ashley englishsmall measures

small measures: edible spring wildflowers

by Ashley

I know that spring is officially here when I start eating out of my yard. And by that I really do mean my yard and not simply my garden. When the violets sprout along the forest edge, the dandelions peak through the cracks in the patio and the apple blossoms perfume the air, I know it’s go time. These free-for-the-eating harbingers of warm days and picnics, of lemonade and lazy days reading on the porch, are the all-clear signal, indicating that it’s time to put away the winter boots and bust out the sandals. Many of them also pack a powerhouse of nutrients alongside their beauty. I’ll eat to that! — Ashley English

The full post continues after the jump . . .

While spring produces a plethora of wildflowers, bear in mind that not all of them are safe to eat. In her book Edible Flowers, Cathy Wilkinson-Barash offers her tried-and-true tips for safely gathering edibles:

The Ten Rules of Edible Flowers

1. Eat flowers only when you are positive they are edible.

2. Just because it is served with food does not mean a flower is edible (see Rule 1).

3. Eat only flowers that have been grown organically.

4. Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centers (see Rule 3).

5. If you have hay fever, asthma or allergies, do not eat flowers.

6. Do not eat flowers picked from the side of the road. They are contaminated from car emissions (see Rule 3).

7. Remove pistils and stamens from flowers before eating. Eat only the petals.

8. Not all flowers are edible. Some are poisonous.

9. There are many varieties of any one flower. Flowers taste different when grown in different locations.

10. Introduce flowers to your diet the way you would new foods to a baby — one at a time in small quantities.

It’s early spring, so there are many, many edible wildflowers that haven’t yet emerged. Pictured above is a sampling of what’s currently ripe for the picking in my yard. Although certainly not exhaustive, here’s a list of other edible wildflowers that are either in bloom now or will be later in the season and into summer (you can see what a number of these look like here):

  • Alfalfa
  • Apple Blossoms
  • Borage
  • Broadleaf Plantain
  • Burdock
  • Cattail
  • Celandine
  • Chickweed
  • Chicory
  • Coltsfoot
  • Creeping Charlie (also known as Ground Ivy)
  • Dandelion
  • Dead Nettle
  • Echinacea
  • Goldenrod
  • Henbit
  • Horsetail
  • Joe Pye Weed
  • Milk Thistle
  • Mullein
  • Oxeye Daisy
  • Prickly Pear Cactus
  • Queen Anne’s Lace
  • Redbud tree buds
  • Red Clover
  • Rue
  • St. John’s Wort
  • Violet
  • Wild Rose
  • Wood Sorrel
  • Yarrow
  • Yellow Dock
  • Yellow Rocket


Oftentimes, I simply eat edible wildflowers by tossing them on top of whatever I was already planning to eat. Pancakes, frittata, salad — you name it, the addition of wildflowers to a dish seriously ups the ante. If you’re planning an Easter gathering, going to a springtime potluck, or wanting to treat your mom to something special in a few weeks, consider adding wildflowers to the mix. The “oohs and aahs!” will make all of your picking efforts completely worth it. Following is a recipe for an extra-special “breakfast” risotto, riddled with bacon (although it can be made vegetarian, too — see step #1 in the recipe), topped with poached eggs and drenched in a medley of edible wildflowers. Put this dish on the table and watch the smiles of springtime gratitude pop up all around.

Beautiful Breakfast Risotto
Serves 4

The Goods:

  • 3 slices bacon
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 6 cups chicken, ham or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup wine (if desired, otherwise use this amount of additional stock)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • several grinds black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon herbs de Provence
  • 5 eggs, poached
  • pinch of salt
  • enough wildflowers to cover the dish (about a cup or so)


The Deal:

1. Over medium heat, cook the bacon in a medium-sized pan until it starts to get crispy. (For this recipe, I used an iron skillet, as I love that it can go directly from the stovetop to the table.) Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside. Drain about half of the bacon fat (or add 3 tbs cooking oil if skipping the bacon to make it vegetarian), and then add the diced onions.

2. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

3. Add the rice and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Add 1 cup of stock and stir into the rice.

5. Stir nearly constantly, without stopping for more than 20 seconds at a time. Whenever the liquid level gets low, add another half cup of the stock. Add the wine in place of the stock one of those times, if desired.

6. After the rice is cooked fully but still has a bit of bite (after about 40 minutes of cooking), add the Parmesan, herbs and black pepper.

7. Cook about 5 more minutes, leaving it a little looser than desired, because it will tighten up as it cools.

8. In the meantime, poach the eggs.

9. Place the poached eggs evenly around the risotto in the pan and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

10. Sprinkle the flowers over the top.

11. Cut into the yolks so that they run onto the risotto.

12. Serve at the table in the pan.

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with using wildflowers as culinary adornment, it’s fun to make them the featured item, too. In the recipes below, I’ve incorporated the flowers directly into the dish, with an infused honey and a floral sugar.

Apple Blossom Honey

The Goods:

  • 2 cups honey
  • 2 cups apple blossoms


The Deal:

1. Fill a high-sided pot with water. Bring to a gentle boil.

2. Place the honey and apple blossoms into a glass jar (be sure it’s completely dry inside the jar before filling it). Affix a lid to the top of the jar.

3. Put the jar into the pot of boiling water. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the jar to infuse in the water, 10–15 minutes.

4. Take the jar out of the pot and let it come to room temperature. Store it in a cabinet or pantry (anywhere out of direct sunlight) for one week.

5. Strain the honey through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth, discarding the solids. Return to the jar and keep tightly sealed.

Violet Sugar

The Goods:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup violets, minced (green stems removed)


The Deal:

1. Place the sugar and minced violets in a food processor.

2. Pulse two or three times, until the flowers are broken down but petal flecks are still visible.

3. Transfer the contents to a lidded container. Store in a lidded glass container and place in a cabinet or pantry (anywhere out of direct sunlight) for one week. You can then either sift out the floral matter using a fine mesh sieve or leave it in.

What about you? Are you a wildflower eater? If so, what’s your pleasure, and how do you serve it up? I’d love to know. Chef Craig Richards of Ecco, a seasonal foods-focused restaurant in Atlanta, wrote me this past weekend to say that my foraging adventures with edible wildflowers had inspired his own, and that he was considering putting wild violets on a wood-fired pizza. How amazing does that sound?! As for me, there’s a newly discovered patch of white violets in my yard that I’m off to graze upon. Happy foraging!

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