Peonies are beautiful flowers that fetch high prices as both cut blossoms and potted perennials. They’re commonly used in bridal bouquets, where their beautiful petals fill the room with both color and scent. More than just beautiful, peonies are also edible!
When we first moved to our homestead, I wasn’t much of a flower garden person. I really didn’t see the point in tending flowers, when I could tend vegetables instead and feed my family. The previous owners had put a lot of work into beautiful perennial gardens, full of expensive and showy blooms, such as peonies. I’ll admit, their beauty was really captivating, but a part of me still wanted to put my effort into tending edibles.
Doing a bit of research on our existing plantings, I learned that many of the perennials we had growing in our gardens were, in fact, edible flowers. Lilacs are incredibly delicious, and every spring I come up with new lilac recipes to put them onto the table. Lilac wine is lovely, and the kids loved these lilac donuts. Hostas make up a good portion of our gardens, and they’re not only are hostas edible, but they also taste spectacular. The shoots taste like a cross between leeks and asparagus, and the flowers are mild and a bit sweet.
Learning that peonies are edible really excited me because we have so many of these fragrant blooms.
Over time though, my perspective has shifted and I’m finally learning to appreciate the beauty in a stroll through the flower garden on a breezy summer day. Now knowing that peonies are edible is just icing on the cake.
Peony Flower Recipes
Though peonies are not commonly eaten today, they were a common part of medieval cooking when in season. I’ve read that the medieval cookbook Utilis Coquinario contains a recipe for poultry garnished with peonies, but I’ve yet to find a copy because I’d love to try to make that ancient recipe. Beyond that, long ago I read that they were used as a drink flavoring for summertime beverages in the middle ages, at least for households affluent enough to support a peony patch.
While the roots and seeds are also edible, the blossoms are the most commonly used part used these days. They impart a beautiful pink color to jellies and cocktails, and peonies taste just like they smell.
Peony Frozen Treats
- Peony Ice Cream with a Blackberry Honey Swirrel from Food52
- Peony and Rose Petal Ice Cream from Healthy Green Kitchen
- Peony Colada from Brit Co.
- Pomegranate and Peony Martini from Shawna Coranado
- Peony Tarragon Gimlet from Edible Hudson Valley
- Peony Royal Cocktail with Peony Vodka from Frosted Petti Coat Blog
Using Peony Root
Using Peony Seeds
The seeds of peony plants were a seasoning in medieval kitchens, and its use was wrapped in superstition and medical folklore. Supposedly they can be used to ease troubled sleep, especially when mulled in wine or mead (honey wine).
A medieval cooking site provides a few uses:
“The seeds were used in flavoring meat, or were eaten raw to warm the tastebuds and stabilize the temperament; they were also drunk in hot wine and ale before retiring at night to avoid disturbing dreams.”
Another site on English Heritage mentions that monks grew it in medieval gardens for superstitious as well as culinary and medicinal reasons:
“There are several superstitions attached to the peony. In ancient times the flower was considered to be of divine origin with connections to the moon and was thought to keep evil spirits at bay. Sometimes peony seeds were even strung as a necklace to ward off evil spirits.
The 16th-century botanist John Gerard noted: ‘The black grains (the seed) to the number of fifteen taken in wine or mead is a special remedie for those that are troubled in the night with the disease called the Nightmare.’”
The thing is, though we grow peonies, I’ve never actually seen their seeds. I was told once that the fancy peonies of today are only propagated by root divisions because the flowers have so many petals that the bees cannot properly pollinate them. All of mine are the “double petaled” varieties, and there’s no way a bee is getting in to work that blossom.
If you happen to have the single varieties, I’d love to know more about their seeds, if you’re bold enough to taste them.
Other Ways to Use Peonies
Given their intoxicating smell, body products are a great way to use peony blossoms. Simple sugar or salt scrubs can be made by blending the blossoms with salt/sugar in a food processor. I also love using dried peonies as a natural potpourri in my car when they’re in season.
Peony sugar scrub is incredibly easy to make, and just involves putting the petals in a food processor with a bit of sugar. I found that about 1/2 cup of sugar per gigantic double peony blossom was about right, and I got a whole summer’s worth of exfoliating scrub from just a few blossoms. Blend in a bit of sweet almond oil too and you’ve got a moisturizing shower scrub that keeps your skin fresh all season.
- Peony Sugar Scrub from Rhyme and Reverie
- Peony Bath Salts from Garden Therapy
- How to Dry Peony Flowers from Better Homes and Gardens
- DIY Peony Bath Bombs (uses peony fragrance oil, but could just use blossoms) from A Pumpkin and A Princess
How are you going to use your peonies this season?