Spring is chock full of delightful edible flowers, both from your garden and the wild. Our spring flower salad with hemlock tree bud-honey dressing is a great way to enjoy them in your kitchen.
Last year, we wrote a detailed article to help you find and identify 16 of our favorite edible wildflowers of spring, from wisteria to redbud to black locust.
While there are certainly plenty of edible spring wild flowers blooming right now, chances are you also have lots of edible flowers growing in your garden as well, even if you think you only have ornamentals.
Edible spring flowers in your ornamental flower garden?
For instance, popular ornamentals like pansies and dianthus have really good edible flowers. Pansy flowers offer a subtle wintergreen flavor on velvet texture while dianthus provide a sweet, nectary pop via their comparatively dense structure.
If you have more “wild” garden spaces like we do, perhaps you’ll also see wood sorrel (and other oxalis), violas (pansies’ wild parents), chickweed, and other flowering wild plants happily coexisting in your domesticated spaces. Add in the yellow blossoms of bolting brassicas like kale and cabbage, and there may just be a cornucopia of edible flowers growing right under your nose in your garden.
Edible flowers aren’t just colorful and flavorful, they’re also chock full of nutrients. Thus, we regularly incorporate edible wild and domesticated flowers into our meals. Perhaps you can too, once you learn which ones to use and a few good ways to use them…
Warning: There are poisonous flowers, too
In the process of discussing edible flowers, we should also warn you that there are plenty of inedible — even poisonous — flowers to be found this time of year. For instance, a few poisonous flowers that are also blooming in our garden right now include:
To be safe, never eat any flower or plant that you haven’t 100% identified and know to be safe for human consumption. Also, don’t eat flowers that have been treated with pesticides, whether that’s in your garden or a public park.
How to eat edible flowers
Edible flowers in the above picture include:
- Claytonia perfoliata, aka miner’s lettuce – succulent, purslane-like texture whose flowers and leaves are connected together via the same stem.
- Mexican primrose – beautiful but can spread like wildfire; gorgeous color, but slightly bitter flavor.
- Solomon’s seal flowers – crunchy, dense texture with a sweet asparagus flavor.
- Coral honeysuckle – a native honeysuckle that doesn’t spread like Japanese honeysuckle; best harvested in the morning while the nectaries are full. Summer flowers more bitter than spring flowers.
- Pansies – striking color, velvety texture and a delicate, wintergreen flavor.
- Black locust – clusters of flowers form on large trees, offering a pea-like flavor.
- Comfrey flowers – look and taste like borage (cucumber-like).
- Stridolo – shape and texture like miniature silk balloons and sweet, pea-like flavor.
- Chickweed – A very common weed with many edible and nutritional benefits (our ducks LOVE it); tiny delicate flowers and leaves taste similar to corn/maize silk.
- Dianthus – Pleasantly dense texture and sweet flavor on mounding low-growing perennial plants.
- Brassicas – assorted flowers from purple kale and cabbage; purple stems and yellow flowers provide striking color contrast and a flavor similar to sweet broccoli.
Eating your edible flowers
There’s no right or wrong way to eat edible flowers. We do a lot of flower munching right out in the garden or when we’re out on a foraging adventure.
At the bottom of this article, you’ll also find a list of some of our favorite flower recipes, most of which are drinks ranging from teas to fermented cordials.
However, another way we love to eat flowers is in salads. Flower salads can be as simple as adding a good homemade dressing to a bowl full of black locust flowers (which taste sort of like a cross between a pea and a sweet snap bean). Edible flowers can also be used to dress up the perfect seasonal mixed green salad or as their own mixed flower salad (with no greens).
Some people enjoy cooking flowers into recipes like pancakes. However, flowers tend to have such delicate flavors and textures that cooking them makes them disappear into the dish. So we generally recommend using edible flowers uncooked in recipes that allow them to be the star of the show or at least the supporting cast, not merely the extras.
Edible flower harvesting tips
On the note of flower delicacy: most flowers are about as ephemeral as anything you will ever harvest, e.g. they wilt quickly and don’t store long.
It’s best to harvest flowers either: a) in the morning, or b) on a cooler, overcast day. If you’re not going to use them immediately post-harvest, get them into a ziplock back with a lightly dampened paper towel and into your fridge asap.
We don’t rinse our edible flowers after harvest. Instead, we’re just careful to only harvest clean flowers and put them into a clean harvest container. However, certain dense flowers like dianthus and Solomon’s seal can take a rinsing without it negatively impacting their texture.
More delicate flowers like pansies and stridolo will have their texture negatively impacted by rinsing. You also risk rinsing away nectar (which provides sweet flavor) and pollen (which provides vitamins/trace nutrients), which is the primary reason we don’t rinse our flowers.
Hemlock, fir, spruce, and pine buds/tips – perfect flavor compliments to edible flowers
Yes, your Christmas tree is probably edible, although there’s a pretty good chance it was treated with fungicides and insecticides if it came from a commercial operation. See our edible conifer guide for identification, tips, and recipes!
In spring, hemlock, spruce, fir, and pine trees all produce tender young leaf/needle buds, aka tips. While the older needles are also edible, the spring buds/tips are really the culinary highlights of these plants due to their tenderness and mild flavor. (Exception: if you have pine species that produce pine nuts, those are pretty hard to beat.)
Growth buds on all four types of trees have the potential for wonderful flavor, with complex notes of citrus and rosemary. There is quite a bit of flavor variability by species. Even individual trees within the same species can have some variability. (Related article: Spruce tips and cones – how to ID, harvest, and eat.)
Thankfully, we’ve scouted out excellent culinary evergreen trees near us so we can look forward to sustainably harvesting their buds each spring. General rules:
- Don’t harvest from young trees.
- Don’t harvest more than 1/4 of the buds/tips on a tree (even if you could reach them all)
- Harvest from lower branches, not the top of the tree.
Though each is unique, the tangy flavors of all four types of tree buds compliment the delicate, sweet flavor of edible flowers very well. You can either toss the delicate buds into your salad or use them to make a dressing. For the recipe in this article, we made an Eastern hemlock tree bud dressing with citrus and honey…
Warning: There are poisonous evergreens, too
Here again, an identification warning is warranted. If you don’t know for certain what type of evergreen tree you’re looking at, don’t eat it. There are highly poisonous evergreens like Yew that can kill you, so if you don’t know the difference between a yew and a fir and a hemlock (the needles of all three look pretty similar), put the pruners back in your foraging basket and move on.
For clarity, there is also a poisonous plant that shares the hemlock name, although it is a completely different and unrelated plant species. Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is a shorter, weedy plant in the carrot family, and has no relationship to hemlock trees.
Spring flower salad recipe tips
A few helpful tips for making your own spring flower salad with hemlock/fir/spruce/pine bud dressing:
1. All-flower salad or add greens?
We tried this recipe two ways: one with an all-flower salad and the other with a ‘White Russian’ kale base. (For the record, ‘White Russian’ is our favorite kale for spring salads/fresh eating.) Both salad versions were good, but we liked the kale version better.
Flowers are so delicate that a dressing tends to weigh them down, so a sturdier substrate like kale helps give the salad some bounce. Kale also helps provide a flavor backbone over which the individual flower flavors can stand out.
So our recommendation: add a green leafy base to your spring flower salad such as your favorite kale or lettuce.
2. Hemlock tree buds or… ?
Hemlock buds are our first choice for this recipe. If you don’t have hemlock tree buds available, try finding good spruce, pine, or fir tree buds. Good = citrusy, piny flavors with minimal bitter notes.
3. Citrus added
We added liquid from our honey-fermented kumquats for this salad dressing recipe. Knowing that most people *probably* won’t have that ingredient on hand, we’d recommend instead adding fresh lemon or tangerine juice as an alternative. Orange juice is a fine substitute as well, but it won’t have quite the same sharp bite.
If you do have honey-fermented kumquats on hand, use the liquid and know that we appreciate your dedication!
Recipe: Spring flower salad with hemlock tree bud-honey dressing
Spring flower salad with Eastern hemlock tree bud-honey dressing
A forest- and garden-to-table salad with fresh seasonal flowers and greens plus a dressing made from spring evergreen growth buds.
- 5 cups loosely packed salad greens (recommend White Russian kale or firm lettuce like Romaine)
- 2.5 cups loosely packed fresh edible seasonal flowers
- 4 tbsp hemlock tree buds/needles - all brown stems removed
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 shot glass (appr 1/8th cup) of either fresh lemon or tangerine juice or liquid from our honey-fermented kumquat recipe
- 1 tbsp honey
- pinch of salt, or to taste
Chop or hand pull kale or lettuce into small bite-sized pieces. Add edible flowers.
Add all salad dressing ingredients to blender (we used a Ninja) and blend. Pour dressing over salad ingredients, toss, then serve.
If you have leftover hemlock tree bud salad dressing, be sure to store it in the fridge to prevent oxidation and preserve its vibrant green color.
We hope this recipe helps draw your attention more deeply into the wonderful plants around you, whether wild or cultivated. It’s a beautiful, flavorful world out there.
Related articles you’ll want to chew on:
- Spruce tips and cones – how to ID, harvest, and eat
- How to eat your Christmas tree
- 16 incredible edible wildflowers
- Recipe: Elderflower kombucha
- Move over broccoli, kale florets are in the house
- How to grow and make lemon blossom tea
- Recipe: Wisteria flower cordial
- Hibiscus sabdariffa: a tasty addition to your edible landscape
- How to grow and use milk thistle
- How to make sparkling elderflower cordial