Edible Flowers 101: How to Choose & Use Spring Blooms

Nothing says spring like bright, beautiful flowers topping a plated dish. With Easter on the horizon, there’s no better time to incorporate edible flowers into a special menu to surprise and delight eyes and palates alike.

Moira Kuhn owns Marin Roots Farm with her husband Jesse in Marin County, California with a single vision in mind: working with restaurants and farmers’ market customers who are seeking that “crazy, kooky, hard-to-find thing,” Moira says. Edible flowers are among their specialties.

“What I always tell people is: yes, it’s an edible flower, but do you want to eat that flower? Does it actually taste good? We try and pick varieties not only for the look of them, but for the taste.”

We asked Moira to share her top tips for working with edible flowers, from selecting to plating — here’s her advice.

What to look for

First things first: Flowers can be poisonous, so be careful. Technically, any non-poisonous flower is edible, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be palatable. “There are pea flowers out there that are really beautiful, but they have a very tannic flavour,” says Moira. “People aren’t going to want to use them.”

Also look for bright colours or an eye-catching appearance. Plus, consider shelf life: most flowers will last from one day to two weeks, but Moira works with chefs who were able to keep marigold fresh for a month in the refrigerator. On the flip side, Marin Roots grows some flowers that they harvest in the morning, bring to chefs two hours later, and are plated that same night. “We try to steer clear of too many of those, because the workload is hard for us and the chefs.”

Go-to varieties

Marin Roots grows different flowers according to the season, but here are a few Moira loves:

  • Borages. “They’re beautiful, they’ve got a cucumber flavour to them, and they’re very versatile — you can go sweet and savoury.”
  • Nasturtium. “That’s fun because it has a spicy edge, and it’s good for salads or savory tarts.”
  • Meadow cress. “It’s in the cress family so it has a spiciness to it, and the flowers have a sweet, spicy flavour mix.”
  • Marigolds. “They have a great spearmint, wintergreen flavour to them.”

How to use them

When we asked Moira for her favourite edible flower applications, she said: “They can literally go on everything.”

It’s true: the culinary uses for flowers are endless. They are often added on top of salads or soups as a garnishing green, or even on top of tacos or open-faced sandwiches. Meadow cress pairs beautifully with strawberries and mint. Marigold is used in sauces in India. “If you’re grilling in the summer, I love to toss them on whatever I’ve grilled,” she adds. “I rely heavily on edible flowers to make my dishes pop.”

There is one essential rule to using edible flowers, which Moira emphasizes: adding flowers to a dish should be the absolute last thing that you do.Petals are very sensitive to acid, and since most dishes have some sort of acid component, they tend to make the petals fall apart and look bruised. “Prepare your meal, put it together, toss your salad with dressing, then put the flowers on top right before you put it on the table.”

Finally, have fun with them! Be creative. Ask your vendor about each flower’s flavours so you can pick the ones that will pair best with your meal. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Photos courtesy of Marin Roots Farm

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