Every spring, garden clubs and municipal organizations around the country put on flower shows. The oldest, largest, and best (in my opinion) is the Philadelphia Flower Show, which dates back to the 1820s and is held the first full-week of March.
However, this show has always focused on highly cultivated, decorative plants and flowers. With no emphasis on medicinal plants (most of which are flowering herbs), or edible plants known for their beneficial nutrient content.
But modern science shows there are more than a dozen types of flowers that are both ornamental and edible. Let’s take a look at six of my favorites…
Enhance your well-being with these six flowers
1.) Chamomile is a floral herb that’s been used for centuries in cooking and as a medicine. The flowers look like small daisies, and impart a slightly sweet and musky taste to foods.
Medicinal uses: Chamomile is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and mild astringent. There is scientific—and traditional—evidence that it can help reduce inflammation and infections of the skin, mucus membranes, mouth, and respiratory tract. It’s also used for gastrointestinal (GI) issues like diarrhea, gas, indigestion, and nausea.1
Chamomile tea has been shown in studies to reduce anxiety and induce sleep. Indeed, my mother often made it for me before bedtime.
How to consume: You can use fresh chamomile blossoms in smoothies or fruit salads. Or you can dry the flowers and use them in infusions, syrups, baked goods, and teas.
2.) Chrysanthemum typically blooms in the late summer and fall, with big, multi-petaled flowers in a variety of colors. These are also known as mums and can vary in flavor from plant to plant—everything from sweet to peppery to tangy. Which is why I recommend tasting the individual flowers before cooking with them or making them into a tea, to ensure you prefer the flavor.
Medicinal uses: Chrysanthemum is a potent medicine. It’s been used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Japanese healing traditions to treat respiratory problems, high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, and anxiety. Modern studies show the flowers have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties2, and may even help fight osteoporosis.3
How to consume: Lighter-colored blossoms, like white and yellow, are used to make tea. To make chrysanthemum tea, remove the bitter base of the flower and use only the petals (fresh or dried).
In addition, young leaves and stems from the Garland variety of chrysanthemums, also known as “chop suey greens” or shingiku in Japan, are widely used in stir-fries and as salad seasoning.
3.) Dandelion (from the French dent de lion, or “lion’s tooth,” from the serrated edge of the leaf) is indeed a flower, too—not a weed. The bright and beautiful blossoms are better left alone to thrive in your lawn—and to attract pollinators.
You can actually consume every part of a dandelion. The flowers are sweet and crunchy, and the greens are slightly bitter, like arugula.
Medicinal uses: Dandelions are loaded with vitamins A, B, and C—along with the hard-to-find, natural form of vitamin K. They’re also high in calcium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
Dandelions have been used since ancient times for GI, liver, and kidney health. Recent research has also revealed that dandelions may fight angiogenesis, the process in the body that allows cancerous tumors to survive and grow.4 Plus, dandelions can improve heart health by reducing the risk of atherosclerosis, lowering cholesterol, and combatting obesity.5
How to consume: You can eat the flowers and greens raw in salads. Or you may choose to sauté the greens in a little olive oil and add them to casseroles, stews, or any dish calling for “hearty greens.” You can also make a tasty dandelion tea, wine, or jelly from the flowers.
4.) Hibiscus is a member of the rose family, and it’s traditionally known as Chinese rose. There are hundreds of varieties of hibiscus in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. And there are even hearty hibiscus species that grow in colder, northern regions.
These large, showy blossoms come in a variety of colors. The petals are somewhat firm, with a smooth, fleshy texture and a subtle, savory taste. In fact, I often munch on some fresh petals from our very own Florida garden.
Medicinal uses: Hibiscus has a wide and almost astonishing array of health benefits. Research shows hibiscus is a potent antioxidant that can lower blood pressure6, fight breast cancer7, reduce obesity8, prevent kidney stones9, alleviate urinary tract infections10, and even prolong lifespan.11
How to consume: The flower can be eaten fresh from the plant, and is often used in hot or cold teas, salads, relishes, or jellies. The tea is a brilliant red color, and has a tart, tangy, slightly sour flavor.
5.) Rose is a classic ornamental plant, and the petals of all 150 varieties are edible. But not all roses taste the same. A good guide for choosing a flavorful rose is this: If it smells pleasant and sweet, it probably tastes good as well.
Medicinal uses: As I explained in last month’s issue, plenty of studies show that roses have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties.
So it’s no surprise that researchers have found that roses can help prevent type II diabetes, regulate blood pressure, support brain cell growth, and even act as a powerful cough suppressant. Plus, some studies have found that roses promote relaxation and reduce stress.
How to consume: Fresh rose petals can be eaten raw, added into fresh fruit and green salads, or dried and added to granola or mixed herbs. They can also be “muddled” and added to any liquid to make rose-infused drinks and teas, or jams and jellies. Chopped rose petals can be added to butter or olive oil to make them zestier.
6.) Squash blossoms are the flowering parts of one of the Native American staples known as the “three sisters” (corn, beans, and squash).
Squash gourds are quite tasty—and so are the blossoms. One of the most popular squash blossoms are zucchini’s bright yellow, long, bell-shaped flowers. These blossoms have a delicate, squash-like taste and a soft, velvety texture.
Medicinal uses: The yellow and orange colors of squash (and its blossoms) are due to the high content of carotenoids, which act as antioxidants and vitamin A precursors. While there are few studies on squash blossoms themselves, other research shows zucchini is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, potassium, and magnesium.
There’s some evidence that zucchini has anti-cancer benefits as well.2 It’s also loaded with soluble and insoluble fiber, which aids in digestion, supports gut health, and helps with blood-sugar management.
How to consume: Squash blossoms can be eaten raw or sliced in fresh green salads. They can also be sautéed in herbed batter, or stuffed with herbed cheeses and baked until crispy.
And there you have it. Six edible, flavorful, healthful flowers to add to your garden—and to your plates! Indeed, my grandmother in France always kept little candied flowers in a bowl on the dining room table for ornamentation and consumption. I like to follow her lead and make flowering plants the centerpiece of my table—and my diet.
1”Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future.” Mol Med Report. 2010 Nov 1; 3(6): 895–901.
2“Chemical compositions of chrysanthemum teas and their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.” Food Chem. 2019 Jul 15;286:8-16.
3“Dual Effect of Chrysanthemum indicum Extract to Stimulate Osteoblast Differentiation and Inhibit Osteoclast Formation and Resorption In Vitro.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:176049.
4“Anti-inflammatory activity of Taraxacum officinale,” J Ethnopharmacol. 2008;115(1):82-88
5“Hypolipidemic and antioxidant effects of dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) root and leaf on cholesterol-fed rabbits,” Int J Mol Sci. 2010;11(1):67-78.
6“Effect of sour tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.) on arterial hypertension: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” J Hypertens. 2015 Jun;33(6):1119-27.
7“Hibiscus flower extract selectively induces apoptosis in breast cancer cells and positively interacts with common chemotherapeutics.” BMC Complement Altern Med. 2019 May 6;19(1):98.
8“Plants with potential use on obesity and its complications”. EXCLI J. 2015 Jul 9;14:809-31.
9“Dietary Plants for the Prevention and Management of Kidney Stones: Preclinical and Clinical Evidence and Molecular Mechanisms”. Intl J Mol Sci. 2018 Mar 7;19(3).
10“Exploring the effect and mechanism of Hibiscus sabdariffa on urinary tract infection and experimental renal inflammation.” J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Dec 24;194:617-625.
11“Hibiscus sabdariffa L. extract prolongs lifespan and protects against amyloid-β toxicity in Caenorhabditis elegans: involvement of the FoxO and Nrf2 orthologues DAF-16 and SKN-1.” Eur J Nutr. 2019 Feb 1.
12“Role of Zucchini and Its Distinctive Components in the Modulation of Degenerative Processes: Genotoxicity, Anti-Genotoxicity, Cytotoxicity and Apoptotic Effects.” Nutrients. 2017 Jul 14;9(7).