Are Ornamental Peppers Edible? What To Know Before You Try

Ornamental peppers are a bright and colorful way to spice up your garden. But are they edible? They look like little pieces of candy, after all. The good news is yes, they are perfectly edible – except for the leaves, which are toxic to pets and humans. If you eat the leaves, you'll only get some stomach cramps and possibly nausea. But for pets, they can be fatal. With that bit of bad news out of the way, back to the pepper itself. 

Although eating ornamental peppers is just as safe as eating any other culinary pepper such as a jalapeño or bell pepper (in fact, they are all cousins), they aren't normally used in the kitchen. We aren't discovering the next big ingredient, here. The flavors of ornamental peppers tend to be bitter or grassy while delivering heavy on the heat. Within the category of ornamental peppers, there are several different varieties, such as Black Pearl and Filius Blue, and each variety has its own unique flavor profile. 

But even with these differences between varieties, the group as a whole is not known for its taste. If you decide to try one for yourself to see if the stereotype is wrong, keep in mind that ornamental peppers can be very spicy. For reference, jalapeño peppers have a Scoville scale rating (the common measurement of pepper heat) of roughly 6,000 Scoville units. Ornamental peppers, meanwhile, hover around the 10,000 to 50,000 Scoville unit range with some varieties, like Basket of Fire, hitting 80,000 Scoville heat units.

A rose with a spicy thorn

If you're looking for new and interesting types of chile peppers to bring into the kitchen, there are much better options available. Even if you enjoy spicy peppers within this heat range, there's still a wealth of better-tasting varieties to choose from. Ornamental peppers are just that, ornamental. They look great potted indoors or as a unique, colorful twist in your garden, but they've been bred for looks, not taste. 

Pepperheads love their heat, but the flavors of the pepper are a crucial component, as well. Why bother putting yourself through the pain if you aren't at least going to get something tasty? There are milder varieties, such as Sangria, Chilly Chili, Medusa, and Tangerine Dream – all of which are 5,000 Scoville units or less. That's well within the bounds of most people's tolerance for heat. 

If you want to test the flavor for yourself without the distraction of the burn, these varieties would be a good starting point. These rainbow-colored peppers would make great garnishes or aesthetic additions to a dinner, too. Make sure you clean them well before eating or serving them, especially if you aren't growing them yourself, since there's no way for you to know if they are covered in pesticides or something else that's toxic.