bit of a harsh after taste, when you seep it in boiled water it seems to disappear. Those of you who are allergic to ragweed should avoid as it is thought that chamomile flowers can trigger those reactions. Much nicer instead to brew up some herbal tea and then pour over an individual flower in an ice cube, freeze and then add to cordials for a really light summer drink. Caution must also be taken not to confuse chamomile for feverfew as this is an unpleasant herb to eat and the flowers look otherwise very similar!
- Chives or any alliums makes really tasty flowers. They are like a milder version of their bulbs and stems. Perfect for cocktails where you would otherwise use an olive, the vibrant purple color of the chive flower also gives the cocktails a nice appeal. We also pop chive flowers in salads and soups. Cooking with the flowers needs to be a quick process as they can dry out if roasted for more than a few minutes. Try using chives with tempura battered squash blossoms as an interesting addition to Summer time treats.
- Fennel as a herb is completely edible and the flowers will go on to produce seeds if we leave them. Making them either self seeding or perfect for harvesting and eating. The flowers possess that lovely aniseed flavor and aroma. Ideal in soups or as a garnish to fish or pork dishes. You need to separate the little flowers from the umbrella like head of the fennel flower stalk. Then sprinkle liberally. I have a plan to use fennel flowers in a foccaccia bread.
- Lavender is an absolute classic for being overlooked as edible. We love to dry the flowers and use in cooking. You will retain that aromatic flavor and it will give a distinctive purple to grey color to foods. From shortbread to flapjacks lavender in the right quantity can really lift any dish. Be warned though that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! It can get almost medicinal if added in too large a quantity. As a herbal tea lavender is known to help aid sleep but we would be really stretching it to try and pretend that a slice of shortbread before bed will help!
- Lemon Balm is from the mint family and the leaves are a light citrus with the zing you would expect from mint. The flowers are delicate and a slightly lighter flavor. Useful in salads or as a late addition to a casserole that wants a little citrus note without any harsh flavor. Lemon balm flowers are perfect in cocktails or cordials frozen in ice cubes or as freshly added.
- Marigold flowers give a vibrant burst of color and we use them as vitamin supplements for our chickens as well as in our own food! Marigold is also confused with calendula and it is known to improve the color or egg yolks. It is important to know which marigold are edible as some varieties offer low levels of toxicity, calendula is a much better option as all species are edible.
- Mint is an absolute hero in any herb garden! We made up a mojito lovers mint planter for a friend and she has sent us the below photo to show it flowering. The strawberry mint has pink flowers and the spearmint has white flowers. The pineapple mint is just to the back and flowers in pink spikes as well.
- Oregano flowers are some of the tiniest of any herb, they are pink to white in color and have a lovely aroma. Very attractive to so many beneficial bugs in the garden as well! They go great on any pasta dish or in stews as a garnish. Salads and cocktails also appreciate the lighter flavor or oregano, not fruity but more an earthy pine like flavor. Very subtle but they go well in a martini!
- Rosemary can grow to be very tall and will not be affected when it starts to flower. In fact a neighbor of ours who is very neglectful of their rosemary has some of the tallest and prettiest flowering shrubs you may ever see! Light purple in color and extremely attractive to bees and pollinators alike. Rosemary flowers are added to dishes towards the end or as a garnish.
- Sage is a sneaky herb as we love to grow it prolifically, but it takes two years to reach maturity and then will grow leaves that can be harvested. The leaves are pungent and have a strong earthy aroma to them. Great for dishes like pork, lamb, or even fish dishes, however the kids find it a little too strong. They will eat the flowers quite happily. We grow a variety of sage alongside the standard with it’s broad purple flowers we also grow tangerine sage with vibrant red, long stemmed flowers. They hold the sage flavor but have a little more fruitiness to offer as well.
- Violas do not hold a great deal of flavor, maybe a slight peppery taste, but nothing too strong. They are more of a benefit to use as a gorgeous visual and will make any dish look really attractive. On the side of a cheesecake slice or a cup of herbal tea!
- Egyptian Walking Onions are fabulous for growing with kids as they will literally growing bulbs on the tops of stems which then flop down and take root. The flowers are gentle in flavor and sort of taste like a mix between onion and garlic.
What To Avoid With Picking Edible Flowers
- Faded blooms will be turning to seed and can be quite an unpleasant texture as much as anything else. They will also have a much lower level of flavor and aroma. If you want a longer season for edible flowers, simply pick them when they are at their fullest and freeze in ice cubes of water.
- Picking edible flowers from an area frequented by animals. I’m not too sure how to put this nicely, but you do not want to eat any herb that has been watered by an animals urine. Even if you wash it before eating, there is no guarantee that you have removed all the waste product.
- If you are eating fresh flowers, then shake them to remove bugs. Bees are a real issue for flowers as they love to hang out inside borage flowers. Once you have shaken them, run under a cold water tap to remove any more stubborn bugs.
- I would always recommend being organic in your garden as then the kids can eat directly and not have too many worries, other than the occasional bit of added protein in the form of a bug or two. It is hard to wash pesticides off, but they are designed to kill bugs, not to be eaten by humans.
- Pollen allergies can be exacerbated by eating flowers. If you are at all worried about allergies avoid eating edible flowers.
- Flowers may look and smell lovely but there are toxic flowers that can seriously harm humans. So do not eat a flower that you are uncertain of. If you cannot 100% identify it as friend do not attempt to eat it.
- Foraging for flowers can also be problematic as there are differing laws within each State in the US and the UK has some very interesting ways to look at foraging too. I’m not saying avoid it altogether, just check out those links to see where you can and can’t forage, or search for local groups to join.
Toxic Flowers To Avoid Eating
There is a range of toxicity levels from mild upset stomach to a trip to local hospital, hopefully in time. I just wanted to point you in the right direction about which flowers to avoid like the plague.
- bleeding heart
- lily of the valley
We grow many of these shrubs and plants in our garden, but tend to not allow the chickens into that area to free range without our supervision.
If you are already growing these herbs, what are you waiting for? You just need a few flowers to give you confidence that the flavors are great and it will really lift any dish or drink that you make!
If you want to know of any reputable nurseries to purchase your plants from check out our recommended equipment pages!