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Edible Flowers: Marigolds

Edible Flowers: Marigolds

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Last week I tackled Gardenias. This week, I took a look at marigolds.

The Ancient Welsh used to believe that marigolds had the ability to predict the weather. If the flower blossoms were closed, a storm was said to be approaching; however, if the blossoms were blooming, they celebrated the outlook of better weather and overall happiness. No wonder the blooms are a common addition to dishes these days...

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Slightly peppery in taste and vibrant in color, these marigold petals remind me of arugula with a hint of tang and spice. Sometimes, marigolds are referred to as the poor man’s saffron for its hue and flavor. To be honest, the bright orange buds were intimidating. The last time I ate something that bright, it was mixed into water and resulted in that sugary orange drink that I used to love called Tang.

Alas, the petals are mild but still flavorful— a natural choice when looking to add some color and fun to your dishes.

I decided to create a mushroom and ginger broth with shaved carrots for sweetness and spice to play on the marigold's natural flavor. A touch of earthiness from cilantro and a squeeze of lime for some acidity and brightness bring together a warm soup for any occasion.

Marigold petals are easy to pair with savory flavors and even easier to look at… I may even throw some into my salad. Oh the possibilities!

*** When picking flowers to be eaten, make sure they were grown in a pesticide-free environment, (meaning that most florists won’t be a suitable source). Talk to people who sell flowers and even restaurants who use edible flowers, get to know your floral foods and get creative!Flowers are best eaten at their peak! Avoid wilted or unopen blossoms. And as always with new ingredients, slowly introduce them into your diet to prevent possible allergic reactions.

Marigold Uses in the Garden and on the Table

The bright marigolds flanking my doorway and alternating with the vegetables in my garden provide much more than a cheerful bit of color. Indeed, marigold uses are so wide-ranging that their function as decor is almost surpassed by their other services!

Most gardeners are aware that marigolds' pungent flowers and foliage discourage many insects from feasting on nearby crops. But even the odorless varieties are effective: Planted as a border around the garden or in rows next to the vegetables, they act as a trap crop for Japanese beetles. Since those noxious insects like to congregate on the flowers, the gardener simply can shake the collected pests into a can of kerosene, where they'll expire.

Meanwhile, the marigolds are just as hard at work underground, controlling nematodes (those tiny, eel-like worms that attack the roots of plants). While scientists can't explain how the plants affect the subterranean spoilers, they do admit that marigolds are effective! In comparing the soil of two plots, one with marigolds and one without, researchers at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (and at other agricultural labs as well) discovered 75% to 85% fewer nematodes in the flowered plot. Apparently, a substance is exuded from the little plants that deters these almost invisible crop-destroyers.

Examples of marigold recipes

Wild plant salad with marigold petals

Wild leaf salad (dandelion, sorrel, chicory) and marigold flower petals

Marigolds are plants with high water content that become withered quickly. If we want to decorate the salad with marigold petals, it is recommended to separate the petals immediately before serving the salad so that they do not run out. Meanwhile, we will keep the flowers in water.

If we are going to eat the young leaves in salads, it is also recommended to keep them soaked with water until just before serving to make them more turgid and appetizing.

Fruit jelly with marigold petals

Marigold flower, especially the officinalis variety, stains food with light yellow. To intensify its color, it can be combined with red hibiscus, which dyes deep red.

With these natural dyes creative dishes can be made, since we can add color to a puree, a butter, a cheese, a yogurt, kefir, …

photo of marigold flowers decorated with petals of violet and borage flowers. By Montserrat Enrich of the blog «Gastronomia salvatge».

Cheese or tofu balls with marigold petals

As it has been said with the salad, if we want to decorate a recipe with marigold petals, it is recommended to store the flowers in water and separate the petals immediately before serving the dish.

The following image corresponds to balls of fresh smoothie cheese, with almond flour to thicken and a good bouquet of herbs (in this case of plantain and leaves of yarrow). To present the recipe, we chose to “batter them” in petals of wild marigolds:

Cheese balls with herbs and wild marigold decoration. By Montserrat Enrich of the blog «Gastronomia salvatg e»

Calendula infusions

Marigold petals, tender or dry, will always give us color to any infusion. Calendula is a plant with many properties that can benefit us: anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, soothing, ( * More information on Calendula infusion)

Recipe courtesy of Montserrat Enrich of the blog: Gastronomia salvatge

More information on wild flowers and wild edible plants

Marigolds: They're What's for Dinner

It's a suitable cliché: my heart sinks when I see one of those sad purple orchids on a dessert. No matter that the orchid is edible, technically. If it's fresh, the thick petals crunch like insect legs, releasing a little bittersweet juice. If it's not fresh, the creases brown. And if it's not supposed to be eaten at all, why put it on the plate? As a child I loved orchid garnishes, keeping them in my grubby little palms after dinner, until they wilted. But only one orchid out of the 20,000 species serves a real culinary purpose—the one from which we harvest vanilla beans. The rest are useless.

Orchids, which are expensive to grow, aren't as popular as they used to be (though I still find them under the odd room service breakfast dome and on flourless chocolate cakes dusted with icing sugar), but tastier edible flowers are on restaurant menus as an integrated parts of dishes, rather than as afterthoughts. In his Alinea cookbook, Grant Achatz uses nasturtium leaves and flowers in a beautiful clam dish. And pansies are often at markets and grocery stores, though I wonder what cooks do with them at home.

The way the food media covers ingredient trends, you'd think we'd just discovered we could eat flowers. Of course, we haven't. We've probably been eating flowers for as long as we've been gathering berries. And we've definitely made our share of mistakes, popping poisonous, psychotropic, seizure-inducing blossoms until we figured out which ones to avoid (most of them).

Marigolds are on the safe list. They've been part of our culinary tradition for thousands of years, but when I received my CSA share this week and it included a few golden pompoms, I had absolutely no idea what to do with them.

When familiar herbs flower, their blossoms are familiar smelling and tasting. They're small, not intimidating at all, and can usually stand in where you'd use the leaves. But these marigolds were huge, fluffy, and had a very powerful smell. A smell that said, you don't really want to eat me. (Coincidentally, gardeners plant certain varieties of marigolds to control pests.)

I put the stems in water on the dining table, where they sat for a couple of days as I looked through recipes—none of which seemed appealing and all of which treated the flower like some kind of magical pagan talisman, praising its medicinal properties. One recipe repeatedly referred to the flower as "nature's sunshine," which you don't have to think about for very long to find silly.

The Forgotten Art of Flower Cookery , by Leona Woodring Smith, happens to have a great little chapter on marigolds. First published in 1973, just before the 1980s flower garnishing trend took off, the book includes flower mythology, ritual, and Emily Dickinson quotes alongside completely practical cooking tips. Marigolds are eaten as petals or leaves, raw or blanched, fresh or dry, sweet or savory.

Each flower chapter—carnation, gardenia, tulip, clover—has several accompanying recipes. And they're not all for making wines or syrups. The marigold party sticks recipe is essentially a classic American cheese twist made extra orange with the power of marigolds (they're so good at that they're sometimes dried and ground to make imitation saffron powder). And while the marigold cheese soup sounded delicious too—one of those old school vegetable soups enriched with dark chicken stock, cream, and sherry—it's just not the right weather for cheese soup, is it?

So I made Smith's marigold cucumbers: cold sliced cucumbers flavored with raw petals in a sharp, simple dressing.

The thin petals didn't bruise, and once the heels were trimmed, they were just the right size to add to the salad. The trimmed marigold tastes much milder than the flower smells, of a lush tropical garden, herbaceous and pleasantly bitter. Truthfully, I'm not sure the neon petals are that much tastier than orchids but the texture is much nicer and at least they're treated like a proper ingredient, not just a cake topper. At least they won't kill you.

Are marigolds edible? Yes, they are and, in fact, for the longest time it would have been absolutely normal to find them in American kitchens.

The good news is that there’s nothing stopping you from bringing them back into fashion and enjoying the smooth, pleasant taste and they can spice up everything from a salad to soups.

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Marigold Vinegarette Salad

Here&aposs a summery salad courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens.

1/3 cup olive oil or salad oil

2 Tbsp. Signet marigold petals

2 Tbsp. snipped Signet marigold leaves

Iceberg lettuce wedges or mesclun

Signet marigold leaves and blossoms (optional)

1. In a screw-top jar combine oil, vinegar, Signet marigold petals, marigold leaves, and sugar. Cover and shake well.

2. Drizzle vinaigrette on lettuce wedges or mesclun. Top salads with additional Signet blossoms and leaves. Makes about 1 cup dressing.

Growing calendula from seed is easy-peasy, even for the brownest of thumbs. Sow the prehistoric-looking seeds directly in the ground in mid-spring germination takes five to fourteen days. Thin to 12 inches (0.3 m) apart. Alternately, if your spring weather is chilly, plant seeds out in trays and transplant the starts when the days warm up.

Calendula will thrive in just about any soil, but like most plants, it prefers to have soil that is not overly dry or wet (non-draining). It’s typically grown as an annual, but can be cultivated as a short-lived perennial in warmer climes (Zones 8-10). It will flower more profusely in full sun but can tolerate a little shade. If you live in the subtropics or tropics, try planting it in part shade, or plant it in the fall (it will thrive throughout the winter in warm climates).

Here in the southern Appalachians, I plant my calendula when I start my salad and cooking greens. The greens grow more quickly and fill in the bed, and by the time the calendula matures and begins to flower, the greens have been harvested, and calendula has more room to flourish.


There are countless varieties of calendula, with many shades of sunset: orange, yellow, and russet. There are multi-petaled varieties for extra garden bling (and edible petals), and varieties with increased resin, purported to be more medicinally active. One of my current favorites is ‘alpha,’ a variety with plenty of resin and mixed double yellow and orange petals. You can use any of the Calendula officinalis cultivars as food or medicine, although the yellow and orange varieties are more common in medicinal preparations. Let the aroma and stickiness of the flowers guide you in finding your personal favorite types of calendula.

The flowers need to be picked every two to three days to promote and prolong the plant’s flowering season. If you let the plants go to seed, they will stop making new flowers. As you’re picking, be sure to deadhead the flowers that have started to go to seed. These overripe blooms have petals sticking up at odd angles or petals that have already fallen off the plant, and the green seeds will be developing. I give these far-gone flowers back to the earth, forgoing them as medicine.

Picking calendula flowers

Pick the flowers in the heat of the day when the dew has evaporated and the flowers are looking perky. When you pick calendula, your fingers will be sticky from the resinous bracts, which form the green base of the flower head. Dry on screens or airy baskets in a well-ventilated, warm area. “Schluffle” the flowers often (my invented, Yiddish-inspired term for gently tussling drying herbs).

Calendula being readied for drying on a metal screen covered with a lightweight breathable cotton cloth

Be sure the entire flower head is dry before you put up your harvest. The petals will be completely dried and crunchy and the green base of the flower head will be pliable when you break it open, but it shouldn’t be overly moist. Err on the side of overdrying. Depending on your climate and drying setup, it may take a week to ten days to properly dry calendula.

Edible Flowers

When it comes to flowers, the good news is that there are a number of pretty posies that you can enjoy on your plate, from ornamentals like violas and nasturtiums to herbs like borage and chives. There’s even a vegetable flower—summertime squash—that’s quite tasty.

Come to think of it, broccoli, cauliflower and artichoke are flower buds as well. But when most people talk about edible flowers, they’re referring to those that are plucked from the ornamental side of the garden, or at least from herbs that are ordinarily harvested for their leaves or stems.

Edible flowers are a slice of cuisine that has never completely gone out of style—although their favor has waxed and waned. They were especially sought after during the Victorian era, when it’s said that
Queen Victoria insisted on fresh violets in her tea. As for those “sweet curds” in Shakespeare’s writings? Apparently they were the petals of marigolds or primroses (also known as cowslips), mixed with some semblance of cottage cheese.

But edible flowers date back even further and have been integral to Roman, Greek, Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine for some 2,000 years. Look no further than what’s easily the world’s most expensive edible flower: saffron. Each saffron crocus flower bears three tiny stigmas, which are handpicked and dried. More than 4,500 flowers are required to produce just one ounce of saffron, which can cost $300 or more.

But there’s no need to get so exotic. Instead, plenty of garden-variety flowers are tasty and pretty on the plate. You can start by sprinkling a few petals in a salad or stir fry, tucking a pungent sprig into a glass of iced tea or bowl of ice cream or using a larger, flatter flower, such as nasturtium, as an edible wrap.

Pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) are sometimes called poor man’s saffron. The yellow or orange petals bear a spicy, peppery, slightly bitter taste.

Nasturtiums are peppery, but sweeter. Carnations are peppery, too, with hints of clove. Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) and pinks (Dianthus) taste of cloves as well.

In the sweet range, look for bee balm (Monarda), gardenia, jasmine, pansy, pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), rose, sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) and violet.

For a spicy to bitter flavor, head for chrysanthemum, English daisy (Bellis perennis) or marigold.

Dandelion buds fried in butter are said to taste like mushrooms, while their flowers offer a sweet, honey-like accent. The lavender flowers of society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) taste, not surprisingly, like garlic. And daylily flowers (Hemerocallis) are crunchy and offer a subtle sweetness. They can be served as an appetizer, stacked with cucumber, sour cream and pesto or stuffed, fried or added to hot and sour soup.

The flowers of most herbs take on the same flavors as their leaves and stems. Anise hyssop and fennel flowers taste of licorice. Arugula, like its leaves, is nutty, spicy and peppery. Chive flowers taste of mild onion, lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) tastes of lemon and mint flowers are just plain minty.

Yet for a taste of contrary, angelica tends toward celery, chamomile speaks of sweet apple and the pale blue flowers of borage are a crisp, light cucumber.

Apple blossoms bear a delicate, floral taste, while pineapple guava flowers (Feijoa sellowiana) taste much like their sweet, tropical fruit. Radish flowers are a milder, sweeter version of themselves.

Zucchini flowers, along with other summer squash and okra, bear a mild, sweet flavor, and can be stuffed with rice, ground meat, or olives and ricotta, then baked or fried.

Sunflower petals (Helianthus) taste slightly bitter you can steam the unopened buds like artichokes.

It’s best to grow your own edible flowers. That way you can be confident that no pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals have come within reach of what you’ll be putting in your mouth.

Gather your flowers in the morning, just after any dew has vanished. Choose buds that are fresh or flowers that have just opened.

Place long-stemmed flowers in a glass of water. Sandwich smaller flowers between layers of moist paper towel. Either way, store the flowers in your refrigerator until you’re ready to use them, which should be later that day.

Be absolutely sure that whatever flowers you pick are not poisonous. The California Poison Control Center ( offers a 121-page online guide to toxic and nontoxic plants.

Wash your flowers before you prepare them, if only to remove dust or bug droppings.

Remove the pistils, stamens and sepals at the base, all of which may be bitter and detract from the flavor. Also remove any pollen, which can trigger allergies.

When serving edible flowers, start with only a few. After all, the blossoms are not the main course. And in large quantities, they may even cause stomach upset. Instead, break apart the pretty heads and scatter the petals throughout the dish as a fun and flavorful accent.

What Do Flowers Taste Like?

Bean blossoms have a sweet, beany flavor. Nasturtiums have a wonderful, peppery flavor similar to watercress and their pickled buds can be substituted for more expensive capers. Borage tastes like cucumber, and miniature pansies (Johny-Jump-Ups) have a mild wintergreen taste. Banana flowers have an artichoke-like flavor and are a great addition to a salad.

Violets, roses, and lavender lend a sweet flavor to salads or desserts. Bright yellow calendulas are an economical alternative to expensive, though not quite as pungent. Other flowers may have a spicy or peppermint flavor.

When in doubt, taste, but first be sure it's not poisonous.

How to Plant

To get your soil prepared for planting, it is a good idea to turn the soil to provide drainage and make it easier for the young roots to spread out while they grow. If the soil is low in nutrients, this is a good time to add supplemental fertilizers to help the seeds or young plants establish themselves. A slow-release fertilizer is best and should only be added once per season to make sure the flowers are not shocked by the overwhelming amounts of available nutrients.

Soil that is moistened will be easier to plant in and will create a better environment if you are planting seeds. Seeds should be put approximately one inch under the soil and can be planted once an inch apart from one another. When planting around other plants, it is best to plant them eight to ten inches away to ensure there is no competition for space.

When planting seedlings that were started in containers, remove the plants from the containers and gently separate the roots apart. This will help encourage the roots to grow outwards in various directions. Adding a layer of mulch over the surface of the soil can help provide your marigolds with a well-draining environment and moisture retention to keep them from drying out in those warm summer months.

For more ideas of plants to add to your vegetable garden, check out our list here.