Edible flowers are trending in food this year. You are going to see a lot of flowers incorporated into recipes and food products. Not just for decoration, and not made of pure sugar. These are the real deal.
We’ve seen it before, but this time there’s a health dimension and some new introductions.
Flowers for Beauty
It is hard to beat the beauty of flowers as a garnish, especially in desserts and salads. Flowers are sprinkled atop specialty drinks, soups, and puddings.
Violets, as shown above, elevate the presentation and mood.
Need a reason to splurge on flowers at the market? A Rutgers University study found that the presence of flowers in the environment is beneficial to human emotional health and memory.
Flowers for Essence
Rose and orange blossom water have long been used in dessert recipes. These delicate flavorings add to the aroma of baked goods and drinks.
Lavender is another traditional flavoring for desserts. Recipes incorporating lavender sugar are popular, and lavender sugar can be substituted for plain granulated sugar in hot and iced teas, muffin and quick bread recipes, and sprinkled over baked goods.
Flowers for Health
The edible flower news this year is the discovery of polyphenols contained in certain flowers and their associated health benefits.
Elderberry flowers top the news list for health benefits of edible flowers.
Elderberry flowers (Sambucus nigra, Sambucus canadensis) contain polyphenols. These polyphenols have been studied and found to reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is associated with cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s. (Source: Elderberry and Elderflower Extracts, Phenolic Compounds, and Metabolites and Their Effect on Complement, RAW 264.7 Macrophages and Dendritic Cells, Giang Thanh Thi Ho,* Helle Wangensteen, and Hilde Barsett)
Keeping our brains healthy is, of course, the holy grail in the quest for longevity.
An important caution about elderberry, for those of us unversed in its use: only the flowers and ripe (blue or purple) berries are edible. All other parts of the elderberry plant are toxic.
Collecting in the wild requires proper identification. Plants that look similar to elderberries can be toxic. Be careful about the source when you are offered or purchase edible flowers.
Edible hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) in the form of hibiscus tea has been used for centuries. Its effectiveness in controlling blood pressure has been documented. Today, you’ll find hibiscus used in sparkling drinks offered as healthy alternatives to sugary sodas. How do you find the variety of hibiscus that is edible? The best answer is to grow your own.
Growing Your Own Edible Flowers
Growing Edible Hibiscus
For those of us who inhabit colder climates, hibiscus sabdariffa can be grown as an annual, and the flower calyxes harvested and dried in the fall. Collecting seeds from one purchased plant can be saved for growing in the next season.
Marigold petals make a striking garnish in salads. ‘Lemon Gem’ and ‘Tangerine Gem’ marigolds — Tagetes tenuifolia are the edible varieties. Growing your own marigolds from seed is easy and, as an added benefit, marigolds are not attractive to deer.
Roses are popular in many gardens, and rose petals make a beautiful garnish. Other parts of the flower should not be eaten, except for the hips. Rose hips are the fruit that forms on your rose bush after the flowers have faded. They are dried and used to make rose hip tea, which is high in vitamin C.
Nasturtiums are probably one of the most familiar edible flowers. The entire flower head can be eaten. Nasturtiums have a trailing habit as they grow, and are easy and economical to start from seed.
Pansies and violets are also edible and, like nasturtiums, you can eat the entire flower head. For me, the only problem with growing them is that the rabbits enjoy them, too!
Cilantro flowers are a happy bonus when you grow cilantro as a culinary herb. Cilantro flowers can be used to garnish salads, salsa, soups, or any dish where you’d like a refreshing, peppery flavor.
Finally, let’s talk squash blossoms. You’ve, no doubt, seen them on menus for many years. If you grow your own squash, harvest some of the blossoms to stuff with cheese and breadcrumbs. This is a great way to keep a lid on how many zucchini you must deal with at the height of squash season.
Use Common Sense with Edible Flowers
I’ve suggested some ways to use edible flowers, and some species that you can grow. You should always check to be sure that you are consuming the edible varieties and edible parts of the plants.
Also, be sure that the flowers you cook with are free of chemicals. This is another practical reason for growing your own. Buying a rose bouquet in a floral shop does not necessarily yield rose petals that are meant for human consumption. Even flowers purchased at a farm market may have been treated for pests and diseases.
Finally, if you are serving flowers to guests, keep in mind that people have various tolerances for raw foods, and pollen can be an allergy trigger. Although the stamen is removed from a flower, pollen may have fallen on the surrounding petals.
In other words, be sensible and safe! There are many ways to enjoy the beauty and health benefits of flowers.
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This post is not intended to give medical advice.