Edible Flowers #5 – Italian Herb Flowers

Inspirational for their cooking, the Italians love using herbs and seasonings in their recipes. Using the flowers of herbs are also not anything new, with celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver bringing the joy of their use to light yet again.

Common to Italian Herb Seasoning, and collectively named the Mediterranean Herbs, for it is in the Mediterranean regions that they flourish -especially in the wild, the herbs whose flowers we’ll be looking at in this section include Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano and Marjoram, Sage, and Basil.

Rosemary "Chef's Choice"

Rosemary “Chef’s Choice”


Early to flower in Spring, often the beautiful hues of blue and purple of the “herb of remembrance” – Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) are the first sign that winter is moving off. And what a gorgeous sight when a Rosemary bush is in full bloom! A popular culinary herb, the evergreen Rosemary is also grown for its medicinal virtues, and wtith many named varieties, have remained a favourite in the ornamental gardens too.

Can reach 180 height with 240 spread
Well drained soil
Sheltered and sunny 
Best propagated through cuttings

Use as an edible flower

With the distinct resinous taste of Rosemary leaf, the flower is much milder and slightly floral and can be substituted for the leaf when a more delicate flavouring is needed. After removing the green bits from the flowers, they can be added fresh to salads and sandwiches, or cooked with soups, stews and on roasted meats and vegetables. They are delicious with scrambled eggs, or worked through a soft cheese. Not relegated to the savory side of the kitchen only, Rosemary flowers pair beautifully with sweet and fruity dishes and beverages.

Recipe Ideas

  • Scrambled Eggs with Rosemary Blossoms
  • Roasted garlic potatoes with Rosemary Blossoms




Thymus vulgaris come in a great many cultivars of different foliage, fragrances and flavour – including the strongly scented common or wild thyme, lemon and orange scented thyme, caraway thyme, and pine scented thyme. Believed to bring courage, this generally low-growing, highly aromatic herb with its attractive small leaves and beautiful heads of flowers has always been a favourite in old cottage gardens.

Mostly not higher than 30cm, spreading
Free draining, not too rich
Propagated by seed or division

Use as an edible flower

Quite strongly flavoured, this is a herb flower to use in moderation, so always start off with just a few flower heads and increase to taste. With a similar taste to the leaf, earthy and somewhat sweet and savory, Thyme flowers are fantastic added as a garnish to salads, soups, stews, pastas and vegetables. A good herb flower to flavour butter, oils and vinegar.  It is recommended to add them fresh to food rather than cooking them as their flavour greatly diminishes with cooking, unlike the leaves.

Recipe Ideas

  • Thyme  flower vinegar
  • Thyme flowers over grilled courgettes

Origanum vulgare Prague 2011 3.jpg

Oregano & Marjoram

Known as “joy of the mountain”, the sweet-spicy scented Origanum species was reputedly a gift from Aphrodite as a symbol of happiness, and I challenge you to not feel happy when smelling (and tasting!) these delightful herbs. There are many named varieties available for slight differences in flavour and in foliage or growing habits – including beautiful variegated Country Cream Oregano and Golden Marjoram.

Marjoram: 30cm height, 20cm spread
Oregano: 45cm height, 20cm spread
Free draining soil
Sunny position
Propagated by seeds or division

Use as an Edible Flower

Oregano (Oreganum vulgaris) and Marjoram (Oreganum majorana) belong to the same genus, Origanum and are often used interchangeably in recipes, although there is a difference to their flavours Marjoram being less pungent and more floral and Oregano hotter and more spicy. The flowers of both herbs can be used as an edible and taste rather much like the leaves – sweet and spicy. Great in Italian, Greek and Spanish dishes, the flowers combine well with vegetables, cheeses, meat, poultry, fish and mushrooms. As the other Mediterranean herb flowers, they are ideally preserved in an herbal oil or vinegar.

Recipe Ideas

  • Marjoram flowers over pan-fried wild mushrooms
  • Margherita pizza with origanum flowers


Salvia-officinalis-flowerAn ancient herb with as many medicinal uses as culinary, Sage (Salvia officinalis) is still a very popular plant today. Its grey-green leaves often contrast beautifully in the garden, while the purple sage (Salvia officinalis “Purpurascens” ) and golden sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Ictarina’) varieties bring definite interest with their attractive foliage. A great attractor for bees, sage flowers open in mauve/blue bracts in summer.

60cm height with a 45cm spread
Free draining, not too rich
Warm & dry
Propagated by seed, division or cutting

Use as an edible flower

With a similar pungency as the leaf, common sage flowers are slightly milder and more floral in flavour, and is ideal as a garnish for pork, vegetables, stir-fries and rice, egg or cheese dishes. Their pretty showy flower bracts show off nicely in salads and scattered over tea sandwiches.


The very sweet and fruity flavour and vivid red of Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) are favoured for sweet treats, in cool beverages or in fruit salads.

Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) flowers are also edible – they  are very aromatic and come in pretty pastel colours.

Recipe Ideas

  • Butternut Squash Ravioli with sage Burnt-Butter Sauce and sprinkled with sage blossoms
  • Fruit Salad with pineapple sage flowers


Bee on Basil flowerAlmost synonymous with tomato in Italian dishes, the tender annual, Basil (Ocimum basilicum), is actually a native to India, but today is grown and used worldwide. It has a rich tapestry of history, myths and legends across nations, religions and cultures – from prescriptions of wild and carefree dancing when sowing Basil to ensure a good crop, to placing a basil leaf or plant by a cash register to magnetise money. As with so many of the herbs mentioned in this text, there are a great many cultivars and varieties available – over 150 one book quotes! Some popular ones include Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum), Purple Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Purpurascens’), Lemon Basil (O.b. ‘Citriodorum’) and Bush Basil (O.b. ‘Minimum’).  A couple of speciality basils include Cinnamon Basil (O.b. ‘Cinnamon’) and Thai Basil (O.b. ‘Horapha’)

45cm in height with a 20cm spread
Well drained and moist soil
Warm, sunny and sheltered position
Propagated by seeds

Use as an Edible Flower

With a clove-like flavour reminiscent of basil leaf, the flowers can be used to substitute, or used in addition to the leaf in almost any recipe. A perfect accompaniment to tomatoes, corn, aubergine, courgettes and bell peppers or added to oils and vinegars to impart a subtle basil flavour.

Recipe Ideas

  • Caprese Salad – Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Flowers
  • Lemon Basil flowers over Lemon and Garlic Fish


For more Edible Flower inspiration, have a look at:

Edible Flowers #1 – Violas and Pansies
Edible Flowers #2 – Calendula
Edible Flowers #3 – Dianthus and Carnations
Edible Flowers #4 – Weed Flowers

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