13 edible SoCal wildflowers and what you need to know about them

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Beyond their breathtaking beauty, many of our native wildflowers that emerge during spring are edible. Photo credit: Rob Bertholf via Flickr/CC 2.0

Despite all the rain we've had, this year didn't produce a superbloom. But cheer up! We still have a few weeks of spring left and our landscape has been transformed into a vibrant palette of wildflowers. These blooms are more than just a pretty face. Beyond their breathtaking beauty, many of our native (and non-native) wildflowers are surprisingly edible. 

Did you know that our state flower, the California poppy, is safe to consume? Turns out, it's surprisingly packed with proteins and essential amino acids. It's not the only edible wildflower you can find in Southern California. Lupine, Mariposa lily, sticky monkey flower, wild blue flax, yarrow, chia, coyote mint, chuparosa, borage, black mustard, wild radish, and nasturtium are all edible. In fact, humans have, for centuries, utilized these blossoms in a variety of dishes including oils, salad dressings, schmears, flours, and hummus.

*NOTE: This guide is in no way condoning disturbing wild patches of our already delicate ecosystem. By showcasing traditional and modern culinary uses of these native wildflowers, we aim to spark conversations about sustainability and conservation, pay respect to those who called California home for centuries before this country existed, and preserve our local history. Also, be careful when foraging and eating wild plants! Make sure you are using trusted sources to properly identify any plants and get permission BEFORE harvesting them. Some potentially dangerous and poisonous plants can look similar to edible plants. Wildflowers of California by the California Native Plant Society and Wild Edible Plants of California by Shannon Warner are great resources. Pick and consume at your own risk.*

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
The California poppy, AKA the Golden poppy or Cup of Gold, became California's state flower in 1903. Photo credit: Pxhere/Creative Commons 

It just hasn't been a good year for our crown jewel, the California poppy. Although we saw storm after storm during the 2023/2024 rainy season (a lake appeared in Death Valley!), poppies are sparse this spring. If you check out Antelope Valley's poppy cam, you'll notice bare hillsides instead of golden carpets.

The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is an annual plant in the Papaveraceae family. From tinctures to teas, the entire California poppy plant, including flower, leaf, and stem, is edible. Indigenous groups, such as the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation, the Yuki, the Chumash, and the Luisñeo people, have been known to use the poppy for both food and medicine. 

The Luisñeo tribe mixed the flowers with natural tree gums to create a form of chewing gum. Along with other tribes, they boiled or steamed the leaves and consumed them as vegetables. For toothaches, muscle cramps, and other discomforts, the roots and leaves were chewed or used in tea infusions. In more modern times, the leaves have been used as food or garnish while the seeds have been used in cooking. 

PROS: In various forms, including teas, tinctures, capsules, and tablets, the California poppy is said to help with sleep, mood, and pain management. 

CONS: They're extremely delicate. This is NOT an invitation to trample poppy fields, knowingly or not. Appreciate wild poppies from afar and only buy poppy products from sources that ethically and responsibly harvest them.

Recipe: California Poppy Vinegar

Lupine (Lupinus)

Lupine (Lupinus)
Lupine, particularly the bean part of the plant, has been part of human diets for centuries. Photo credit: Karen Arnold/CC0 Public Domain

There are approximately 82 species of lupine in California, and roughly 14 of them are commonly found in the Santa Monica Mountains. Lupine (Lupinus) belongs to Fabaceae, a genus of plants in the legume family. Unlike poppy yields in the past, large lupine flower fields are somewhat rare. The best place to view them on display is at Malibu Creek State Park.

Lupine, particularly the bean part of the plant, has been part of human diets for centuries. Its consumption dates back to ancient civilizations and it continues to evolve in modern culinary practices. The tradition of eating lupines dates back to ancient Egypt and was also prevalent among the Romans. The beans have been, and still are, enjoyed in various European and Middle Eastern cuisines, especially in Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. 

PROS: The beans are extremely nutritious and contain all the essential amino acids. They're packed with antioxidants and considered a superfood due to their high protein, high fiber, and low carbohydrate content. They make an ideal vegan and gluten-free protein, and they're a great alternative to soy. Plus, lupines have this cool ability to add nitrogen to the soil, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and improving overall soil fertility. Pretty cool! 

CONS: Not all lupine species are suitable for consumption. Wild lupine beans contain toxic alkaloids and must be soaked or brined before consumption. Some species — Lupinus constancei, Lupinus milo bakeri, and Lupinus nipomensis — are actually endangered, so killing or possessing them is prohibited by the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

Recipe: Lupin Hummus

Mariposa lily (Calochortus)

Mariposa lily (Calochortus)
The Splendid Mariposa lily is a lavender poppy look-a-like that is native to California and Baja California. Photo credit: Jordan Zylstra/USFSk via Wikimedia Commons

This perennial herb sprouts from a tiny bulb and is often found in the meadows and hillsides of California. More than 50 species of Mariposa lilies are native to California and have been consumed by Native American peoples who roasted or boiled the bulbs. The flowers and leaves can also be eaten raw. 

PROS: The flowers and stems have a mild, nutty flavor and can be eaten without killing the plant (yay!). The bulbs are starchy and taste a lot like almonds.  

CONS: Some flowers and bulbs that look and sound like mariposa lilies (Easter lilies, for example) are toxic to both humans and animals. Make sure to distinguish between toxic and safe-to-eat plants by always using a trusted source for identification.  

Recipe: Lily Bulb Confit

Sticky monkey flower (Diplacus aurantiacus)

Sticky monkey flower (Diplacus aurantiacus)
Although monkey flowers can be found in many different states and around the world, we're blessed with an abundance of them in California. Photo credit: Chloe and Trevor Van Loon/Wikimedia Commons CC 4.0

The sticky monkey flower is a drought-tolerant, evergreen, and versatile native California shrub that comes in many different colors. The entire plant is edible, including the leaves, flowers, and roots. The leaves have a strong, unique flavor that's mildly bitter and reminiscent of mint. They can be used like sage as a rub to flavor meat or fish. The leaves are milder when cooked. 

The Miwok and Pomo peoples used the young stems and leaves in salads and as a flavor enhancer while they harvested and ground the seeds into flour. They made tea from the flowers, using it as a remedy for sore throats and respiratory issues. The Miwok also used crushed leaves on sores and burns. They treated fever, dysentery, diarrhea, and hemorrhages with the roots. 

PROS: Sticky monkey flowers attract much-needed pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. It's utilized as a remedy for a range of ailments. In cooking, it works as a mint alternative. 

CONS: The leaves are, you guessed it, sticky with resin and probably not the greatest when eaten raw. 

Borage (Borago officinalis)

Borage (Borago officinalis)
Borage, also known as starflower, is an annual flowering herb that has been naturalized in California. It's found in at least 37 states in other countries around the globe. Photo credit: AnemoneProjectors/Wikimedia CC 2.0

Borage, also commonly known as starflower, is a favorite among pollinators, especially bees. It can produce up to 200 pounds of nectar per acre! Although technically not native — it has its roots in the Mediterranean — borage has naturalized in California and other states. Meaning, it's so prolific it's been adopted as native and considered not invasive, making it a useful addition to our ecosystem. 

This star-shaped jewel is a common companion in vegetable gardens where its presence helps repel pests such as tomato hornworms and cabbage moths. Its edibility is multifaceted. It is used as a fresh vegetable or a dried herb in German, Spanish, Greek, and Italian cooking. The leaves can be eaten raw and used in stocks, soups, and salads. In Poland and Russia, it's also used to flavor pickled gherkins. You'll find borage tea in many Persian/Iranian supermarkets. Plus, its pretty flowers can be preserved and candied for the perfect garnish. You can even find cultivated ones at local farmers markets!

More: Plant edible flowers now to brighten plates in spring, summer (Press Play, 2023)

PROS: Borage stems and flowers taste exactly like a cucumber. Borage is also rich in vitamins and minerals. Its seed oil, with a history dating back to ancient times, is known for potential health benefits. It's rich in gamma-linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that have historically been used for pain management like arthritis. 

CONS: It's prickly, hairy, and full of bees! Large quantities have a higher pyrrolizidine alkaloid content. Those who have liver problems or are pregnant or breastfeeding are generally cautioned against consuming borage.

Recipe: Cucumber Salad with Borage Flowers

Chuparosa (Justicia californica)

Chuparosa (Justicia californica)
The hint that it might be native comes from its scientific name, Justicia californica. Photo credit: Joshua Tree National Park via Flickr

Commonly referred to as Chuparosa, Justicia californica is a native California shrub that's also found in southern Arizona and northern Mexico. It's sometimes known as hummingbird bush ("chuparosa" or "chiparosa" means hummingbird in Spanish). It's extremely hardy and drought-resistant, making it the perfect desert inhabitant. 

The leaves of this plant can be brewed into tea, which has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for various ailments. Its flowers and petals taste like cucumber and can be consumed both raw and cooked. The nectar from the flowers is sweet and can be sucked directly from the blooms, similar to how one might enjoy honeysuckle. Chuparosa has been enjoyed in the past by local indigenous peoples and Spanish settlers. 

PROS: Fans of chuparosa say it alleviates symptoms of colds, flus, stomach issues, and headaches. Said to have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, making it useful for eczema or sunburns. Makes for a pretty salad or cocktail garnish. 

CONS: Another one with hairy leaves and competition from pollinators!

Coyote mint (Monardella villosa)

Coyote mint (Monardella villosa)
Not only is coyote mint native to California, it is found exclusively within our natural landscapes. Photo credit: Eric in SF/Wikimedia Commons 3.0

These little purple fuzz balls smell like mint, because duh, they are mint. Although coyote mint is a perennial herb that's endemic to California, it's been found creeping into neighboring states.  

The leaves and stems have a strong minty smell and flavor. The most popular way it's been enjoyed is in tea form. Like most of the plants on this list, it has been used by several native tribes throughout California as a remedy for various ailments including upset stomachs, respiratory conditions, and sore throats

PROS: Coyote mint has a bitter, spicy, and slightly perfumey taste in tea form. It's used as a natural remedy. Plus, it has a badass name.

CONS: It's hairy and you'll have to fight off some bees.  

Recipe: Coyote Mint Chocolates

Wild blue flax (Linum lewisii)

Wild blue flax (Linum lewisii)
Wild blue flax, AKA Linum lewisii, has been significant to indigenous peoples for its various uses. Photo credit: Walter Siegmund, Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Despite its delicate appearance, wild blue flax is resilient and can quickly spread across open areas. Over the years, indigenous peoples valued the plant for its tasty and nutritious seeds. They also brewed tea from its stems and leaves to address health issues like eye infections, stomach ailments, and swelling. While the fiber from wild blue flax doesn't quite match the quality of its cultivated and mass-produced counterpart, it is still utilized by indigenous groups in many of the same applications, such as making clothes, baskets, paper, and as an oil for lighting.

PROS: Wild blue flax seeds are super nutritious with a nutty taste. They have a high oil content and can help add flavor to other dishes. They're a good source of Omega-3 essential fatty acids, lignans, and soluble and insoluble fiber.

CONS: The seeds should NOT BE EATEN RAW because they contain cyanide! You must cook the seeds to eliminate the cyanide and make them safe for consumption.

Recipe: Flax and Blueberry Vanilla Overnight Oats 

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
In the Northern Hemisphere, yarrow's usage, in both the culinary and medicinal realms, dates back thousands of years. Photo credit: Ryan Hodnett/Wikimedia Commons 2.0

Humans have used yarrow, perhaps for as long as 60,000 years. It has been found in Neanderthal burial caves and Achilles supposedly used it to help stop bleeding during the Trojan War. Here in California, native tribes such as the Navajo, Chumash, and Miwok used it for its medicinal and spiritual properties.

As far as consuming it, every part of the plant is edible but the leaves and flowers are the most commonly used. With a taste similar to tarragon, it makes a great addition to salads. You can dry the flowers and make tea with them, or crush them and use them as a seasoning. Yarrow has been used as an ingredient in beer and mead and was sometimes substituted for hops and barley. You'll also find it in some soaps and shampoos. 

PROS: Yarrow is used as a natural remedy for a number of alignments. It has anti-inflammatory properties. It contains Vitamins A and C, potassium, zinc, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and niacin. 

CONS: It contains salicylates similar to aspirin ingredients so if you're allergic or sensitive to those, avoid yarrow. It also contains thujone, a compound that can be neurotoxic in high doses. 

Recipe: Buttermilk Buns With Yarrow

Chia (Salvia columbariae)

Chia (Salvia columbariae)
Chia is another wild annual California native herb with a long history. Photo credit: Curtis Clark/Wikimedia Commons 2.5

Salvia columbariae, commonly known as desert chia, or chia sage, is actually part of the mint family. This California native is found throughout the state but is most common in the southern regions and high desert. Over the years, the population has declined due to human activity including overgrazing, urbanization, and wildfires. If you happen to come across one in the wild, appreciate it from afar.   

Like yarrow, chia is no stranger to humans. However, the chia seeds you might get at the supermarket are not from this particular plant. Those are from its sibling, Salvia hispanica, which is native to Mexico and South America. It's what they use for Chia Pets. While both produce edible seeds, they have different characteristics.

If you're already a fan of chia, then you know how nutrition-packed those tiny little seeds are. They have a mild, nutty taste and can be consumed either raw or cooked. Before chia seeds were a popular health food, native peoples would often grind them into powder for use in pinole or as a thickening agent.

PROS: Chia seeds have lots of protein, oil, and minerals such as iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. 

CONS: Their numbers haven't been looking great recently so please don't pick or trample them!

Recipe: Sage and Mastic Chia Fresca


Black mustard (Brassica nigra

Black mustard (Brassica nigra)
Black mustard is a weed that flowers in spring and can grow as tall as eight feet. It spreads easily through self-seeding, often choking out other plants. Photo by Laura Kondourajian/KCRW

Black mustard isn't technically a flower, it's a weed. But it's probably one of the most prolific "superblooms" you've seen, especially around the Baldwin Hills and Elysian Park areas. 

If you're already familiar with black mustard, then you know how much of a pain this "wildflower" can be around this time of year. Officially known as Brassica nigra, black mustard is an invasive species. It's a bully that's on the California Invasive Plant Council's most-wanted list that thrives by rapidly self-seeding, quickly becoming a dominant feature in its environment. Moreover, it releases allelopathic chemicals that prevent the sprouting of nearby seeds, effectively outcompeting native flora and disrupting our local ecosystems. Once the seeds are disseminated, they can survive underground for more than 50 years. Whether in empty lots, next to freeways, on hillsides, or along hiking trails, black mustard can flourish almost anywhere. 

Like dandelions, black mustard is an edible weed. If you've ever let broccoli flower, you'll see the similarity. That's because black mustard is technically a cruciferous vegetable. Every part — seeds, leaves, roots, flowers — can be consumed. 

More: A way to help get rid of LA's invasive plants? Eat them (Greater LA, 2023)

However, black mustard won't be the main ingredient in your classic bottle of French's Mustard. Black mustard seeds are usually dark brown to almost black. They also tend to be spicier, crunchier, and slightly smaller than their yellow counterparts. You'll find them in many Asian cuisines, particularly Indian cooking. If you're a fan of wasabi or horseradish, you'll experience a similar taste when you eat the raw leaves of the plant. 

You can do a lot of things with black mustard. You can even use it to dye clothes. But as we move into the warmer months, black mustard leaves behind dead and dry debris. If left unchecked, it can act as a botanical fuse for wildfires. 

More: Make wildcrafted mustard like Pascal Baudar (Good Food, 2016)

So how did black mustard end up here in California? The facts are murky but many people think the Spanish missionaries introduced it to the area by scattering it along the El Camino Real, marking their path with a "ribbon of gold" to follow the next year.

PROS: The greens can be used for a multitude of things — salads, sauteés, you name it. It's pretty flowers also make a perfect garnish.  

CONS: The leaves, flowers, and seeds are spicy. Caution to those who aren't fans of horseradish or wasabi. It’s got quite the kick! 

Wild radish (Raphanus sativus)

Wild radish (Raphanus sativus)
The rapid spread of wild radish, much like black mustard, can choke out indigenous plants. Photo credit: N yotarou/Wikimedia Commons 3.0

Also technically not a flower, wild radish is another winter annual weed and a distant cousin to black mustard. Both species belong to the Brassica family and share a propensity for invading grasslands, hillsides, and hiking trails, disturbing the ecological balance. It originates in Asia, specifically southeast Asia, and made its way to California via Europe. 

The Kumeyaay people of San Diego boiled and ate the leaves as vegetables and made an eye wash from its seeds.

Every part of this plant is edible and it's consumed worldwide. Some varieties develop pretty white and purple flowers and the young leaves are also used for salads and can be cooked as greens. Wild radish seed pods are peppery and crunchy, sort of like the roots of their relative, the domestic radish. See how Pascal Baudar cooks with wild radish. 

PROS: Wild radish contains vitamins B, C, rutin, and minerals. Like black mustard, its pretty flowers are perfect for garnishes or a quick snack on a hike.

CONS: The leaves have a coarse texture and a spicy taste, similar to black mustard. The seed pods should be consumed while young as they become tough and fibrous with age. But a warning to farmers, it's considered toxic to livestock.  

Recipe: Citrus Charred Radish Pods

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum)

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum)
Nasturtium is a gem among edible pests. It shines for both its bright, eye-catching flowers and its culinary potential. Photo credit: Mary Hutchison via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons CC0 1.0  

Nasturtium joins black mustard and wild radish in the ranks of invasive, edible pests in California. Known scientifically as Tropaeolum, nasturtium made its way from its native Andean region to our gardens and wild landscapes. Both the flowers and leaves of nasturtium possess a distinctive peppery flavor and can be added to salads and sandwiches. You can even use the pods as capers

PROS: Its thick, green foliage is rich in vitamins A, C, and D and also bears a strong resemblance to arugula, making nasturtium an excellent addition to salads and cooked greens. The flowers also make for a pretty garnish for salads and cocktails. 

CONS: The leaves and flowers have a peppery kick if eaten raw. Like black mustard, it can self-seed readily and become a problem by outcompeting native species, if left unchecked.

If you enjoyed some of the recipes and want to learn more about edible native and non-native species while getting your hands dirty, we recommend following Jason Wise AKA @jasonjourneyman, who leads ethical and educational foraging hikes in and around LA. 

And if you want to learn more about our native species, check out the Theodore Payne Foundation and its classes.