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Why Can't Gypsophila Be Used On Cakes?

white gypsophila plant

It's a huge debate in the cake decorating (and floristry) community. Not to mention across the world with the varying advice given by governing bodies in different countries.

Gypsophila - commonly known as 'baby's breath', and also known as gypsophila paniculata and gypsophila elegans.

It comes from the family of plants called caryophyllaceae (commonly known as the carnation family).

Here in the UK, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is the governing body for food standards and food safety. There is not an official document or guidance that specifies how to safely apply fresh flowers and foliage on food products (YET!). It is being worked on. I am pleased to say I have seen a draft document that outlines a lot of things that we should consider when using fresh flowers and foliage with food. (See my post: Ensuring food safety - best practices for combining floristry and food, which talks a bit more about this draft document).

There has never been a specified catalog of flowers and foliage approved for use in food, apart from the edible plants specifically grown for consumption. And these edible plants have to go through rigorous testing to ensure that what we are eating won't harm us.

There are a few articles floating around the internet that list 'safe to use' flowers, but no official document that is governed by the FSA has been released. It is unlikely that we will see such a document, but there are certainly many considerations that food businesses (and florists) need to keep in mind.

I have run my cake business for 8 years, and it was always known to me that gypsophila was not allowed on cakes. It was one of the first flowers I heard about. Which then led me to find out what other plants were toxic and not safe to use.

However, I still see gypsophila being heavily debated among cake communities!

I can understand that some countries have different rules. It can be highly confusing for cake makers. If no one is officially saying that a particular flower is unsafe to use with food, then who are we to believe? However, would it not be common sense to at least research what plants could be toxic and unsafe with food?

A lot of people with pets or those that are keen gardeners may be aware that some plants are toxic if consumed, or that they may cause an allergic reaction when touched, but we cannot expect the majority of cake makers to know this.

Nevertheless, what about florists? When they study floristry, do they learn about the toxicity of plants? Or is it that a lot of florists are now self taught and only learn the art of arrangements?

I am not doubting that florists are no good at what they do, but many florists are not trained in food safety, so they are not going to see the high risks of using toxic plants on cakes. There are a lot of florists that are applying flowers to cakes though, and not always in the safest way!

Here is what you should know...

Is gypsophila toxic?

Yes it is!

The main poisonous part of gypsophila is the flowers, but when dried the whole plant is poisonous. (Ref 1)

Will gypsophila harm someone if eaten?

Firstly, no one wants to eat a plant that isn't declared as "edible" and no one wants a slice of cake with said plant sticking out of it.

Gypsophila can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and skin. It can affect asthma sufferers when handled, causing allergic asthma and dermatitis on contact with the skin. (Ref 2)

Baby's breath "contains saponins that when ingested by animals may cause minor gastrointestinal upset. In the case of humans, the sap from baby’s breath can cause contact dermatitis, so yes, baby’s breath may be irritating to the skin and result in itching and/or a rash." (Ref 3)

There is research to suggest that if digested by humans, gypsophila causes gastrointestinal upset, such as stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting. However, the research is not conclusive and is causing confusion - is it worth the risk though?!

Does it contaminate a cake if inserted with or without a protected stem?

PME flower pics in the packet

Yes, any plant (even if it is classed as non-toxic) can contaminate a cake. All cakes and food products need to be protected from any non-toxic plant unless they are labelled as edible by the producer. To cover a stem effectively, the stem needs to be completely contained, water tight, and easily removed when the food is served.

The perfect and absolute best solution to this is using posy picks (flower picks) and ideally ones that are made from a food safe material.

PME flower pics are manufactured using a food safe plastic and are water tight. They come in 3 different sizes to allow for different sizes of flower stems.

A flower pick will protect the cake from any saps, plant moisture and other contaminants. However, even if you used a flower pick with gypsophila, the main risk would be the flowers releasing pollen or shedding onto the cake, which is where the worst contaminant is. Even if the gypsophila is removed before serving, there is no guarantee that it wouldn't release pollen or shed part of the plant when moved (and heaven forbid anyone starts cutting a cake into portions with the flowers still attached!).

Gypsophila is a pretty little flower, it is a wonderful filler and very affordable, but as cake makers, we have to say no to using gypsophila on cakes.

What alternatives to gypsophila can we use?

  1. Wax flowers - the flowers are a little larger but they are great little filler flowers and come in a range of colours as well as white.

  2. Use a good quality faux alternative. There are many out there but I can recommend this one purchasable from Amazon*. See the photos below of how it looks! (*Affiliate Link)

I have a free downloadable resource that lists 7 popular flowers and foliage that are toxic and their alternatives.

Check it out here:

If you have any questions about the use of gypsophila on cakes or just need some help convincing someone that they cannot use it, just contact me!


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