11 edible flowers with potential health benefits

Floral centerpieces on the dining table are a classic and timeless tradition, but sometimes flowers can also appear on the dinner plate. Edible flowers are used in many different cooking styles and can be found on menus around the world.

Not all flowers are safe to eat, but those that are can offer a unique explosion of flavor and color to many dishes, including salads, sauces, drinks and appetizers. Some of them may even offer health benefits.

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Here are 11 edible flowers with potential health benefits.
1. Hibiscus

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Hibiscus plants produce large, ornate flowers that usually grow in tropical and subtropical climates around the world. There are hundreds of species of hibiscus, but the most popular edible variety is known as roselle or Hibiscus sabdariffa. Hibiscus flowers can grow up to 6 inches in diameter and come in a wide range of colors, including red, white, yellow, and various shades of pink. Although sometimes grown for strictly ornamental purposes, hibiscus is also known for its culinary and medicinal applications:

You can eat the flower straight from the plant, but it’s usually used for tea, dressings, jams, or salads. Many cultures drink hibiscus tea for its medicinal properties. Some studies indicate that hibiscus may help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, although more research is needed to better understand how hibiscus can support heart health (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source). The tea is bright red and has a sour, somewhat tart flavor. It can be served hot but is especially refreshing on ice on a hot summer day.

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2. Dandelion

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Dandelions are best known as stubborn garden weeds. However, it happens to double as a highly nutritious edible flower:

Dandelions have small flowers – about 1-1.5 inches (2-4 cm) in diameter – with many small bright yellow petals. They provide various plant compounds known to have powerful antioxidant properties (3Trusted Source). Interestingly, the flowers aren’t the only part of the dandelion that can be eaten. In fact, every part of this so-called herb can be enjoyed, including its roots, stems and leaves. There are endless options for eating dandelion:

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The flowers can be eaten raw, alone or tossed in salads. They can be breaded and fried or used to make jellies and wine. The roots are often infused to make tea, while the vegetables can be eaten raw as a salad or as a sandwich garnish. They can also be cooked in stews, casseroles, or any other dish that calls for hearty vegetables. 

3. Lavender

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Lavender is a woody, floral herb originally grown in parts of North Africa and the Mediterranean. The purple flowers are very small but abundant. Lavender is probably best known for its signature fragrance, acclaimed for its calming effects (4Trusted Source):

The combination of color and aroma makes lavender a particularly desirable addition to a variety of foods, including baked goods, infused syrups, liqueurs, herbal teas, dry spice tea towels, and herbal mixes. Its flavor goes well with both sweet and savory ingredients, including citrus fruits, berries, rosemary, sage, thyme and chocolate. When cooking with lavender, it is best to start with a small amount and slowly increase until you reach the desired flavor, as it can quickly become overbearing.

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4. Honeysuckle

There are nearly 200 species of honeysuckle, but the most common are the Japanese and woodbine varieties. The fragrant flowers, typically light yellow or white, retain the nectar which can be eaten directly from the flower. Honeysuckle has been vital to traditional Chinese medicine practices for centuries. The flowers and their extracts are ingested or applied to the skin to treat various inflammatory conditions. However, its efficacy as a medicinal therapy for humans remains scientifically unproven (5Trusted Source):

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In the culinary world, honeysuckle is most often used to make tea or a fragrant and flavorful syrup. You can use the syrup to sweeten iced tea, lemonade, yogurt, and sorbet or as a sugar substitute in quick bread recipes. While the honeysuckle flower and its nectar are perfectly safe to eat, note that the berries of some varieties can be toxic when ingested in large quantities.

5. Nasturtium

Nasturtium is a culinary favorite due to its brightly colored flowers and unique, savory flavor. Both the leaves and the flowers of the nasturtium are edible and can be enjoyed cooked or raw. They have a peppery and slightly spicy flavor profile, although the flowers themselves are milder than the leaves. The funnel-shaped flowers are typically bright orange, red or yellow. They make a nice garnish for cakes, pastries and salads:

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The leaves are round and resemble small water lilies. They are tender enough to be used as a salad or smoothed in pesto. Nasturtium is not only a versatile and captivating ingredient, but also nutritious, containing a variety of minerals and healthful compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

6. Borage

Borage, or star flower, is an herb that produces delicate star-shaped flowers. The flowers are usually blue but can also be white or pink. In herbal medicine, borage is used to treat minor ailments, such as a sore throat or cough. However, human research supporting its efficacy as a medical therapy is scant. In the kitchen there is no shortage of ways to use borage, as both the flowers and the leaves are edible. The flowers are often described as having a slightly sweet taste reminiscent of cucumber and honey:

The flowers can be eaten fresh in salads or as a garnish for desserts and cocktails, or they can be cooked and added to soups, sauces or stuffed with pasta. Borage can also be served as a standalone vegetable side dish.

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7. Portulaca

Purslane is a succulent that produces small yellow flowers and thick, fleshy leaves, both of which are edible and can be eaten cooked or raw. Historically, purslane was considered no more valuable than a garden weed. However, this little plant has recently gained popularity due to its rich nutrient content:

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It’s packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but its biggest claim to nutritional fame is its omega-3 fat content. In fact, purslane provides more omega-3s than almost any other vegetable of its kind. Purslane flowers and leaves can be served raw in many salads and sandwiches. They can also be stir-fried or steamed with other vegetables as a side dish or added to your favorite soups. You might also consider trying this battered and fried plant.

8. Pink

There are over 150 species of roses available in almost every imaginable size and color. The best part is that they are all edible. However, not all roses taste the same. A good rule of thumb for choosing a flavorful rose is that if it smells nice, it will likely taste good too. Eat only the petals, though, as the leaves and stems don’t make a very palatable snack. Rose petals have a very aromatic, floral and slightly sweet flavor. They can be eaten raw, mixed in various fruit or green salads or dried and added to muesli or mixed herbs:

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Fresh rose petals can also be mixed up and added to liquid to make rose-based drinks, jams, and jellies. Chopped rose petals added to sugar or butter give a unique twist to otherwise ordinary ingredients. Like many other edible flowers, roses can offer health benefits. Some research suggests that certain compounds in roses may play a role in reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation (10Trusted Source).

9. Pumpkin flower

If you’ve ever grown summer squash in your garden, you are probably aware of their delicate flowers. However, you may not know that these flowers are as edible as the pumpkin itself. Although these flowers form on all types of summer squash, the most popular come from zucchini. Squash blossoms are bright yellow in color with a long, rounded bell shape. These flowers can be eaten raw as a garnish or chopped and added to salads. If you are feeling indulgent, another delicious option is to stuff the flowers with herb cheeses and fry or cook them until the delicate petals turn crunchy:

You don’t have to sacrifice your pumpkin crop to enjoy eating flowers. Only female flowers can turn into squash, so keep eating the male flowers to ensure a full harvest. Male flowers have a long, thin stem and typically grow around the outer edges of the plant. Female flowers tend to grow closer to the center of the plant and have a small bulbous fruit at the base of the flower where it meets the stem.

10. Pansy

Already pleasing enough to look at, pansies are equally enjoyable to eat. Pansies have small flowers, measuring about 2–3 inches (5–8 cm) in diameter. They exist in many colors, but shades of purple, blue, and yellow are the most common. They have five overlapping petals with a dark area in the center that resembles an ink spot:

Typically, pansies have a mild, fresh, and slightly floral flavor, although there are some flavor variations depending on the type. Because pansies can have so many color variations, they are an excellent decorative addition to desserts, such as pastries, cakes, and cookies. For an added touch, you can caramelize the petals before adding them to your dish. For easier preparation, pansies can be finely chopped and added to a simple green salad for a pop of color and texture. In addition to being a unique addition to a meal, pansies are also a rich source of several potent plant compounds known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (12Trusted Source).

11. Chamomile

Chamomile is a floral herb that has been used in cooking and traditional medicine for centuries. In medicine, chamomile is often consumed to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality. The flowers look a lot like daisies, albeit much smaller. They impart a slightly sweet and earthy flavor to the foods they are cooked with:

Most recipes require heating the flowers in a liquid to extract their aromas and bioactive compounds. The leaves and flowers are usually dried first, but can be used fresh. While most often used for chamomile, the flowers can also make syrups or other infusions for baked goods, smoothies, or desserts.

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