The Mystery of the Burn: Unraveling Why Chillies Are Hot

Why are chillies hot?

Why are chillies hot?

Chillies contain a compound called capsaicin, which stimulates pain receptors in the mouth and tongue, causing a sensation of heat and burning. This happens because capsaicin binds to a receptor called TRPV1, which normally responds to heat, and sends signals to the brain that interpret the sensation as pain or heat. Interestingly, some people enjoy the “heat” of chillies, while others find it unbearable. This is because capsaicin also triggers the release of endorphins, which can create a pleasurable sensation for some individuals.

What is capsaicin?

Chillies, also known as hot peppers, contain a compound called capsaicin which is responsible for the burning sensation that they produce. When capsaicin comes into contact with the mucous membranes of the mouth or skin, it binds to a receptor called TRPV1, which is responsible for detecting pain and temperature. This binding triggers a series of chemical reactions that send signals to the brain, resulting in a burning or stinging sensation. Normally, TRPV1 would respond to thermal heat which would illicit an immediate protective response. If a burning hot piece of metal touched any part of our body, we would immediately feel pain and respond by removing ourselves from or dropping the object to prevent further tissue damage.

The amount of capsaicin in a chilli varies depending on the variety and can range from mild to extremely hot. The level of heat in chillies is measured in Scoville units, with higher Scoville ratings indicating a greater concentration of capsaicin. Interestingly, capsaicin is also known to have several health benefits, including pain relief and reducing inflammation.

Chillies aren’t the only plants that activate TRPA1, additional exogenous compounds include mustard oil, horseradish, cinnamon and wasabi.

Capsaicin chili pepper molecule. Used in food, drugs, pepper spray, etc. Skeletal formula.

Why do chillies produce capsaicin?

Why do chillies produce capsaicin?

Plants have evolved a number of mechanisms to protect themselves against herbivory. Thorns on roses and blackberries, stinging trichomes on nettles, toxic compounds (phytotoxins) such as alkaloids, glycoalkaloids, solanine, amphiphilic glycosides and cyanogenic glycosides.

Chillies produce capsaicin as a means of defence. When an animal or insect chews a chilli, its strong heat is a deterrent. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t make sense as the purpose of fruit (chillies are classed as fruit) is for it to be consumed, which then disperses the seeds elsewhere when they pass out of the body. However, when mammals with teeth chew the chilli pod, the seeds are damaged and unable to germinate. Interestingly, birds have a different heat receptor which doesn’t induce a response to capsaicin, therefore they can eat hot chillies without the unpleasant (or pleasant) sensation of heat. As birds have no teeth to grind (and damage) consumed seeds and have a wide range, the seeds are widely distributed as they pass out of the body intact.

Birds are immune to capsaicin

Scientists in Bolivia have come upon a second reason that chillies are hot. Capsaicin hinders the growth of the fungus Fusarium semitectum, which ordinarily would rot the fruit resulting in the death of the seeds within.

Where does the heat come from?

Capsaicin is synthesised in the placenta, the fleshy interior of the chilli pepper where the seeds are located. The placenta is the hottest part of the chilli and not the seeds. The capsaicin glands are located between the placenta and the seeds and are responsible for the production of capsaicin.

Capsaicin production is influenced by genetics as well as the maturity of the fruit. Some chillies produce more capsaicin than others, which is why some peppers are spicier than others. The amount of capsaicin is measured using the Scoville scale, which ranges from 0 (no heat) to over 2 million (extremely hot).

Chilli placenta

Scoville scale 

Scoville score

The Scoville scale is a measure of the spiciness of chilli peppers and other spicy foods. It was created by Wilbur Scoville in 1912 and is based on the concentration of capsaicin, the compound responsible for the heat in chilli peppers.

Scoville scales range from 0 (no heat) to over 2,000,000 (extremely hot). The scale is a measure of capsaicin concentration in Scoville heat units (SHU). For example, a bell pepper has a Scoville rating of 0, while a jalapeño pepper has a rating of 2,500 to 8,000 SHU. On the other end of the scale, a habanero pepper can have a rating of 100,000 to 350,000 SHU, and the world’s hottest pepper, the Carolina Reaper, has a rating of over 2 million SHU.

How the Scoville scale measures the heat of chillies

  • Scoville organoleptic test: The original test uses dried chillies dissolved in alcohol to extract the capsaicinoids and then diluted in sugar water. This solution is placed onto the tongue of trained testers and is repeatedly diluted until the tester can no longer detect the heat. The Scoville score is assigned based on the number of dilutions required to eliminate the heat, for example, it will take 2,500 to 8,000 dilutions for Jalapeño for the heat to be removed. This test is not entirely reliable due to the different levels of tolerance people have. For example, I can often not detect chilli in a meal while my adult children are unable to eat it because it is so hot.
  • High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC): This advanced test uses a machine to measure the capsaicin in a dried and ground chilli combined with a solvent. The machine measures the levels of compounds in the sample, producing a graph known as a chromatogram.

Why can some people eat hot chillies?

Some people are able to build up a tolerance to the sensation of heat by gradually introducing hotter and hotter chillies. From personal experience, I was extremely sensitive to any foods with the smallest amount of chilli when I was younger, however, even as a child, my brother enjoyed hot food. I have learned to love hot chillies over time, and now grow some of the world’s hottest chillies in my garden. I will never be able to eat raw habanero the way my brother does.

The sensation we experience when we eat hot food releases feel-good hormones and natural painkillers known as endorphins. Endorphins are released during sex, after running (runner’s high), and in response to pain or stress. In the case of chillies, there is no real danger (in most cases), so we can enjoy the endorphin rush without the danger of a real burn.

How to reduce the burn from a hot chilli

Unfortunately, as capsaicin is hydrophobic (does not mix with water) drinking water is not an effective antidote to the heat from chilli. Milk contains casein, a hydrophobic protein that displaces capsaicin from the sensory receptors.

One test with 72 participants was conducted to test the effectiveness of different beverages in reducing the burn from spicy tomato sauce. The results found: the following in order of effectiveness: 

  • Whole milk
  • Kool-Aid
  • Skim milk
  • Beer
  • Cola
  • Water
  • Seltzer
  • Nothing

An unusual case was reported where a woman accidentally inserted a tampon contaminated with pepper spray. She presented to an emergency department in extreme pain. Doctors administered pain relief and removed the tampon. A lidocaine jelly was administered into the vagina using a speculum, followed by a tampon soaked in pasteurised milk. The woman reported a decrease in pain relief within several minutes.

Remember, a little goes a long way. It is always better to start with a small amount of chilli and add more if the heat isn’t strong enough. We find adding half a hot chilli to a curry gives a nice heat, but isn’t too hot. Adding chillies to raw food such as a salad intensifies the heat as it’s not being diluted in any sauce.

Does cooking chilli over a long period reduce the heat?

Cooking over a longer period doesn’t make the heat any less or more intense, however, as noted above, when adding chilli to a cooked meal that contains a sauce, the intensity tends to be less due to the distribution of capsaicin throughout the entire meal. If you are eating a meal with slivers of chilli, such as a cooked pizza, you are more likely to experience the heat from the chilli.

How to reduce the intensity of chilli in food

Look for chillies with a lower Scoville rating such as bishop’s crown, jalapeno, pepperoncini or banana pepper. You can reduce the heat from hotter chilli varieties by removing the placenta and seeds and using only the outer layers. Although noted below, chillies with a rating of 1 million SHU also have capsaicin present elsewhere, and not just the in placenta and seeds.

What is the hottest chilli in the world?

Carolina reaper, the world's hottest chilliSmokin Ed’s ‘Carolina Reaper’ was officially declared the world’s hottest chilli by Guinness World Records on 17th August 2017. The average Scoville heat unit of the Carolina Reaper is 1,641,183. In second place is the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion.

Super hot chillies are chillies with a SHU above 1 million. Unlike milder chillies where the greatest concentration of capsaicin is in the placenta and seeds, the super hot chillies have additional accessorial vesicles on the pericarp tissue.

Handling chilli safely

When handling hot chillies, always wear disposable gloves and glasses. Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

  • Use a knife and fork or food processor when handling chillies to minimize direct contact with your hands.
  • Wear disposable gloves to avoid getting the oils onto your skin.
  • Prepare in a well-ventilated area when working with chillies to avoid inhaling the fumes.
  • Keep a bowl of milk or yoghurt nearby when eating spicy foods to help neutralise the heat.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth when and after working with chillies.
  • Wash hands thoroughly after handling chillies.

If you accidentally rub your eyes after handling chilli, flush with sterile eye wash if you have some handy, or plain water. While water is less effective than other methods, it is better than nothing. Do not use milk to flush your eyes. Artificial tears may be used after the eyes have been flushed to relieve pain.

For external exposure, wash the area with shampoo or soap and water (water alone is ineffective). Oil products such as cooking oil or Vaseline will also reduce discomfort.

Makrut Lime (Citrus hystrix)

Makrut lime

Also known as kaffir lime, makrut lime (Citrus hystrix) is a citrus species native to Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. The fragrant leaves are a key ingredient in Thai cuisines, such as tom yum soup and green curry. The rind is typically used in marinades, dressings and salads. Makrut lime is also popular in Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

In addition to its widespread culinary use, makrut lime has been employed in traditional medicine to treat coughs, period pain, foot odour, wound healing, and skin and hair care. Makrut lime shows promise in the medical field for its antibacterial, antifungal, anticancer properties and antioxidant activity.

How does makrut lime get its citrus scent?

The leaves contain secretory cavities known as ‘schizogenous secretory cavities, leaf pellucid glands, or pellucid dots‘. These glandular cavities produce, store and release the essential oils responsible for the fresh lemony scent of makrut lime. Secretory cells produce volatile compounds, and the subcuticular space stores them. A cuticle surrounds the secretory cells to protect them and prevent essential oils from being released until they are damaged or disturbed.

The essential oil within the pellucid dots performs several functions, including defence against herbivory, protection against pathogenic organisms, insect repellent and attracting pollinators.

Pellucid dots are visible on citrus leaves in bright light. Here is a makrut lime leaf placed in front of a torch, which clearly shows the yellow pellucid dots.

Pellucid spots

Local names for makrut lime:

  • Thailand: Makrūd (มะกรูด)
  • Indonesia: Jeruk purut
  • India: Kaafir laim (काफ़िर लाइम)
  • Malay: Limau purut

Related: Sudachi citrus

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Easy Rose Syrup Recipe

Rose syrup recipe

Rose syrup is a flavoured simple syrup with the addition of fresh or dried rose petals which impart a delicate rose flavour reminiscent of Turkish delight. This quick and easy recipe is versatile and is great in drinks, desserts, cocktails, cakes and buttercream icing.

Rose simple syrup

Easy Rose Syrup Recipe

Julia Wilson
A quick and easy rose syrup using fresh or dried roses. This recipe makes 1 cup (250 ml) of syrup.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Course Dessert, Drinks
Cuisine traditional
Servings 8
Calories 127 kcal


  • 1 Pan


  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup culinary-grade dried rose petals


  • Add all of the ingredients to a pot and simmer, stirring until the sugar has dissolved
  • Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 20 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse
  • Strain with a fine-mesh strainer or muslin cloth to remove the rose petals
  • Decant into a sterilised bottle and store in a refrigerator for up to 2 weeks


Can use 1/4 cup dried culinary roses instead of fresh
  • Cordials
  • Cocktails
  • Champagne/sparkling wine cocktails
  • Added to gin or vodka
  • Buttercream frosting
  • Cakes
  • Meringues
  • Milkshakes
  • Flavoured sparkling water
  • Ice cream
  • Tea or coffee flavouring
  • Jellies
Recipe tweaks:
The addition of blueberries is purely for colour and is not essential.
You can add more or less fresh or dried rose petals according to taste.
Serving size:
Each serve is 2 tablespoons.
The photo in the recipe was the actual rose simple syrup along with the rose petals used in the recipe, with no additional colours added. The colour of the rose will affect the colour of the syrup. The lighter the rose, the lighter the colour of the syrup.
Keyword Rose, Rose syrup, Syrup, Cocktails

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Nettle Soup Recipe

Nettle soup recipe

Nettles (Urtica dioica) are a common shrub native to Europe and Asia. The plants have heart-shaped leaves and stems that are covered in fine hairs which cause pain, redness and swelling if brushed against.

Nettles have a number of health benefits including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic, immunostimulatory, anti-infectious, hypotensive, antiulcer activities and cardiovascular disease prevention.

Read more

Easy Wild Garlic Pesto Recipe

Wild garlic pesto recipe

Also known as ramsons, wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is a bulbous perennial plant native to Europe in Asia. It grows in dense clumps on woodland floors, forming a carpet of white in spring when in flower.

Wild garlic is a versatile plant with many culinary uses from soups to salads and pesto. Its delicate garlic flavour isn’t as overpowering as true garlic.

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Lavender Buttercream Frosting Recipe

Lavender buttercream recipe

This easy-to-follow recipe has a beautiful, subtle lavender taste. The amount of lavender can be tailored to suit preference. I found one tablespoon of culinary lavender was plenty.

Lavender buttercream frosting recipe

Lavender buttercream

Julia Wilson
Quick and easy lavender buttercream recipe
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Course Dessert, Snack
Cuisine Modern
Servings 12 cupcakes
Calories 178 kcal


  • 1 Electric mixer
  • 1 Bowl
  • 1 Pan
  • 1 Piping bag and nozzle


  • 1 tbsp culinary lavender
  • 125 gram butter
  • 120 ml milk
  • 250 grams icing sugar
  • purple food dye (optional)


  • Add lavender to milk and bring to a boil, strain into a jug and allow to cool
  • While the lavender milk cools, beat the butter in an electric mixer until it turns pale
  • Gradually add the icing sugar and lavender milk until combined, it should form a soft peak with a curl on the end, add more milk or icing until you reach the desired consistency
  • Add purple food dye (optional) until you have the desired colour (note: if you don't have purple food dye, combine red and blue food dye, a typical ratio is 3-4 parts red to 1 part blue)


Lavender buttercream can be used to decorate cakes, Swiss rolls, brownies and cupcakes, sandwiched between biscuits (cookies).
Alternate flavours:
Rose and violet are also suitable for buttercream frosting. Culinary rose is readily available, but violet is more difficult to source. If unavailable, flavoured syrups can also be used.
Total Fat 8.7g 11%
Saturated Fat 5.5g 27%
Cholesterol 23mg 8%
Sodium 65mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 25.5g 9%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 25g
Protein 0.4g
Vitamin D 6mcg 29%
Calcium 17mg 1%
Iron 0mg 0%
Potassium 9mg 0%
Keyword Buttercream, lavender, Lavender buttercream

Five Must Have Plants for the Kitchen Garden

Five must have plants for the kitchen garden

Herbs are a vital component of cooking, imparting their unique flavour in both savoury and sweet dishes. There is nothing more rewarding than hand-picked herbs from your kitchen garden.

All of the plants featured in this article are suitable for pots or planted in the ground, they are easy to care for and versatile.

Read more

Taste the Rainbow: Colourful Edible Flowers for Vibrant Dishes

Edible flowers

Edible flowers have a long culinary and medical history and have seen a recent surge in popularity. Many commonly grown flowers are edible and can add flavour, texture and colour to recipes.

Pineapple sage
Pineapple sage
Pineapple sage. I. Rottlaender/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Salvia elegans
  • Taste: Sweet, tangy, pineapple
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 1.5 metres
  • Width: 90 cm to 1.2 metres
  • Uses: Salads, ice cubes, garnish, tea

A herbaceous perennial in the Lamiaceae (mint) family native to Mexico. The red flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Pineapple sage is rich in vitamin K and is a good source of vitamins A, C, Bc, manganese, potassium and folate. Pineapple is used by Mexicans as a traditional treatment for hypertension and anxiety.

  • Scientific name: Calendula officinalis
  • Taste: Earthy, tangy, peppery
  • Sunlight:
  • Height:
  • Width:
  • Uses: Tea, salads, infused oils, and as colourants in food

Calendula is a herbaceous perennial native to southwestern Asia, western Europe, Macaronesia, and the Mediterranean. Flowers have a long history of edible use in salads and as a garnish. The vibrant yellow can also be used as a natural food dye.

Related: Is shamrock plant toxic to dogs?

Gummy Bear/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Borago officinalis
  • Taste: Cucumber
  • Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade
  • Height: 30 – 40 cm
  • Width: 20 cm
  • Uses: Ice cubes, soup, candied, pickle flavouring, salad

Also known as starflower, borage is an annual flowering herb native to the Mediterranean region. Borage produces an abundance of star-shaped blue flowers during summer.

Borage flower contains a number of beneficial compounds (phenolics, flavonoids and fatty acids) that have showed antioxidant and antibacterial together, along with mild anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.

  • Scientific name: Trifolium spp.
  • Taste: Sweet
  • Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade
  • Height: 20 cm
  • Width: 40 cm
  • Uses: Salads, tea, fruit jellies, garnish

Clover is a genus of 300 species native to Europe and Central Asia. It is commonly used as a grazing plant for livestock. The trifoliate foliage is heart-shaped, and on rare occasions will produce four leaves, which is a symbol of good luck.

The shamrock is a type of clover and a symbol of Ireland. In Irish legend, Saint Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity (the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit) to non-believers.

Red clover was used in traditional medicine to treat asthma, whooping cough, cancer and gout.

  • Scientific name: Viola x wittrockiana
  • Taste: Sweet, grassy
  • Sunlight: Full sun to part shade
  • Height: 15 cm
  • Width: 10 – 15 cm
  • Uses: Salads, ice, tea, cake decorating, garnish, candied

Pansies are a common flowering hybrid native to Europe and Asia. They are popular as a garden bed or potted plant for their bright, multicoloured flowers and ease of care.

The nutritional elements of pansies vary depending on the flower colour and the flowering stage. Researchers found white and yellow pansies had the highest protein, and red pansies had the highest carbohydrates. Red pansies had the highest contents of total carotenoids and monomeric anthocyanins, while white and yellow pansies had an increase in hydrolysable tannins, flavonoids, monomeric anthocyanins and antioxidant activity from bud to entirely open.

  • Scientific name: Tropaeolum majus
  • Taste: Peppery, slightly bitter
  • Sunlight: Full
  • Height: 30 cm
  • Width: 90 cm
  • Uses: Salads, tempura, garnish

Nasturtium is a genus of approximately 80 species of herbaceous flowering plants native to central and south America. Its funnel-shaped flowers grow in yellow, orange and red.

Nasturtiums contain a number of compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Citrus blossom
Citrus blossom
  • Scientific name: Citrus spp.
  • Taste: Citrus
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 3 – 4.5 metres
  • Width: 3 metres
  • Uses: Ice cubes, salads, cakes, biscuits, blossom water, preserves, tea

Citrus is a species of flowering tree native to Asia and Australia known for its tangy fruit. Although we associate citrus with its fruit, the leaves and sweetly scented flowers are also edible.

The flowers of orange blossoms have long been used to treat anxiety and insomnia and lemon flowers may be used to treat migraines.

Cherry blossom
Cherry blossom
  • Scientific name: Prunus spp.
  • Taste: Sweet, fruity
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 19 metres
  • Width: 9 metres
  • Uses: Cakes, jellies, tea, honey, salads, garnish, sweets, candied, ice cubes, sakura mochi, raindrop cake

Cherries are fruiting deciduous trees native to the Northern Hemisphere and made up of 430 species. The sweet and sour fruit is enjoyed fresh or in jams. Cherry blossoms (sakura) are a national flower of Japan and heralds in the spring season.

Hong Vo/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Rosa spp.
  • Taste: Sweet, floral, fruity
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 1.2 metres
  • Width: 1 metre
  • Uses: Jams, jellies, sweets, candied, cakes, flavoured sugars, biscuits, ice cubes, syrups, salads, rosewater, garnish

Roses large species of flowering plant native to Asia and Europe, roses are one of the most popular flowers for gardeners and florists. The petals are used in cooking for their delicate flavour and versatility and are widely used in the cosmetic and perfume industry for their beautiful scent.

The rule of thumb is if the rose has an attractive scent, it will also have a flavour.

English lavender
English lavender
  • Scientific name: Lavandula angustifolia
  • Taste: Floral and slightly bitter with hints of rosemary
  • Sunlight:
  • Height:
  • Width:
  • Uses: Cakes, biscuits, icing, honey, ice cream, tea, salad, vinegar, honeys, dry spice rubs, ice blocks, butter, sugar, sorbet, jelly

Lavender is a flowering herbaceous perennial native to the Mediterranean and is a popular garden plant in cottage gardens. The flowers and foliage are highly scented and used in oils, perfumes and soaps.

The beautiful colour and scent of lavender make it a highly desirable culinary flower with a vide array of uses.

  • Scientific name: Viola odorata
  • Taste: Sweet and floral
  • Sunlight:
  • Height:
  • Width:
  • Uses: Jelly, gin, syrups, candied flowers, salads, cakes, teas

Also known as sweet violet, violet is a beautifully fragrant herbaceous perennial native to Europe and Asia. This shade-loving plant has beautifully scented flowers that bloom in late winter or early spring and are used in the perfume industry.

Society garlic
Society garlic
Ava Peattie/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Tulbaghia violacea
  • Taste: Mild garlic
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 30 cm
  • Width: 45 cm
  • Uses: Salt, salads, stirfries, flavoured vinegar, garnish

Society garlic is a perennial herb native to the grasslands of South Africa. The plant grows in clusters and is commonly planted in borders. Society garlic has long, slender stalks which emit a garlic-like odour.

In traditional medicine, society garlic has been used to treat fever, colds, asthma, paralysis, and hypertension.

Fennel flowers
  • Scientific name: Foeniculum vulgare
  • Taste: Aniseed
  • Sunlight: Full to partial sun
  • Height: 40 cm to 2 metres
  • Width: 1 metre
  • Uses: Flavouring for roast meats, salads, pickles, seasoning

Fennel is a flowering perennial in the carrot family native to the Mediterranean but is widely established in many parts of the world where it has become a noxious weed. The aniseed-flavoured fennel bulbs are used in a wide range of dishes including stews. Fennel is an important ingredient in absinthe.

Anise hyssop
Anise hyssop
Scisetti Alfio/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Agastache foeniculum
  • Taste: Mild aniseed
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 60 cm to 1.2 m
  • Width: 30 cm
  • Uses: Tea, salads, garnish, cakes, biscuits

Anise hyssop is a perennial herb in the mint family native to northern America. Its lavender flowers attract birds and bees and bloom from early summer until autumn.

Anise hyssop was used in traditional medicine for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties as well as a cold and cough remedy.

Coffee flowers
  • Scientific name: Coffea arabica
  • Taste: Mellow floral, slight vanilla, hint of jasmine
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 5 to 8 metres
  • Width: 2.5 to 4.5 metres
  • Uses: Tea, ice cubes, salads, cordial

A broadleaf evergreen native to Ethiopia. Coffee has been cultivated for its beans for over 1,000 years and is commercially grown in tropical and subtropical regions globally. The short-lived white flowers smell like jasmine.

Siberian chives
Siberian chives
  • Scientific name: Allium nutans
  • Taste: Mild onion
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 60 cm
  • Width: 30 cm
  • Uses: Salads, dips, garnish, butter

Siberian chives are a species of flowering bulbs and a member of the allium family grown for their onion-flavoured leaves. The decorative purple globe-shaped flowers are also popular with gardeners.

Sweet alyssum
Tamara Kulikova/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Lobularia maritima
  • Taste: Slightly sweet
  • Sunlight: Full or partial
  • Height: 5 – 30 cm
  • Width: 20 – 30 cm
  • Uses: Salads, ice cubes, garnish

Alyssum is a herbaceous flowering plant native to Northern Africa. It is popular as a border plant for its fast-growing, sweetly scented flowers which grow in clusters.

Valentyn Volkov/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Echinacea purpurea
  • Taste: Earthy and floral
  • Sunlight: Full sun to light shade
  • Height: 1 metre
  • Width: 500 cm
  • Uses: Tea

Echinacea is a group of flowering plants native to North America with beautiful daisy-like flowers that bloom throughout spring and summer and are pollinated by butterflies and bees.

The flowers were widely used by Indian tribes to treat mouth sores, colds, snakebites, respiratory infections, toothache, urinary tract infections, herpes sores and gonorrhoea; skin disorders, staph infections, cold sores, ulcers, wounds, burns, insect bites, eczema, allergies and others; and rheumatoid arthritis.

Soru Epotok/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Sambucus nigra
  • Taste: Floral, herby
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 3 – 4 metres
  • Width: 3 metres
  • Uses: Wine, cordial, salads, cakes, biscuits

Elderflower is a flowering shrub native to Europe. Its flowers and berries are widely used to make wines and jams. The flowers are used in traditional medicine to treat the common cold, influenza, and rhinosinusitis.

Scisetti Alfio/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Centaurea cyanus
  • Taste: Mildly sweet
  • Sunlight: Full
  • Height: 1.3 metres
  • Width: 200 cm
  • Uses: Salads, garnish, teas

Also known as bachelor’s buttons, cornflower is an annual flowering plant native to Europe. The attractive flowers grow in pink, red, white and purple.

Cornflowers have been used in traditional medicine to treat feater, chest congestion and constipation.

Only the petals are edible.

  • Scientific name: Matthiola incana
  • Taste: Sweet, peppery
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 1 metre
  • Width: 50 cm
  • Uses: Salads, garnish, tea, candied, ice cubes

Also known as Hoary stock, stock is a flowering annual native to southern Europe. Stock is a popular garden plant for its ease of care, and highly scented flowers and is routinely used in cut floral bouquets.

  • Scientific name: Dianthus spp.
  • Taste: Floral, spicy
  • Sunlight: Full
  • Height: 1 metre
  • Width: 30 cm
  • Uses: Garnish, salads, ice cubes, candied

Dianthus is a genus of 340 flowering plants native to Europe and Asia. The most well-known Dianthus is the carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus), which is a popular cut flower and is a common ingredient in the perfume industry.

Dianthus was used in herbal medicine to treat nervous and heart disorders.

Zucchini (courgette)
Zucchini flower
  • Scientific name: Cucurbita pepo
  • Taste: Mild, slightly sweet zucchini flavour
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 30 cm
  • Width: 120 cm
  • Uses: Stuffed, salads, garnish, tempura

Also known as courgette, zucchini is a flowering plant of the genus Cucurbita, which also includes pumpkin and squash. Zucchini is predominantly grown for its fruit which is a popular ingredient in savoury dishes, but the flowers are also edible.

Rosella flower
Ivaschenko Roman/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Hibiscus spp.
  • Taste: Tart, floral
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 1 metre
  • Width: 500 cm
  • Uses: Salads, pickled, garnish, syrups, tea, jams

Hibiscus is a flowering plant genus native to China, Mauritius, Madagascar, Fiji, and Hawaii. The stunning short-lived flowers grow in shades of gold, red, pink and white. While all hibiscus flowers are edible, rosella Hibiscus sabdariffa is most commonly used as an edible flower.

Common jasmine
Common jasmine
Martin Leber/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Jasminum officinale
  • Taste: Sweet, fragrant
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 2 metres
  • Width: 4 – 6 metres
  • Uses: Tea, salads, candied,

Jasmine is a climbing vine native to the Caucasus, northern Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Himalayas, Tajikistan, India, Nepal and western China. It is widely valued among gardeners and in the cosmetic and perfume industry for its highly scented flowers which bloom in spring.

Jasmine is said to have a number of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants used to enhance digestion, weight loss, improve concentration and manage liver disease.

  • Scientific name: Passiflora spp.
  • Taste: Slightly bitter
  • Sunlight: Full sun to part shade
  • Height: 1.5 – 2 metres
  • Width: Up to 6 metres or more
  • Uses: Salads, candied, garnish

Passionflower is a climbing vine native to the southeastern United States and Central and South America that is used to manage anxiety, sleep problems, pain, heart rhythm problems, and as a dietary supplement.

Orange jasmine
Orange jasmine
YuRi Photolife/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Murraya paniculata
  • Taste: Sweet
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 2 metres
  • Width: 1.8 metres
  • Uses: Tea, salads, garnish

Orange jasmine is an evergreen flowering bush native to Southern China, Taiwan, the Indian sub-continent, south-eastern Asia and northern Australia. The ease of care, stunning green leaves and fragrant flowers make the orange jasmine a popular garden plant.

Banana flower
Lifestyle Travel Photo/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Musa spp.
  • Taste: Neutral
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 5 m
  • Width: 4 m
  • Uses: Stuffed, soups, stir fries

Banana is a species of fruiting herb native to Southeast Asia and northern Australia and now grown in tropical regions across the globe. The edible fruit is high in potassium and fibre, ranking fourth in the world behind rice, wheat and maize, banana is a major food crop.

AN NGUYEN/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Fuchsia spp.
  • Taste: Mildly sweet/tart
  • Sunlight: Partial shade
  • Height: 30 – 60 cm
  • Width: 20 – 30 cm
  • Uses: Salads, candied, ice cubes, garnish

Fuchsia is a genus of flowering shrubs native to central and southern America. Its showy, multicoloured flowers make it popular as a garden plant, especially in hanging pots.

  • Scientific name: Alcea rosea
  • Taste: Cucumber
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 1.8 metres
  • Width: 40 cm
  • Uses: Salads, stuffed, garnish, jellies, tea

Hollyhock is a species of flowering plant native to Europe and Asia that are commonly grown for its attractive flowers that grow on tall spikes.

The large flowers are used to make a medicinal tea, treat and prevent breathing disorders or applied directly to the skin to treat ulcers and inflammation.

English daisy
English daisy flowers
  • Scientific name: Bellis perennis
  • Taste: Slightly spicy, hint of nuttiness
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 5 cm
  • Width: 10 cm
  • Uses: Salads, candied, ice cubes, garnish

English daisies are a species of daisy native to northern Africa, Asia and Europe.

  • Scientific name: Lonicera japonica
  • Taste: Mild sweet
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 10 metres
  • Width: 5 metres
  • Uses: Salads, candied, cakes, biscuits, syrup, tea, sorbet, garnish

Honeysuckle is a flowering vine native to China, Japan and Korea. This climbing vine produces abundant sweet-smelling flowers from spring onwards which contain sweet nectar.

There are approximately 180 species of honeysuckle, but most are toxic. Therefore it is important to ensure you only consume the flowers from Lonicera japonica.

  • Scientific name: Primula vulgaris
  • Taste: Mildly sweet
  • Sunlight: Partial shade
  • Height: 25 – 30 cm
  • Width: 10 – 20 cm
  • Uses: Wine, curd, jam, syrups, salads, tea, garnish

Primrose is a genus of flowering plant native to western and southern Europe which produces a mass of scented yellow flowers in spring. Italy chose the common primrose as a symbol for their COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

The flowers have been used in traditional medicine to heal wounds.

  • Scientific name: Matricaria chamomilla
  • Taste: Mild apple, honey
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 30 cm
  • Width: 45 cm
  • Uses: Tea

Chamomile is an annual annual flowering herb with fragrant flowers that native to southern and Eastern Europe. Unlike most of the plants featured in this article, chamomile is usually grown as a medicinal plant. Ancient Egyptian, Green and Roman texts describe using chamomile as a calming tea infusion and for treating reddening of the skin, and abnormally dry skin.

Only the petals are edible.

Alexander Raths/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Helianthus spp.
  • Taste: Buds (artichoke), flowers (bitter sweet)
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 30 cm to 1.5 metres
  • Width: 20 cm to 50 cm
  • Uses: Salads, garnish

Sunflowers are a large species of flowering plant native to North America. They are an important commercial crop grown for their oil and seeds.

The height of sunflowers ranges from 30 cm to up to 150 cm or taller, which makes them an outstanding feature plant for the home garden.

Lilac bush
  • Scientific name: Syringa vulgaris
  • Taste: Floral, lemony
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 2 – 4 metres
  • Width: 2 metres
  • Uses: Sugar, syrups, candied, salads, garnish, honey

The lilac bush is a deciduous bush native to the Balkan Peninsula but is now widespread throughout Europe. Lilacs produce an abundance of highly scented lilac or white flowers in spring which are widely used in the perfume industry.

  • Scientific name: Phlox spp.
  • Taste: Mildly sweet
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 30 – 60 cm
  • Width: 30 – 60 cm
  • Uses: Salads, ice cubes, garnish

Phlox is a genus of flowering plants native to the United States. The abundant flowers grow and bloom over an extended period and are an important food source for insects and hummingbirds.

Broad bean
Broad bean flowers
  • Scientific name: Vicia faba
  • Taste: Mild nutty
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 1.5 metres
  • Width: 30 – 45 cm
  • Uses: Salads, savoury dishes, garnish

Also known as fava bean, the broad bean is a species of legume native to North Africa. Broad beans are a highly cultivated plant and are also popular with home gardeners.

  • Scientific name: Gardenia jasminoides
  • Taste: Mildly sweet
  • Sunlight: Full sun to semi-shade
  • Height: 1.8 metres
  • Width: 1 – 2 metres
  • Uses: Salads, pickled, honey, cakes, candied, syrups, garnish

Gardenia is a perennial evergreen shrub grown for its beautifully scented white flowers and attractive dark green foliage that are widely used in the perfume industry.

Apple blossom
Apple blossom
  • Scientific name: Malus domestica
  • Taste: Mildly sweet
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 4.5 metres
  • Width: 3 metres
  • Uses: Jellies, syrups, salads, ice cubes, garnish, tea

Apple is a diverse group of flowering trees native to the mountains of Kazakhstan and widely cultivated. The fruit of the apple can range from tart to extremely sweet and can be consumed raw or cooked in pies and sweet stews.

Kisialiou Yury/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Dahlia spp.
  • Taste: Slightly sweet, spicy
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 1.6 metres
  • Width: 60 cm
  • Uses: Salads, garnish, syrups

Dahlia is a genus of flowering plants native to Mexico and Central America. Their long-lasting flowers bloom from summer until late autumn, making them popular with gardeners and florists. Flower size can range in size from 3 – 5 cm to the size of a dinner plate, hence the term dinnerplate dahlias.

Abduramanova Elena/Shutterstock
  • Scientific name: Gladiolus spp.
  • Taste: Mild lettuce
  • Sunlight: Full sun
  • Height: 140 cm
  • Width: 30 cm
  • Uses: Salads, garnish

Gladiolus is a genus of flowering perennials that grow from an underground corm native to Asia, Mediterranean Europe, South Africa, and tropical Africa. Mature plants produce a tall spike containing 12 – 20 florets in a wide range of colours, which are cultivated throughout the world for the florist industry.

One study investigating the bioactivity of gladiolus found the flowers have a high vitamin C content, anthocyanins, flavonoids, total phenolic contents and high antioxidant activity.

Where to find edible flowers

Many of the edible flowers featured in this article can be easily grown in the home garden or in pots providing an abundant supply of flowers for the home cook. When growing flowers for consumption, avoid the use of herbicides and sprays to avoid ingesting chemicals.

Fresh and dried edible flowers and mixes can be purchased from specialist grocery stores. Always look for organically grown flowers which don’t contain herbicides.

Some edible flowers grow in the wild and can be foraged. Avoid picking flowers along busy roads due to contamination from traffic as well as the risk of herbicide contamination.


All of the edible flowers in this article can be eaten raw or cooked. Some flowers are consumed whole, and others just have edible petals. It was beyond the scope of this article to include preparation notes or recipes, but have tried to link to a few.

Some of the flowers in this article add a visually appealing element to meals, but not much flavour. As a rule, the stronger the scent of the flower, the stronger the flavour. Jasmine, rose and lavender all have a beautiful scent and add flavour to a range of foods. One of the nieces examples of lavender in cooking was lavender icing, which imparted a beautiful and delicate floral taste. Rose is the main flavour in Turkish delight and jasmine flowers have been used to flavour teas for centuries.