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Please Eat the Wild Flowers: Foraging, Gardening, and Recipes

For years, Yvonne has been developing a sustainable homestead complete with chickens, food plants, on-site water, solar power, and more.

Bee balm (Monarda didyma) attracts hummingbirds to the garden and makes a delicious tea.

Bee balm (Monarda didyma) attracts hummingbirds to the garden and makes a delicious tea.

Flowers Can Be Delicious and Nutritious

For centuries, people have been eating wild flowers and native plants. There are so many tasty buds out there, free for the taking, if you know what to look for. I've included some of our favorite edible wild flowers and plants with descriptions, photographs, books, links, some easy recipes and even activities for the kids.

Can You Eat Flowers?

People have been eating flowers and native plants for centuries, but for some reason people in the United States have been slow to take advantage of the bounty that is out there growing in the fields and forests. Perhaps this is because most of our forefathers came from across the "Big Pond" so we were taught to eat what was eaten by great-gram in the old country.

I guess I was lucky that my parents came from such different backgrounds. My dad was born in Perpignan, France, and learned to forage for mushrooms, herbs and other wild edibles when he was quite young. My mom was born on a large farm in Louisiana and so she knew how to grow vegetables and other crops, forage for wild fruits and she was a great cook. Dad was the one who was always exploring the native food and he learned a lot about American native plants from a neighbor who was a lot like Euell Gibbons.

My mom would take us on gathering expeditions to the blackberry patches and the pecan trees. So from the time I could totter around I was tasting and learning about foods that most of the other kids in North Louisiana had never thought of eating.

The trick to eating wild plants is the same as eating cultivated plants. It's all in the preparation. Once you learn to prepare them properly, it's a snap. Here are some of my favorite wild flowers and greens. All of them are delicious and are chocked full of vitamins and minerals. I've included some recipes that even the pickiest eater will devour.

A Word of Caution

Care should be taken if you are gathering from the wild. To the inexperienced eye, some inedible plants may look like edible ones. Always check with an experienced herbalist before eating food you have gathered in the wild. Do not gather from roadside ditches as they may be contaminated with a number of harmful chemicals from the automobile exhaust and from herbicides that the friendly (ha!) local highway department sprays. When trying a new plant, taste a little and wait to see if your body has a reaction to it. The plants listed below have been enjoyed by many people for many years.

Horsemint (Monarda punctata) is tasty in tea and in dishes. It also has many medicinal properties that treat ailments and improves health.

Horsemint (Monarda punctata) is tasty in tea and in dishes. It also has many medicinal properties that treat ailments and improves health.

Bee Balm and Wild Bergamot

  • Parts used: flowering tops, leaves
  • Uses: Spice, tea, salad, cooked greens
  • Edibility: good quality, abundant in parts of the continent

Bee balm was one of the native teas that the colonists used after the Boston Tea Party and the resulting shortage of imported teas that followed. The Monarda family contains many of my most favorite herbs that make wonderful teas and also other edible delights. The flowers on all the species are quite lovely and vary in color from almost white to lavenders and deep reds. Besides being edible, they are attractive, easy to care for plants that are used by butterflies and hummingbirds. The ball-shaped seed heads can be added to potpourris and dried flower arrangements.

Down here in the coastal South, wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), lemon mint (Monarda citriodora) and spotted horsemint (M. punctata) grow the best, but in the cooler parts of the U.S. bee balm (Monarda didyma), with its beautiful red flowers, grows like a weed.

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) grows well in Louisiana. It is a wonderful pollinator plant for native bees and butterflies.

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) grows well in Louisiana. It is a wonderful pollinator plant for native bees and butterflies.

Bee Balm (Monarda) Recipes

  • Source for the following recipes: The Garden Path
  • About the author: Brenda Hyde is an avid herb gardener, wife and mom to three living in the midwest United States. She's also editor and owner of Old Fashioned Living.

Bee balm can be added to fruit salads, pork recipes, punches and other beverage recipes plus it can be substituted for mint.

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Read More From Delishably

Summer Punch

Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup bee balm leaves
  • 1/2 cup raspberries
  • 2 cups cranberry juice
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves (any variety)
  • 1 (470ounce) can chilled pineapple juice
  • 3 liters ginger ale

Instructions: In a saucepan dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice, over low heat. Add the bee balm and raspberries. Bring to a simmer, stir to break up the raspberries. When the sugar is dissolved, strain leaves and berries out of the liquid. Add cranberry juice and mint, stirring well. Chill up to 24 hours. When ready to serve, pour into a punch bowl and add pineapple juice, ice and ginger ale.

Bee Balm Iced Tea

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup bee balm flowers and leaves
  • 8 cups boiling water

Instructions: Pour the boiling water over the bee balm. Cover and steep until cool, about an hour. Strain and discard flowers. You can sweeten with sugar if desired. Chill until ready to use and serve over ice.

Bee Balm Tea

Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1/4 cup fresh leaves and allow to brew for 5 minutes. Strain and sweeten if you wish before serving. To use dried bee balm pour one cup of boiling water over two teaspoons of the dried leaves. Brew the same and strain.

Summer Tea Blend

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp. dried chamomile flowers
  • 1 tbsp. dried bee balm leaves
  • 2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1 tbsp. apple or pineapple mint leaves

Instructions: Mix all the dried herbs together in a jar. Use 2 tsp. of the mix per cup of tea. Steep for 5 minutes and strain. Sweeten with honey or sugar if you wish.

We found this stand of white wild bergamot growing wild in north Louisiana.

We found this stand of white wild bergamot growing wild in north Louisiana.

Hummingbird bread is a great recipe if you have time to make bread by hand, but since I don't I suggest cutting the recipe in half and using a bread machine. Add the ingredients in the order that is recommended in your owner's manual.

Hummingbird Bread

Source: Sage Cottage Herb Garden Cookbook by Dorry Baird Norris

Ingredients

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 Tablespoons margarine
  • 1/2 tsp. honey
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 cup bee balm flowers (the outer soft petals)
  • 1 cup water at room temperature
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten

Instructions

  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water in mixing bowl. Add margarine and honey; mix thoroughly. Add flour and flower petals alternately with water; beat down after each addition. Knead the last of the flour/flowers mixture into the dough by hand.
  2. Shape into a ball and place in a greased bowl, turning once to oil all surfaces. Cover with a damp towel; allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.
  3. Punch dough down; turn onto lightly floured board and knead for 5 minutes. Divide dough in half and shape into two round loaves. Place loaves 4 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet and cover with a damp towel. Allow to rise for 30 minutes. Brush top with beaten egg white and spread more bee balm blossoms that have been dipped in the egg white over top of the bread.
  4. Bake in a preheated 400' F oven for 45-50 minutes, or until loaves are lightly browned.

This bread is best when allowed to rest in the refrigerator overnight. Its crumbly texture makes it difficult to use for sandwiches, but thick slices are delicious when toasted and served with a favorite spread.

Clearwing hummingbird moths forage wild bergamot flowers.

Clearwing hummingbird moths forage wild bergamot flowers.

These old red roses have a wonderful fragrance and color.

These old red roses have a wonderful fragrance and color.

The hips on the old red rose bush turn red-orange when ripe.

The hips on the old red rose bush turn red-orange when ripe.

Rosa spp. (Rose) and Recipes

  • Parts used: petals, hips, seeds
  • Uses: Jam, tea, candy, emergency food
  • Edibility: good quality, widely distributed
  • Native to: White flowered, Chickasaw (R. bracteata) and Cherokee rose (R. laevigata) are both native to China. Pink flowered R. sertigera & R. Carolina are natives.

Roses have been eaten for centuries and most women know about the high vitamin C content in rosehips. Rosehips are the swollen vessile that is left when the petals fall from the flower. It holds the rose seeds. At first it is hard, small and green, but by fall it will soften and turn red. That is when the rosehips are ready to be harvested. All rosehips do not have the same flavor. Most experts say that the wild and antique roses with the large hips are the tastiest.

Here in southeastern Louisiana, the imported oriental Chickasaw and Cherokee roses grow to cover small trees with their brambles which are full of large rosehips. These can be harvested in fall and used to make many dishes. If the hip itself is to be eaten, the hairy seeds should be removed as they can cause digestional discomfort, but for jellies and teas this is not necessary.

Rose water, which Gibbons calls a "magic elixir", can be distilled using kitchen utensils, but he warns that you must NOT use a galvanized container or the rose water will be poisonous. Instructions for this ingenious distillery can be found in his book, Stalking the Healthful Herbs.

Another caution about preparing rosehips comes from Cheryl Netter. She says, "Never use aluminum utensils or pans as they tend to destroy the vitamin C."

We grow only old-fashioned heirloom and wild roses in our yard. They are very easy to care for, require no pesticides or fungicides and most make really nice, large rosehips. The red rose below was in the yard when we moved in so we don't know the name, but it's a winner. The roses are big and red and the rosehip is large. In the fall the hip turns bright red.

The following video provides more information about harvesting and preparing rosehips.

The Cherokee rose was introduced from China and now grows in giant prickly mounds high in the trees in woods along highways.

The Cherokee rose was introduced from China and now grows in giant prickly mounds high in the trees in woods along highways.

This Cherokee rose is an oriental variety that has naturalized all over South Louisiana. Its large rosehips turn golden yellow in fall. The one in the photo is just about ready to harvest.

Cherokee rosehips are large and prickly.

Cherokee rosehips are large and prickly.

Our native roses are pink with single blossoms. Both have delightful scents. The rosehips are not large but are plentiful. We enjoy growing our native roses, like this Carolina Rose, because they are so low maintenance and drought tolerant.

Rose Recipes

Euell Gibbons' Rosehip Jam

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of prepared hips
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 package powdered pectin

Instructions

  1. Prepare the hips by cutting off both the stem and the blossom ends, making a slit down the side of each hip and removing the seeds.
  2. Put 1 cup of prepared hips, 3/4 cup of water, and the juice of 1 lemon in the blender and blend until perfectly smooth.
  3. Gradually add 3 cups sugar, running the blender all the time. Blend together for about 5 minutes more, so all the sugar is completely dissolved.
  4. Stir 1 package powdered pectin in 3/4 cup water, bring to boil, and boil hard for 1 minute.
  5. Pour this into the blender and blend for 1 minute more. Pour immediately into small sterilized screw-cap jars and store in the refrigerator. If it is to be kept for more than a month, store it in the freezer. Being uncooked, all the rich vitamin C content is retained, and a tablespoon of this really tasty jam will give you your minimum daily requirement of vitamin C.

Euell Gibbons' Swedish Rosehip Soup

This fruit soup can be served hot or cold at the beginning of a meal as an appetizer or at the end as a dessert.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh rosehips (do not have to remove the seeds)
  • 1 quart water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Instructions

  1. You don't need to seed the hips to be used for fruit soup. Put the 2 cups of fresh rosehips and a quart of water in a non-aluminum enamaled pot and boil until the hips are tender, then put through a sieve to remove the seeds and skins.
  2. Add enough water to make one quart again, stir in 1/2 cup sugar and return it to the heat.
  3. Mix 1 tablespoon cornstarch into a smooth paste with a little water and stir this in. Cook a few minutes until it thickens slightly and looks clear.
  4. This is already a very good soup, served as it, but if you want to be really festive, stir in a jigger of cherry heering just before dishing it up and float a spoonful of sour cream on each serving.
Both flowers and leaves of these wild violets are delicious.

Both flowers and leaves of these wild violets are delicious.

Violets (Viola spp.) and Recipes

  • Parts used: leaves and flowers of small (mostly stemless) perennials with heart-shaped leaves and blue, violet or white flowers.
  • Found in moist woods, meadows and sandy fields
  • Uses: salad, cooked green, soup thickener, tea, candy
  • Edibility: good quality, abundant

People have been eating members of the Viola family since the 14th century. The Pennsylvania Dutch have collected the fresh, spring leaves of our native violets for a healthy salad that chases away the winter blues since Colonial times.

When Euell Gibbons, author of Stalking the Healthful Herbs, had a nutritional analysis done on a number of plants, including violets, and he found that 1/2 cup of violet leaves supplies above the daily requirement of vitamin A. These leaves also supply as much vitamin C as four oranges.

During Victorian times, candied violets were used to decorate cakes and pastries. We add both the flowers and the leaves to our salads.

Early spring violets (Viola palmata) have many flowers and provide delicious leaves for the first salad of spring.

Early spring violets (Viola palmata) have many flowers and provide delicious leaves for the first salad of spring.

Recipes

Nasturtium and Violet Salad

Source: GH Organics

Nasturtium flowers, leaves and green seeds are delicious in salads, vinegars, pickles and flavored oils.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups nasturtium blossoms
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup of violet leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chervil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions: Trim stems off blossoms and wash these and violet leaves under cool running water. Drain on paper towels. Rub inside of a wooden salad bowl with garlic clove. Put blossoms in bowl, add violet leaves, chervil, salt and pepper. Sprinkle with lemon juice and oil. Toss gently and serve.

Violet Vinegar and Salad Dressing

Source: Gardens Ablaze

Thanks so much to Patricia in Virginia for this violet vinegar and salad dressing recipe!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. violet vinegar

Instructions

  1. Make the violet vinegar: Pick enough violet flowers to fill a pint jar. Pour unseasoned white wine vinegar over flowers. Put lid on. Sit container in windowsill for 4 days. Strain into another pint jar, put lid on and refrigerate.
  2. Make the salad dressing: Combine the prepared violet vinegar with the mayonnaise and sugar. Mix well.

Violet Custard

Source: Dance of the Violets by Karyn Siegel-Maier

This is a simple but elegant dessert, or you can serve it at brunch. It's equally good warm or chilled. It's especially attractive because the violets float to the top!

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup violet petals
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Instructions

  1. Divide the violet petals between 8 individual ramekins.
  2. In a bowl, beat together the eggs, yolks, and sugar. Blend in the milk, vanilla, and sugar.
  3. Divide the custard among the ramekins and place them into a large baking dish. Add enough boiling water to the large baking dish to reach the halfway point on the ramekins.
  4. Place the baking dish with ramekins in the oven, lower the temperature to 325°F, and bake for 45-50 minutes. The custard is done when a knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean.

Edible Flowers Video

Edible Flowers for Children

There are so many interesting and enjoyable learning activities that can be done with edible wild plants. As a teacher/librarian, one of the favorite research units for pre-school and kindergarten (yes, we started teaching research at that age) involved center activities with a Peter Rabbit theme. In the teacher directed research center, the children used a booklet I created to learn about "tea time" in Great Britain, where Peter lived, and traced the route that they would take to fly there. They also learned about chamomile tea and we made some and tasted it right there in the library.

For older students, studies of events in history, such as the Boston Tea Party could be undertaken. Tea imported from China was an important commodity during colonial times.

Roses, violets and tea time were also a big part of Victorian life. Comparisons of lifestyles of then and now could be made.

For little girls, tea parties are a lot of fun and rosehip or violet teas and the traditional English foods like cucumber sandwiches and tarts would make an enjoyable culmination to an English history or Victorian unit. It would also make an adorable theme party.

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.

© 2008 Yvonne L B

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