Steve, a.k.a. Green Beard, is an expert on nature and loves to write about wildlife and conservation. He lives in Portugal.
Flowers to Eat in Salad
Lots of people enjoy eating healthy, freshly made salads, and we all appreciate adding colourful beetroot, carrots, radishes, tomatoes and sliced red peppers to contrast with the green leaves. But there is another great source of colour that is often not used and that really makes any salad stand out with visual appeal, and that is the addition of edible flowers and petals.
There are a very large amount of wild and garden flowers that are not only good to look at but are good to eat too. So why not try adding some to the salad dishes you make?
The Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) is commonly grown as a very ornamental garden flower. It is an easily cultivated annual plant with rounded leaves, trailing stems and flowers that are yellow, orange or red. It has large hard green seeds that go brown when they mature and dry off. They can be pickled and eaten like capers if picked in the green stage.
The whole plant can be eaten and has a delicious spicy flavor very similar to Watercress (Nasturtium officinale). The colourful flowers make a wonderful addition to any salad.
Many gardens have roses growing in them but people often do not realise that these very pretty flowers can be eaten. We enjoy looking at them, smelling them, but why not try eating them as well? Add some rose petals to your next salad!
Those types we cultivate often have very large petals in pink, white, yellow or shades of red. Wild roses such as the Dog Rose (Rosa canina) are of course also edible. Their hips are the source of Rose-hip Syrup too, which is a wonderful source of Vitamin C.
Cultivated varieties of the Rose usually have large flowers and petals. Some types are perfumed too. Because of the very great range of types of Rose available you are spoiled for choice when it comes to which ones you might like trying adding to salad dishes.
The dried petals and flowers of the scented varieties are alos a traditional ingredient of pot-pourri.
The Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) is yet another very commonly grown garden flower that is edible. It was once known as “poor man’s saffron” with reference to the yellow-orange colour it can impart to dishes. Dried or fresh it can be added to boiled rice or baked in buns and biscuits.
Marigold petals have a distinctive flavor and add colour and their own spicy taste to salads. The dried flowers or petals can be included in pot-pourris.
The Marigold is an easily grown annual plant that will do well on most soils. It often is found as a garden escape too.
The Marigold has several medicinal properties too and is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. In the form of an ointment or oil it has been used to treat skin diseases and sunburn.
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Borage (Borago officinalis) is a pretty annual herb with blue starry flowers and hairy foliage. It is in the large Boraginaceae family. It can grow to 2 or 3ft in height but is often shorter in drier conditions.
Borage is very popular with bees.
The young leaves have a faint flavour like cucumber and can be added to wine and punch or other cold drinks. The flowers make a colourful and unusual garnish for salads, and can be dried and candied to be used as decoration for sweet dishes and iced cakes.
Borage is also a medicinal herb with anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties.
Hollyhock and Mallow
The Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) is a tall and spectacular biennial garden flower grown for its tall flowering spikes and red, pink, purple, yellow or white blooms. It is a popular plant for traditional cottage gardens in the UK.
The Hollyhock is in the Mallow family or Malvaceae, which has many edible plants in it as well as medicinal herbs.
Hollyhock flowers can be eaten and so can those of the many Mallow species such as the Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris).
The Mallows tend to have a lot of mucilage in the leaves and flowers. This gives them anti-inflammatory and soothing properties and they can be made into herbal infusions.
The leaves of the Mallow species can be cooked as greens as well.
The Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a common weed that hardly needs much description and is found growing in many parts of the world in gardens, in waste places and in lawns.
The whole plant is edible and very nutritious and the bright yellow flowers can be added to salads, as can the leaves. Raw foodist author Markus Rothkranz has called the Dandelion a "superfood."
Dandelion root if roasted and ground up makes a coffee substitute that is a lot healthier because it doesn't contain any caffeine.
Dandelion flowers can be gathered and used as a base for making homemade Dandelion wine.
The ordinary daisy (Bellis perennis) that you see in lawns is an edible flower. Flower buds and young leaves can be added to salads or eaten in sandwiches. They can be used as an ingredient of soups, pickled as a susbstitute for capers and used to make wine.
The much larger Ox-eye Daisy, Dog Daisy or Marguerite (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) is another plant you can eat that is in the very large Asteraceae or Daisy family.
It is a pretty flower found growing in grassy places, in meadows and on banks.
The flowers of the Ox-eye Daisy can be eaten sparingly in salads, in sandwiches or cooked in omelettes etc. So can the leaves but they are rather pungent and can be too strong in flavour for some palates.
The Orchid Tree (Bauhinia variegata) is a subtropical and tropical tree often grown for its very great ornamental value. It has large magenta, lilac-purple or white flowers followed by pods that contain its seeds.
There are many cultivars and colour variations. The tree has large leaves that contrast well against the attractive blooms that give it its name.
The Orchid Tree comes from India originally but is grown in many parts of the world today in subtropical zones. The flowers and leaves can be eaten raw. In India it is also used for dye extraction.
It is not fussy about soil conditions and can become naturalised in many places after it has self-seeded itself.
The Prickly Pear cacti (Opuntia species) are often eaten as fruits and the green pads after having the spines removed can be eaten as a vegetable, however, the flowers are edible too.
There are yellow, red and orange flowers depending on the species. They are quite glutinous and have a mild taste but are good eaten raw. The prickly pear fruits are also if the tiny spines have been carefully removed from them.
The Prickly Pear cacti came originally from Mexico and the southern American States but have become naturalised in many subtropical and tropical parts of the world.
They have been cultivated for Cochineal production because the bugs that are farmed to produce this red dye live on the cacti.
The garden Pansy (Viola) and its close relatives the Violets are all edible flowers.
Many gardeners love to grow pansies because of their colourful 'faces' that come in all sorts of sizes and colours. There are yellow pansies, orange pansies, red pansies, blue pansies, purple pansies, white pansies and mixtures of these colours. They are really very pretty flowers indeed and exist in many hybridised varieties.
Violets such as the Sweet Violet (V. odorata) are , like the name suggests, a violet-purple shade, although there are also white violets.
Pansies and Violets can be added raw as they are to salads or they can be candied and used as decorations on cakes and desserts.
Endless Possibilities for Experimentation
This is just a small selection of the colorful edible flowers that can be used in raw and cooked foods, or as decorations for cakes and desserts. Edible flowers can often be used to make herbal teas or as the base for a homemade wine. The possibilities are very many and up to you to experiment.
All over the world there are species of flower that can be safely eaten, and they certainly add variety to our diets!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Steve Andrews