Over my years as a cake designer, I’ve had a growing love affair with flowers. It’s probably my favorite way to adorn desserts, be it with a sprinkling of dried petals, pressed into a shortbread cookie, or an elaborate floral sculpture atop a cake. Along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two about identifying flowers and knowing what can and can’t be paired with your desserts. In my last post, I went over some of my favorite edible flower varieties— you’ll see these sprinkled into my desserts as often as possible!
Now the less fun part: flowers that should keep some distance from your food. These aren’t necessarily the most poisonous plants, but they are all very popular in arrangements, and unfortunately varieties I’ve seen used to decorate food over the years. With wedding cakes, this often happens when a florist decorates the cake after the baker delivers. I get it— coordinating cake flowers to match the rest of a wedding can be tricky. Floral designs are often dictated by trends, color palettes, and seasonal availability, but your favorite centerpiece flower just might not be suited for desserts. Despite the frustration, using only edible varieties guarantees that your beautiful and delicious dessert won't send you to the hospital!
Sorry in advance for spoiling these beauties...
and if this list leaves you feeling disheartened, head on over to my last post all about the flowers that you CAN eat!
This one makes me really sad, because I flippin’ love these flowers! They bloom in the late winter when everything else is far out of season, they are fascinatingly beautiful and come in the most wonderful shades of muted purple, pink and green. They are also CRAZY poisonous, like don’t even get it near your plate poisonous. The roots are the most potent, but the toxins are found all throughout the plant. While the level of toxicity has been reported in varying degrees, some have reported skin irritation just from physical contact. As much as it pains me to say it, these guys fall in the “don’t even let it touch your plate” category. In fact, the name “hellebore” comes from the Greek “elein” meaning to injure, and “bora” meaning food… so basically, it’ll hurt you to put this on your food.
Anemone & Ranunculus
I’m grouping these two together for a few reasons: they’re both in the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), they are both very popular choices for wedding arrangements, and I see them all the time in cake designs. Nearly every member of the Ranunculaceae family is known for containing at least some level of toxicity, and these varieties are no exception. As it turns out, people don’t seem to be getting regularly ill from the frequency that these flowers are used in cake designs, but for me they fall in the “better safe than sorry” category, especially given the number of times I’ve seen a brazen child or a goofy uncle pluck a few petals off the cake for a taste.
From Wikipedia: "All Ranunculus species are poisonous when eaten fresh, but their acrid taste and the blistering of the mouth caused by their poison means they are usually left uneaten." Ack!
Okay, to be honest I’m mostly including this one on the list because it’s a great example of how NOT perfect I’ve been over the years. As it turns out, ONE variety of hyacinth is edible- grape hyacinth (also known as muscari). It looks a good deal different from the other varieties, making it easy to identify. But a few years ago, I mistakenly assumed that because I knew this one kind of hyacinth was edible, that the rest must be as well. While I did sample several hyacinth flowers without any negative repercussions, they have since been relegated to the “lessons learned” category in my mind. They're clearly not as toxic as some other types of flowers (given my continued health,) but this did teach me an important lesson about making assumptions and verifying information about these sorts of things.
These are by no means all the flowers you ought to watch out for! Read more here about poisonous flowers, and always do some research if you're at all uncertain about a flower's toxicity.
Photo credit: Thanks to Pozie by Natalie and Wild Rye Farm for lending their beautiful flowers for this post.
Further reading & resources:
Between wedding cakes, baking production, and humble gardening ambitions, there's constant experimentation, growth, and a never-ending learning curve. Follow along to see what I'm up to.