So let’s cover safe to be around food first as it’s kind of prerequisite knowledge before moving on to what flowers are non-toxic. You may not know that commercial flowers in the UK are treated with a concoction of organic and inorganic fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, preservatives and even dyes designed to maximise profit per harvest, and ensure shelf life when they get to customers’ houses (or weddings!). In fact, according to a DEFRA study, ‘Ecuadorian rose producers typically use six fungicides, four insecticides, three nematicides and several herbicides’. It’s an older study (2007), so it’s possible that some things have changed in the industry (positively or negatively). However, we know that flowers are still treated with a variety of chemicals, and unlike with food, there is no labelling to suggest what chemicals have been used. So ‘commercial flowers’ which are grown for the mass market in the UK and sold via supermarkets and most florists are not safe to be near food. You don’t know how they’ve been handled, transported or even how long they’ve been sat in the water in the shop. Even if you have washed the outside, chemicals will have permeated all areas of the flower and could leach into the cake through the petals, leaves or stems. With so many unknowns, it isn’t safe to put ‘normal’ flowers near or onto a cake.
Therefore, if you are looking for flowers that are safe to decorate your wedding cake, you need to look for flowers that are grown without any chemicals. And preferably where you know the growing conditions, can ask questions and are reassured that the flowers are safe. There are two paths to finding flowers grown without (many) chemicals. Either searching for organic flowers or sourcing directly from a grower who doesn’t use any chemicals. With organic certification, chemicals are used as a last resort, and there is just a small list of allowable naturally derived pesticides that could be used on the crops. Having looked at the list of allowable chemicals, there are a number that raise an eyebrow for me, but I suspect they are all better than what we might usually find on our fruit and vegetables. Ultimately, organic flowers are a good option if you can’t work directly with a grower and need to find something better than standard commercial flowers.
The best place to find flowers for a wedding cake is directly from British growers. They won’t advise you on safe varieties (that’s what this list is for!), but they can tell you how they grow their flowers. With the growers/florists I work with, I know that they don’t use any chemicals and allow their flowers to grow naturally. If you want to start your search for local growers, the British Flower Collective are a really great resource. If you’re based in the North Hampshire area, Bramshill flowers sell absolutely wonderful naturally grown flowers. There are also a number of growers across Surrey, Hampshire and beyond who would be happy to help.
It’s also worth pointing out that in some cases, the flowers you grow in your own garden may also be safe to use on a wedding cake. If you grew them from seed, didn’t use any chemicals, and are sure that they haven’t been contaminated whilst in your garden (e.g. the pet toilet!) then you can be pretty confident that they would be safe to use. If you purchased the plant from a garden centre, then you just need to be careful as you have no idea how the plant has been treated before you purchased it, and I would expect them to be treated much the same as ‘commercial flowers’. If you can source organically grown plants or buy them from a local grower (who can answer those questions around chemicals) then you can be more confident that they will be safe to use. Considering all options, I recommend sourcing directly from a grower where you can ask about what has been applied to the particular crop. And then consider organic flowers as backup option.