There are many ways to benefit from flowering medicinal plants in aromatherapy: use the distilled or expressed essential oil, the hydrosol, make an infusion in hot water, in a carrier oil, or enjoy the smell of the plant and its olfactory properties. Different parts of the plants may also be useful: leaf, roots, seeds… and flowers!
There are a lot of edible flowers out there, with various tastes, colors and benefits. Flowers usually possess similar properties as the plant itself, although the taste might be different or milder. Plus, they are usually packed with vitamins and antioxidants1, such as beta-carotene. Here are eight flowers from plants commonly used in aromatherapy that you can enjoy… in your salad!
But before picking the colorful petals, a few guidelines:
- You should only eat flowers that you are can identify with certainty; do not eat if in doubt.
- Only pick wild flowers in areas this is allowed.
- Do not eat flowers picked on roadsides or in public areas, as they might be contaminated with pesticides and car exhaust.
- Do not eat the flower if you are allergic to the plant.
- It is better to eat the flower as soon after picking as possible to avoid losing nutrients.
Calendula – or Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
I usually infuse the dry flowers in olive or sunflower oil as an infused oil. When eating the flower: only use the petals. Their beautiful golden color can make any dish “pop”, and can be used as a natural food coloring! The taste reminds me of saffron, and the flower is also known as “poor man’s saffron”2
Note: “Pot marigold” is Calendula officinalis, which is edible and medicinal whereas “French Marigold” Tagetes minuta is very different. Its essential oil contains a high percentage of ketones and has some safety information to consider. It’s flower has some edible cultivars but you will want to be sure of what you have before ingesting French Marigold.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender flowers taste as they smell: spicy, sweet and strong. They can be sprinkled over basically everything to bring a nice blue-purple touch to a dish. I love to use them in desserts, whole or infused in milk or cream (lavender riz-au-lait is something you absolutely must try). Various species will have different flavors. Some consider certain species to be particularly good for culinary use. The least camphorus varieties, such as Lavandula angustifolia are often preferred.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Borage is a wonderful plant. Not only it is melliferous (it attracts bees and pollinators), it is also used to produce a precious vegetable oil, very rich in gamma-linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties3. The flowers are edible and are usually associated with a cucumber taste – but it reminds me of oysters.
Note: Not to be consumed too often, as they contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be toxic for the liver if consumed regularly4.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus and Verbascum densiflorum)
The cute, bright yellow blossoms are a nice touch to any summer salad. Different varieties of mullein were used by Native Americans to heal respiratory issues5, the flowers can be eaten or used as an infusion or a syrup. My mother made a cough syrup with its blossoms that I used to harvest as a kid every morning during summer!
German chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Their sweet and fruity taste can be an excellent addition to a dessert or a summer drink, such as an infused water or a lemonade.
Aromatic herbs – Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Basil (Ocimum basilicum), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Oregano (Origanum vulgare), Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Spearmint (Mentha spicata), Peppermint (Mentha x piperita), and Dill (Anethum graveolens).
Yes, the flowers from all of these aromatic plants are edible! They have a similar taste and medicinal value – although milder – to the leaf of the plant more commonly used to flavor various dishes. They can be a pretty substitute to the leaves, or to bring a subtler aroma to a salad or a dessert.
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
We all know the multiple uses of sunflower. The seeds can be eaten, and produce sunflower oil that we, as aromatherapists, use and love so much! The petals with their bittersweet flavor – are edible too, and the bud can be steamed like an artichoke6.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Usually used as an infusion – in hot water or a carrier oil – the flowers are better and sweeter when picked young, as they can become bitter when mature. They are good raw, added to a salad, sprinkled over rice, or steamed7.
Summer tip: you can make beautiful ice cubes with edible flowers inside, I guarantee that your guests will love this colorful touch to their drinks.
4,6Christa Bagsten, Berko Schröder and Stefanie Zurlutter, 2018. 300 plantes comestibles, p.69
5Bernard Baudouin, 2018. Les plantes des Toltèques et des Amérindiens, p.88-89