IF you think edible flowers means a party pack of Parma Violets, think again. Thanks to Masterchef and The Great British Bake Off, as well as a thousand Instagrammed pictures of plates garnished with pea shoots and nasturtium petals, edible flowers are the biggest growing food trend at the moment. Even better, it's one that combines easy availability – you can grow munchable bloomers in the smallest garden or allotment, or even on a window ledge – with the all-important wow factor every wannabe Heston Blumenthal covets.

The fashion for scattering petals over plates of food has been building for some years. Market research analysts Mintel flagged it as a coming trend as long ago as 2014, noting its prevalence in high-class restaurants which prized unusual food combinations and foraged ingredients, and among celebrity chefs such as Esben Holmboe Bang, owner of Oslo's three Michelin-starred Maaemo restaurant (the name means Mother Earth in Norwegian: pickled mackerel topped with edible flowers is a typical dish).

But from bubbling under status among cognoscenti in the decade's middle years, the trend is now coming over-ground and hitting the high street as food solidifies its position as a social currency to rank alongside fashion and music. According to Food Manufacture, a website and monthly magazine serving the UK food and drink manufacturing industry, edible flowers will be one of 2018's hottest food fashions.

The magazine quotes wholesale food suppliers and garden retailers who highlight pansies, lavender, roses and violets as top performers and see them as likely new ingredients for biscuits, jams, jellies, cakes, drinks and even edible table-top displays. So when Kensington Palace announced in March that the cake to be served at next month's royal wedding reception would be a lemon elderflower cake decorated with fresh flowers, nobody should have been surprised.

“It's not dinosaur food any more,” says Michelle Bowley, who runs Dornoch-based Saladworx and has been banging the drum for edible flowers for a decade and a half now. “People would think it was just a decoration and leave it on the side of the plate at one time. But it's completely different now.”

As well as running a wholesale business and exporting to the Far East, Saladworx has supplied edible flowers to the Roux Brothers for their Scottish restaurants, to celebrity chef James Martin, and to the exclusive Skibo Castle. They're also the only company currently making salad dressings from edible flowers.

“The general public like them for weddings and wedding cakes, special occasion meals,” says Bowley of her wide-ranging produce. “Then of course you have the chefs, so we do lots of special orders for chefs when they're doing functions. But edible flower are more widespread now and people are being much more creative with their uses”. Some of the popularity is due to exposure on television, she thinks, “but generally people are just looking for new ingredients, so flowers have been put on the menu.”

In the last series of Beechgrove Garden, that hardy perennial of the television gardening scene, edible flowers featured regularly thanks to presenter George Anderson's challenge to himself to come up with a weekly salad. The series returns this month for its 40th anniversary season, so don't be surprised if edible flowers feature again. Though for Anderson's co-presenter, Carole Baxter, this is an old story given new legs.

“You only have to look at some of the cookery programmes like Masterchef where they have edible flowers on the plates, and I think quite a few people are interested in growing them,” she says. “But it's something which has always been there in the background, it's just being highlighted more now. It's trendy now to include them in your food.”

Unsurprisingly, the major supermarkets have picked up on the fashion. Last June Sainsbury's launched a “curated” punnet of edible flowers which includes varieties of marigold, viola, dianthus, cornflowers, borage and nasturtium. Waitrose now sell a 60g salad bag of pea shoots and edible flowers (yours for £1.50), and Tesco Direct even offers advice on edible flowers on its website.

But edible flowers don't just offer flavour and aesthetic appeal. Masterchef aside, there are three other converging reasons behind their growing popularity. First is their potential health benefits.

“If you go back to ancient civilizations there's lots of evidence to suggest they ate edible flowers,” says Michelle Bowley. “What we don't know is what's in them. We know there are minerals, vitamins, all sorts of trace elements. But nobody has taken the time to do the research and analyse them properly.”

That's changing, however. A 2014 study published in the Journal Of Food Science studied 10 common edible flowers from China and the results were conclusive enough to suggest that further investigation was warranted. Among the subjects for future scientific study are their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Prove a link with that last one and edible flowers could be the new kimchi - the Korean cabbage dish hailed for its health properties.

Not that you need to tell Michelle Bowley on any of this. “Take calendula, the pot marigold. It's used extensively in creams,” she says. “It's in baby rash cream, nipple cream for breastfeeding mums. It has a real calming effect on the skin so we can only assume it does the same to your guts.”

A second reason is the rise of veganism and a growing sense of eco-awareness among consumers: edible flowers such as marigolds and nasturtiums are foods you can grow easily in your own garden which means you can guarantee they're free of pesticides and have zero air miles. A third, associated reason is the fashion for “clean eating”, which focusses on both health and well-being by avoiding processed foods and sugars and sticking as closely as possible to nature's plate. If you are what you eat, why not be a rose petal?


“If it's your first time then some of the easiest things are the obvious ones,” says Beechgrove Garden presenter Carole Baxter. Marigolds, nasturtiums, borage, violas are all pretty simple to grow. But don't forget you've got other things like courgettes and elderflower which have flowers that you can use - courgette flowers are a big food trend in their own right.

Other flowers not commonly thought of as edible but whose petals can be eaten include chrysanthemums (but only the coronarium variety), dahlias, lilac, pansies, forget-me-nots and of course roses.

“Some of the most beautiful ones are the nasturtiums,” says Michelle Bowley, “but they have a terrible reputation for bruising really easily so they need to be used on the day.”

As a basic rule of thumb, most flowers from the common sorts of vegetables many gardeners already plant are safe to eat, for example courgette flowers. But steer clear of potato flowers as they're poisonous. Also safe are most flowers from popular garden herbs such as chives and rosemary as well as less common ones such as borage (which has brilliant blue flowers) and dill. “One of the nicest flowers I've ever grown, completely by accident, is the carrot flower,” says Bowley. “That went into an edible bouquet for a wedding.”

You can find a guide to these and other edible flowers on the websites of garden company Thompson & Morgan and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), as well as RHS advice on issues such as avoiding shop-bought roses if you're planning on eating the petals (they may well contain pesticides) and allowing at least one growing cycle on garden centre-bought plants before you eat the leaves or flowers. And of course if in doubt, don't eat – and watch out for bees.

As for when to plant, March and April are the usual months, though the cold spring and recent bad weather means any time from now onwards should bring you a decent crop of your edible flowers of choice.


Mild flavoured nasturtium flowers come in brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow and look amazing in green salads. The inner buds can be pickled – people will tell you they end up tasting like capers – while the peppery-flavoured leaves can be made into a pesto. Nasturtiums self-seed and are invasive, so if you plant them once you'll have a ready crop year after year. That's either good or bad, depending on how pernickety you are about your climbing plants.

Other peppery flowers include marigold, which can be used in everything from salads to breads and even as a cut-price saffron substitute, and rocket, whose flowers have a similar flavour to its leaves.

Plants of the dianthus genus, which includes carnations and Sweet William, have a spicy, floral flavour which lends itself to cakes, ice creams and sorbets. Other culinary recommendations include adding them to stir-fries or using them to accompany seafood dishes. Cornflowers are similarly flavoured.

Borage is lightly-flavoured and similar to cucumber so can be mixed into salads, vegetables or even fruit salads. One trick is to freeze borage flowers in ice cubes and use them in drinks. Gladiolus, a genus of the iris family, is reckoned to taste like lettuce. Meanwhile the seeds of the amaranthus can be used as a grain and even ground into flour, while flavoured teas can be made from Californian poppies, hibiscus, honeysuckle, jasmine and hyssop, an aromatic herbaceous plant.

For sweetness, try courgette flowers though they're more normally added to lightly-flavoured savoury dishes such as omelettes or stuffed with cheese and deep-fried. Elsewhere jasmine is as beautifully-scented as the name suggests and as well as in tea its petals can be used for seafood dishes (though only jasmine officinale is edible). Lavender and lilac are increasingly finding their way into baking – Mary Berry does a lavender shortbread biscuit – and vintners and home brewers might be interested to learn that the sweetly-scented flowers of Filipendula ulmaria (or meadowsweet, as it's better known) can be added to wine. Slainte!