Food may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you see flowers blossoming in your back garden. Perhaps food for bees and butterflies? Yet edible flowers have been valued across cultures as a special kind of cuisine since ancient times. Rose petals in Indian food and squash blossoms in Italian, there are many flowers that are edible, and some are famous for their use in teas such as hibiscus or jasmine.
Although you may think they’re too pretty to eat, flowers in your cuisine bring a fresh, fun and romantic flair, and who knew, they can be nutritious and have a surprising range of tastes, from spicy to fragrantly floral, to herbaceous. For instance, marigolds are sometimes called “poor man’s saffron” because of their peppery, saffron-like flavour, apple blossoms taste as delicate as they sound, and chive flowers imbue a garlicky touch.
There are so many ways you can add blossoms to your homemade goodies – roll them in pasta dough, add fragrant petals such as rose petals and lavender to your homemade ice-cream or make syrup infusions, pickle blossoms – did you know that capers are made from flower buds?
Fresh flowers go especially well with salads: nasturtiums, dandelion and primrose are very popular and are a beautiful way to celebrate the new life waking up in the Springtime.
Flowers are more nutritious than you may think and contain many phytochemicals that can benefit your health. A good example is dandelion; the whole plant has been used as a traditional health tonic for hundreds of years and the flowers are packed with antioxidants and flavonoids, including four times the beta carotene of broccoli, as well as lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin. They’re also brimming with vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, pyroxidine, niacin, and vitamins E and C.
Violets contain rutin, which is anti-inflammatory and may help strengthen capillary walls, while rose petals contain bioflavonoids and antioxidants, as well as vitamins A, B3, C and E. Nasturtiums contain lycopene and lutein which are cancer fighters and are also supportive for good eyesight. Lavender contains vitamin A, calcium and iron, and as with the essential oil, is calming for the nervous system.
Before you rush out and start plucking, here a few safety tips:
- Only eat flowers you know are non-toxic and edible, some could be poisonous, check your facts before you forage!
- Eat flowers you have grown yourself, or that you know how they were grown to avoidf pesticides and poisonous chemicals
- Don’t pick flowers next to the road as they have been polluted by car exhausts
- Flowers in parks may have been treated by pesticides
- Eat the petals only and remove pistils and stamens before eating
- Flowers can pack a powerful punch, eat a small amount at first if you haven’t eaten them before as they can cause allergic reactions or digestive upsets, especially if you tend to have pollen allergies
Popular Edible Flowers
Edible Flower Salad with Dijon Mustard Dressing
It’s best to pick flowers for salads fresh and serve them as soon as possible as their petals are very fragile. Handle them carefully as they bruise easily. If you need to keep them fresh for a little while longer, you can place them carefully between two moist paper towels or place them in an airtight container, and put them in the fridge. When you’re ready to use them, rinse each flower gently with water, and blot dry with paper towelling. A knife or tweezers will do to remove the stem, leaves and pistil, and separate the petals for use.
1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 1/2 ounces tender baby salad greens (about 12 cups)
unsprayed violas or other edible flowers such as nasturtiums
- Combine vinegar and mustard in a bowl
- Gradually whisk in oil, then season dressing with salt and pepper
- Toss dressing with greens and top with flowers
- Serve immediately