• Get to know your flowers over a meal (Rebecca Sullivan)Source: Rebecca Sullivan
Flowers add a special touch of visual magic to food, but don't just leave it for the pros - become one!
Rebecca Sullivan

24 Nov 2017 - 2:47 PM  UPDATED 24 Nov 2017 - 2:47 PM

If you think about it, flowers in food are all around us and have been since ancient times. We use hops for beer, roses to make rosewater, lavender is key in the French dish of chicken herbs de Provence and the Vietnamese use golden flowers in their traditional Mekong Delta dish - needless to say, restaurants around the world plate up their dishes with a vast variety of blooms in every colour. Edible flowers can transform a dish with a mere sprinkling. But why just leave it to the chefs? Following a few simple rules can take your Sunday brunch to Michelin heights.

Before you go raiding your neighbours’ front garden or picking prize-winning roses from your nan's, you must consider the safety. Yes, I sound like the fun police but it’s important when foraging or picking anything to do your research. Identify the flower more than once before you eat it and always double and triple check that they have not been sprayed; don't use flowers that are growing close to a road, that can cause over-pollution due to passing traffic.

How to pick and store edible flowers wisely 

1. Like any new food addition, a little research and playing it smart is always key.

2. When identifying a plant, use a photo or illustration, description and look for instructions on how to use it and which part is edible (some plants are not entirely edible, but have edible parts), as well as the scientific name for the flower. The simple rule for eating flowers is if you aren’t certain, then don’t do it. Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centres, as in many cases these flowers have been treated with pesticides not intended for food crops. 

3. Remember when picking flowers to be respectful. Think of your neighbours, the birds and the bees, and leave some for biodiversity. If foraging, this is extremely important. Leaving some behind is also important for the plants' longevity. I recommend harvesting in the morning and after any early dew has dried out and the flowers have opened.

Stuffed zucchini flowers

Not just for the sweet teeth: use the floral part of the zucchini and enjoy the warm, cheesy goodness 

4. Wash all flowers thoroughly before you eat them or use a delicate pastry brush to brush off any residue or insects from the flowers and do this outside so the bugs can be on their merry way. 

5. Storage in a fridge is recommended. Pick the flowers and place on top of kitchen paper and then into an airtight container, laying the flowers flat without overcrowding or placing them on top of each other is recommended. I would use multiple containers as opposed to piling them all in one. 

My top ten flowers for eating and what to do with them 

Borage - It's the perfect salty and cucumber-like addition to broths, seafood, salads and any dessert that you want to add both sweet and salty flavours in. Try them in a poached fish with calendula and fennel flowers or on a smoked salmon blini with some thin slices of cucumber and dill flowers.

Calendula - These beauties actually have some peppery spice and a little bitterness to them. They have been used in so many medicinal remedies for everything from menstrual cramps to anxiety and flu. But for everyday use them in omelettes, salads, dried out in tea and sprinkled over your porridge in the morning with a little raw, local honey.

Carnation - I always feel sorry for the carnation as she gets a bad rap being mainly associated with cheap dates and those bunches your husband buys on his way home from a service station. Let's give her some credit; she comes in many a colour from yellow to pink and her petals look superb as a garnish on just about everything. Try the petals in any dessert as they have a hint of clove and are a little sweet. 

Floral fun
A dozen of the most delicious flowers you'll ever eat
Just as flavourful as they are beautiful, use your flowers to colour your dumplings, top your cakes or stuff them with cheese.

Cornflower - Easy to grow, easy to dry and great in everything from the perfect cup of Earl Grey tea to elderflower jelly. They come in blues and purples and have a hint of clove. They are very easy to dry out and make a great natural food colouring. 

Fennel flower - In my top three because it's incredible both savoury and sweet. Great tossed through a roasted tray of veg, stuffed in a whole fish or stuck under a chickens skin for a roast chook. Try the flowers lightly battered, fried and dusted with icing sugar for sweets.

Hops - Not just for beer. Hops actually have a sedative effect (unlike beer); try making a mug of hot chocolate or an iced one in summer using some 70-80 per cent chocolate, whole or nut milk and a handful of hops. Strain, serve, sleep.

Lavender - At times reminiscent of my grandmother's knicker drawer. Adding too much lavender to your recipe can be like eating perfume and will make your dish bitter. A little goes a long way. Sprinkle them lightly as a garnish or a teaspoon in your cookie mix in particular shortbread.

Unlock the power of purple with this peach, lavender and frisee salad


Peony - Many a women's wedding flower, but also delightful when pickled. Yep, pickled. The petals are wonderful with the addition of a clove, cinnamon and honey pickling liquid then after a couple months maturing, ace scattered through salads and on a cheese board.

Rose - The most luscious of them all. I am obsessed with using rose petals fresh, pickled and dried. If you get the right variety (don’t get the hybrid ones that don’t smell like a rose) then you are in for a fragrant, vibrant and medicinal treat. Said to have anti-ageing properties, I say use them by the handful. Try them in your summer jams, added to the finished product just before bottling. Strawberry and rose are delectable.

Turkish delight trifle

Up your summer dessert game with this Turkish delight trifle, topped with rose petals


Wood sorrel, pink and yellow (soursob) - If you haven’t caught this trend yet then do it. The cheapest edible flower of them all because she is a weed, but if you can pick some that are not in a dog park then they add the most incredible zing to your salads and the entire plant can be eaten. 


Brand-new Food Safari Earth airs 8pm Thursdays on SBS then on SBS On Demand. For recipes and more visit the program site right here. #FoodSafari 

More Food Safari Earth
When your bread is the plate: Here's the lowdown on injera
Injera is the heart of east African food and the Ethiopian immigrant baker is bringing a slice of his homeland to Melbourne.
Meet the family behind Sydney’s much-loved Thai food institution
They've built a restaurant empire from scratch – now they’re redefining paddock-to-plate dining with 30 types of eggplant and more types of basil than you can count.
Biting into baklava’s sweet, yet controversial history
Turkey, Greece and Lebanon may claim baklava as their own, but who created this layered treat? Diving into the pastry’s past, we discover royal associations, religious rituals and a ‘Baklava Procession’ from the 15th century.