Not all foraging has to be sustenance seeking. Sometimes, it’s just nice to sample the “trailside nibbles” mentioned in foraging literature, and none are more pleasant to pick than edible flowers.
They’re a nice bit of flavor that can freshen your mouth after a long hike, and offer some guileless, fun foraging. Their contribution to the forager is more for the spirit than the stomach. They won’t fill your belly like a meal, but they can make beautiful garnishes, wonderful teas, interesting appetizer toppings, bright salad inclusions, and of course, plain enjoyment in the wild.
These edible flowers can also be an enjoyable way to introduce young children to the delights of foraging. Of course, no child should be directed or encouraged to indiscriminately eat flowers — some, likelily of the valley, are toxic. But when supervised by a knowledgeable adult, foraging for edible flowers can open their eyes to an exciting botanical universe.
So here are some blossoms that are safe and delicious to eat on the trail or in the kitchen.
Obligatory Foraging Admonition
We’ve covered thebasics of foragingsafely and responsibly in our earlier article and video on the subject. But I would be remiss if I don’t repeat the important instructions I stated there. Only eat a wild plant if you are 100% sure of its identity. That’s why I list the scientific name of every species for you to reference. If ever you have that wavering uncertainty, take it as a red flag that you need to build up more knowledge before you put it in your mouth.
This article, for instance, doesn’t give you enough information to identify these plants if they are unfamiliar to you. It’s merely meant as a stepping stone in an interesting direction. Do the research, find someone knowledgeable to teach you, and when it comes to wild food, don’t guess.
Also, don’t forage from places that are at risk of contamination: roadsides, sidewalks, heavy-use public areas, or beneath powerlines. Pesticides and herbicides aren’t things you want to carelessly consume. They are killer chemicals, after all.
Different Types of Edible Flowers
Wood Sorrel(Oxalis spp.)
Often misidentified as clover, the wood sorrel plants are a common denizen of fields and forest edges. Their leaves consist of three, heart-shaped leaflets that connect to a thin, delicate stem. In my area, violet wood sorrel (Oxalis violacea) and yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) are the most common, (violet wood sorrel is the species that you see pictured). Blossoms have five petals, and after blooming, turn into bitty banana-shaped seed pods.
Sorrel blossoms are a delicious sandwich topping, and also add a nice acidic zing to fresh Vietnamese-style spring rolls
这种花有一点蒲公英叶子特有的苦味，但它搭配了花蜜的甜味，使它们吃起来很愉快。孩子们也喜欢吃蒲公英——不仅因为它的味道，还因为它可以吃到无处不在的东西。也可能是因为他们喜欢看到奶奶看到孙子们啃草坪时惊恐的表情。人们把蒲公英酿造成葡萄酒和苏打水的历史也很长。Check out our earlier article on the subject here.
Just be sure that no creatures are enjoying the blossoms before you do. That cache of sweet nectar is a jackpot for bees and ants, and if you don’t give the blossoms a good shake and inspection before popping them in your mouth, you may accidentally eat more than you bargained for!
An ephemeral treat, redbud blossoms only appear for a brief time in early spring and well before any tree has leafed out. You’ll be able to find redbud at the margin of a forest in early April. It will be a lovely shade of pink that stands out from the barren-looking branches on the rest of the trees. Trees typically reach 20 to 30 feet in height, and have distinctive, alternate, heart-shaped leaves in the summer. Redbud has smooth, gray bark and is often a graceful, calligraphic shape.
Blossoms and unopened buds taste like sweet peas and have a pleasant texture. They’re excellent on their own, but can also become a delightful, edible garnish on a cheese traywith homemade crackers. As with all edible flowers, remember that the blossoms you eat won’t be able to sustain the spring butterflies or become an edible seed pod later, so I recommend browsing redbud branches lightly.
The violets I’ve shown here are common violet (Viola sororia, top) and birdfoot violet (Viola pedata, bottom). Common blue violet has abundant edible leaves (that we’ll cover at length in a coming article) as well as those beautiful blue flowers! If you really want a harvest of violet blossoms, however, birdfoot violet is the most generous. The profusion of lavender, white, and blue-streaked blooms can be absolutely carpet-like. I admit, I often can’t bring myself to gather them when they’re thick like that. I’d rather just take in the view and be thankful for a new spring.
The blossoms look pretty and taste rather bland, but I can’t resist. Perhaps it’s their crisp texture and the bitty burst of sweetness. Blossoms are a dazzling salad garnish, andboth blossoms and leaves make a healthful and tasty teathat’s even nicer with a swirl of wildflower honey.
Red Clover and White Clover(Trifolium spp.)
One of my earliest foraging memories from childhood is plucking the individual florets from a red clover blossom and dabbing the sweet nectar on my tongue. That same sweetness can be enjoyed by a forager of any age. While the blooms of both white clover (Trifolium repens) and red clover(Trifolium praetense) can be eaten raw in a salad, I suggest making them easier to eat by breaking the flower heads apart and scattering the pieces like a garnish. They’re a lovely inclusion in soups or mixed in a greens dish, but my favorite way to enjoy them is tea — especially the red clover blossoms.
Clovers are high in mineral content, which means they can take up heavy metals and pesticides from polluted soil. Be sure to forage for these abundant blooms in places you know aren’t contaminated.
Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
夏天的热浪滚滚而来，黑接骨木在大雪纷飞中盛开，这是一种总是与蝉鸣和晒伤联系在一起的植物。5瓣的花簇生成令人印象深刻的巨大伞形花序，产生一种强烈的，有点甜，有点麝香的香气。The flowers make a delicate, honey-scented tea that is irresistible with a few of the starry blossoms are scattered across the surface.
Again, remember when you remove the blossoms, you stop them from developing into berries. Wild creatures adore the berries, and they’re a wonderful food to forage later, so gather blossoms thoughtfully. Elderberries are common, so it should be easy enough to take just a few flower clusters from every plant you find, rather than clearing a single plant of all edible flowers. An alternative gathering method is to shake the blossoms from a loaded plant into a ready container. The bitty petals of already-fertilized flowers will rain down into a bowl (along with a few spiders and leaves), giving you plenty to brew while still allowing the plant to finish making berries.
Finally, don’t confuse black elderberry with red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa).Red elderberry blossoms emerge later in the season and form a flat flower head, rather than black elderberry’s domed poof. The fruit of red elderberry is often considered toxic, and I can’t find any good information on the edibility of the blossoms, so let’s skip that plant for now.
There are far more edible flowers than these, of course, but I haven’t tried them all yet:
- Basswood flowers
- Black locust flowers
Use the list as a starting point. If you happen to know those plants and have access to them, research how to eat and when to use them. And share your edible flower stories in the comments below. Do you have any you look forward to nibbling? Or, do you have similar childhood memories connected with foraging flowers?