If the perfume from a single gardenia blossom can saturate a small room, think what it might do for a recipe. Gardenia (Gardenia augusta, Gardenia jasminoides) flowers aren't just hauntingly fragrant, they're edible. Fresh or dried blossoms from evergreen gardenias -- which grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10 -- flavor teas and other beverages, syrups, sugars, rice or oat dishes and desserts. Toss the fresh blooms into fruit salads, or preserve them in honey.
Add gardenias to your recipe roster only if you follow the rules of safe flower consumption.
Edible Flower Etiquette
Edible flowers have gained widespread acceptance in culinary circles. If you decide to give gardenias a try, follow the same safety rules professionals use.
- Use certified organic gardenias, grown without chemical pesticides or weedkillers, and also without having been fertilized with animal manure for at least four months.
- Avoid flowers from florist shops unless they are labeled edible; get them from organic growers at farmer's markets or the organic produce sections of grocery or health food stores.
- Introduce them to recipes in small amounts, until you're confident they don't cause an allergic reaction or digestive problems.
- Always check for possible allergies before serving gardenias to others.
Growing Your Own
Gardenias grown for to eat need the same care as strictly ornamental flowers. The difference is in the organic management of their common pests.
- Aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies and scale insects often infest the plants, draining sap and excreting gooey waste called honeydew.
- Nearly invisible spider mites spin webs on the backs of the leaves.
- Tiny black flower thrips feed on buds and petals, often distorting the blooms and preventing the buds from opening.
Organic, ready-to-use insecticidal soap sprayed on the plants until it drips from all their surfaces controls all these pests. It's safe to use up to the day and including of harvest.
Harvesting Gardenia Flowers
As short-stemmed flowers, gardenias are best harvested three to four hours before they'll be used. For maximum fragrance and flavor, harvest them early in the morning while it's still cool.
Things You'll Need
- Spray bottle of cold water
- Clean, sharp stem cutters
- Rubbing alcohol
- Clean towel
- Shaded basket
Before cutting, inspect the flowers for bugs. Spraying with cold water dislodges some insects and convinces others to fly away.
Harvest flowers that are fully open, still white and free of spots or other damage. Cut them with at least 2 inches of woody stem attached. To avoid spreading disease, wipe the stem cutter's blades with a clean towel dipped in rubbing alcohol after each cut and wipe them with a clean towel
Holding the stems, place the flowers in a shaded basket to keep them cool and protect them from being crushed when you carry them to the kitchen.
Cleaning and Storing
To clean the flowers, hold the stems and dip the heads in a container of cool water swirling gently to remove debris or any remaining bugs. Remove the cream-colored, pollen-bearing stamens from their centers. Then snip off the stems and lay the gardenias flat on paper towels to dry.
Until you're ready to use them, refrigerate the dry flowers in hard plastic containers lined with moist paper towels.
Interested in additional edible flowers? Check out our guide on Roses.