Although flowers are colorful and fragrant, some are poisonous. If you are unsure of what the flower is, or whether it is edible, please do not use it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
My first attempt at making Botanical Bread used magnolia petals. Petals take longer to ferment than most other ingredients, and usually it is necessary to add some honey to help feed the yeasts. If you ferment flowers and fruit together, however, adding the supplemental honey may not be necessary.
If you are going to use edible flowers in your botanical baking, there are important safety matters that you must be aware of and commit to memory before you begin.
Make sure you carefully and positively identify the variety you are using because many flowers are poisonous.
When searching for flowers to ferment, avoid picking faded, dusty, old, or diskolored flowers.
Avoid flowers close to a road or an area that animals use or frequent.
Do not use flowers that have been treated with pesticides.
Gently wash the flowers to remove any dirt or insects.
Only use the petals: diskard the stamens (the male reproductive parts), pistil (the female reproductive organ), and calyx (the outermost protective cover). The bitter “heel” at the base of the petal should also be removed.
Here are some of the most popular and recognizable edible flowers used in foods.
EDIBLE FLOWERS THAT I RECOMMEND
Here is a list of edible flowers that I endorse, some of which I use frequently in my botanical baking with fantastic results!
ALPINE PINKS (Dianthus): Tasting of clove, these flowers are good in flavored sugars, oils, and vinegars.
CAMELLIA (Camellia japonica): These are used fresh as garnishes or dried for use in Asian cuisine.
CAPE JASMINE (Gardenia jasminoides): Extremely fragrant, this flower is ideal for pickling, preserving, and baking.
CORNFLOWER (Centaurea cyanus): This flower has a sweet and spicy clove-like flavor.
DAHLIA (Dahlia pinnata): Flavors of this flower range from water chestnut to spicy apple to carrot.
DANDELION (Taraxacum officinale): These flowers taste of honey when fresh.
FORGET-ME-NOT (Myosotis sylvatica): These flowers may be eaten on their own or used as a garnish.
FREESIA (Freesia laxa): This flower is great when infused in a tisane tea, or herbal tea, with lemon.
FRENCH MARIGOLD (Tagetes patula): This flower has spicy tarragon notes.
FUCHSIA (Fuchsia magellanica): You can enhance the flavor by removing any green and brown parts in addition to the stamen.
GLADIOLUS (Gladiolus oppositiflorus): These flowers are mild in taste, similar to lettuce.
HIBISCUS (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis): Add these to fruit salads or use to make a citrus-flavored tea.
HOLLYHOCK (Alcea rosea): You need to remove the center stamen and styles before eating. The petals can be crystallized and used for decoration.
HONEYSUCKLE (Lonicera periclymenum): Use the petals to make a syrup, pudding, or tea.
JASMINE: Only the species Jasminum sambac is edible; all other jasmine species are poisonous.
LAVENDER (Lavandula angustifolia): The purple flowers are best used in sweet dishes such as jams, jellies, scones, and biscuits.
LILAC (Syringa vulgaris): These flowers can be mixed with cream cheese or yogurt for a dip.
MAGNOLIA (Magnolia): The flowers can be pickled or used fresh in salads.
NASTURTIUM (Nasturtium): These flowers taste peppery, like watercress, and make an interesting salad addition as well as a flavorful pesto sauce.
PANSY (Viola tricolor): Mild and fresh-tasting, pansies can be used in a green salad or as a garnish.
PEONY (Paeonia officinalis): The petals work well in salads or can be lightly cooked and sweetened.
ROSE (Rosa): With their delicate fragrance, roses are widely used in drinks, fruit dishes, jams, and jellies. You can also crystallize the petals and use them to decorate cakes and other desserts.
SCENTED GERANIUMS (Pelargonium graveolens): The flavors range from citrus to nutmeg. The leaves and the petals are most often used to flavor baked goods such as cakes and liquids such as teas.
VIOLET (Viola): An edible flower available in winter, violets are used to infuse flavor into jellies and liquids and can be candied and used to decorate desserts.
SOURCING INFORMATION ABOUT EDIBLE FLOWERS AND PLANTS
I cannot stress enough the importance of using a reputable source when searching out information about plants, flowers, and herbs used for human consumption.
One great source is the Royal Horticultural Society, the leading gardening charity in the UK, dedicated to advancing horticulture and promoting good gardening. For more information, you may visit their website at www.rhs.org.uk.
Here, I have included select information from their website of their suggestions and reasons for choosing certain edible flowers. I hope that this proves to be a helpful example of what to look for when it is time for you to begin researching what to use to ferment for your baking.
EDIBLE FLOWERS FROM YOUR GARDEN (COURTESY OF THE ROYAL HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY)
Homegrown flowers, free from pesticides and soiling by dogs and other pets, are best. Edible flowers are offered for sale but only use those labeled for culinary purposes, as these will have been grown in ways that ensure any pesticide residues are at a safe level or that they are pesticide-free. Store- or garden center-bought flowering plants should be grown on for at least three months to reduce the risk of pesticide residues and only the subsequent flowerings should be harvested. Many garden favorites are edible, and a few are listed below:
BERGAMOT (Monardia didyma): This flower has a strong spicy scent that makes good tea and complements bacon, poultry, rice, and pasta.
CHRYSANTHEMUM (Chrysanthemum): The petals add flavor and color to cream soups, fish chowder, and egg dishes in the same way as calendula (marigolds).
DAISY (Bellis perennis): They don’t have a strong flavor, but the petals make an interesting garnish for cakes and salads.
DAY LILY (Hemerocallis): Add the buds and flowers to stir-fries, salads, and soups. They are crunchy with a peppery aftertaste, but they may have a laxative effect. Avoid buds damaged by gall midges.
ELDERFLOWER (Sambucus nigra): This flower is most often used to make wine and cordials. It can also be placed in a muslin bag to flavor tarts and jellies, but it must be removed before serving. Elderflowers can also be dipped in batter and deep-fried.
POT MARIGOLD (Calendula officinalis): This flower has an intense color and a peppery taste that is perfect in soups, stews, and desserts. The petals can be dried or pickled in vinegar or added to oil or butter.
PRIMROSE (Primula vulgaris): Crystallized or fresh primrose or cowslip flowers can be used to decorate cakes. They can also be frozen in ice cubes.
TIGER LILY (Lilium leucanthemum var. tigrinum): The delicate fragrance and flavor of this flower enhances salads, omelets, and poultry, plus it can be used as a stuffing for fish.
Herb flowers like basil, chives, lavender, mint, rosemary, and thyme impart a subtler flavor to food than the leaves. By adding sprigs of edible herb flowers like basil or marjoram to oils and butters, the delicate flavors can be used over a longer period. Some of these edible herb flowers are listed below:
BASIL (Ocimum basilicum): The sweet, clover-like flavor of this herb complements tomato dishes as well as oils, salad dressings, and soups. Use the aromatic leaves of both green and purple basil in Mediterranean dishes.
BORAGE (Borago offincinalis): The cucumber flavor of these attractive blue flowers adds interest to cakes, salads, and pâté. Flowers are easily removed and can be frozen in ice cubes or crystallized.
CHIVES (Allium schoenoprasum): With a mild onion flavor, chives are good in salads, egg dishes, and sauces for fish.
CLOVER (Trifolium pratense): Both red and white clover flowers can be used to garnish fruit and green salads, or wine can be made from whole red flowers.
COURGETTE OR MARROW FLOWERS (Cucurbita): These can be eaten hot in a tomato sauce or cold and stuffed with cooked rice, cheese, nuts, or meat. Use male flowers so as not to reduce yield.
DILL (Anethum graveolens): With an aniseed flavor, dill is an ideal addition to salads, vegetables, and fish dishes. Add the flowers to mayonnaise, white sauce, and pickles.
FENNEL (Foeniculum vulgare): All parts are edible and enhance salmon, pâtés, and salads. Flowers preserved in oil or vinegar can be used in winter.
GARDEN PEA (Pisum sativum): Add flowers and young shoots to salad for a fresh pea taste.
MINT (Mentha spp): Apple, pineapple, and ginger mint, plus peppermint and spearmint flowers, can all be used in oil, vinegar, and butter for both sweet and savory dishes.
ROSEMARY (Rosmarinus officinalis): The sweet flavor of rosemary leaves can be used fresh to garnish salads and tomato dishes or to flavor butter or oil.
SALAD ROCKET (Eruca vescaria): This adds a sharp flavor to salads or can be preserved in oil or butter to accompany meat.
Another great resource for information about all thing plants is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website: Fact Sheets and Plant Guides. You can visit them at www.plants.usda.gov/java/factSheet.
Here is a list of common flowers that are poisonous. This list is by no means extensive, so always check with a trustworthy source (such as those mentioned above) before using any vegetation for fermenting.
BLEEDING HEART (Lamprocapnos spectabilis): Consumption will cause vomiting, diarrhea, and tremors.
BLUEBELL (Hyacinthoides): This flower contains toxic glycosides.
CALLA LILY (Zantedeschia): Consumption will cause drooling, vomiting, and oral pain.
CLEMATIS (Clematis occidentalis): Contact can cause skin irritation; consumption will cause severe mouth pain.
DAFFODIL (Narcissus): Consumption will cause vomiting, diarrhea, burning, and irritation due to the toxin lycorine.
FOXGLOVE (Digitalis): This flower contains poisons that will cause drooling, vomiting, seizures, dilated pupils, and even death.
GYPSOPHILA (Gypsophila paniculata): Contact can cause skin irritation; consumption will cause vomiting and diarrhea.
HYDRANGEA (Hydrangea macrophylla): This flower contains a small amount of cyanide and consumption can cause vomiting, fever, and diarrhea.
IRIS (Iris germanica): Consumption will cause vomiting, fever, and diarrhea.
LARKSPUR (Delphinium): Its toxic alkaloids are fast-acting and potentially life-threatening.
LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY (Convallaria majalis): Consumption will cause vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures.
MORNING GLORY (Ipomoea): Consumption will cause diarrhea, vomiting, and hallucinations.
OLEANDER (Ipomoea purpurea): The whole plant is highly toxic and is one of the most toxic garden plants.
POPPY (Papaveraceae): All poppies are poisonous.
RHODODENDRON (Rhododendron ferrugineum): Its toxins can have a negative impact on heart rhythm and blood pressure.
TULIP (Tulipa): Consumption will cause vomiting, diarrhea, and drooling.
PROTEOLYTIC ENZYME–CONTAINING FOODS
Fruits like papaya (papain), kiwi (actinidain), pineapple (bromelain), and figs (ficain) all contain proteolytic enzymes (proteases). In dough, the gluten is formed from protein in the flour, but these proteins break down in the presence of protease, creating a weak dough structure. These fruits all contain different levels of proteolytic enzymes and therefore can cause varying amounts of damage to the dough. One of my favorite botanical breads I make is the Fig and Fennel Farmhouse Loaf. I have never noticed any detrimental effect coming from the fermented fig or the added soft ready-to-eat figs in the dough. In contrast, the papain found in papaya is strong enough to be used as a meat tenderizer, so it is therefore best avoided when preparing bread.