The Five Spot: Five Edible Flowers

At long last, spring has arrived on the Palouse, bringing with it an abundance of flowers. This year they were so long in coming, and the mild weather they announced made me so grateful, I wanted to kiss them. Or maybe even eat them. In fact, there are scores of flowers you can ingest, some for epicurean reasons and some for medicinal. Here are a handful of flowers that can grow around here, to contemplate putting on your plate or in your teapot.

1. Chrysanthemum These blossoms have long been favored by Taoist monks for their longevity giving properties. You might like to drink Ju Hua tea this summer to relieve itchy, allergic eyes and strengthen your lungs against allergies.

2. Have you noticed the bright, saffron-colored robes some Buddhist monks wear? They are colored with a dye made from safflowers. Safflower tea is cooling and refreshing, and can be used to treat menstrual disorders, to invigorate circulation and relieve pain, and to dissolve clots.

3. Magnolia Flower If you have nasal congestion or runny nose from allergies, magnolia flower can bring relief. Fermented magnolia flower petal extract has also shown promise as a natural antioxidant and anti-cancer agent. And the trees are really pretty.

4. Roses, violets, and other sugared flowers can make beautiful decorations for cakes. Such beautiful sweets must be good for lifting the spirits! Candied rose petals were a popular type of candy in the United States in the late 19th century. In ancient Rome, roses were often added to meals that celebrated a great event or victory. Some Middle Eastern cultures include rose petals in certain types of desserts. You can find instructions for making candied flowers online; prepare for a lesson in patience.

5. Viola Also known as “purple flower earth herb” or the Chinese violet, viola flower is another pretty blossom to candy and use to decorate a cake. Often used for clearing heat, releasing toxins, or dissolving masses, it is an age-old remedy for snakebites and bacterial infections. Plus it’s fun to say its Chinese name, “Zi hua di ding.”

As lovely as eating flowers and drinking tea made from their petals can be, you should exercise caution, to make sure the blossom in question is safe:

  • Eat flowers you know to be consumable — when in doubt, consult a reference book on edible flowers and plants or bring a sample to an herbalist.
  • Eat flowers you have grown yourself, or know to be safe for consumption. Flowers from the florist or nursery have probably been treated with pesticides or other chemicals.
  • Do not eat roadside flowers or those picked in public parks. Both may have been treated with pesticide or herbicide, and roadside flowers may be polluted by car exhaust.
  • Eat only the petals, and remove pistils and stamens before eating or brewing.
  • If you suffer from allergies, introduce edible flowers gradually, as they may exacerbate allergies.

The best source of edible flowers? Your own garden! You don’t need acreage: just a pot with soil on the back stoop will do. Share seeds and starts with your neighbors, find them at the Farmers Market, or check out seedsavers.org for heirloom and organic flower seeds.