Ever tasted a tulip or munched a marigold? Try these edible flowers to broaden your palate and discover the health benefits of blooms.
Think you’ve missed out? You’ve actually already eaten flowers—you just don’t realize it. Broccoli and artichokes are buds of flowers, as are cloves. Saffron comes from part of a crocus flower.
“Flowers have been a big part of the plant-based diets of a number of different cultures,” says Christopher Bale, a herbalist and horticulturist at the University of British Columbia’s Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research. Yet until recently, flower eating was out of, er, flavour with North Americans.
That’s changing, thanks in part to globalization—we’ve become more curious about the foods of other cultures—plus a demand for novelty in dishes and flavours. “There’s also been a movement back to the land, toward whole foods,” Bale points out.
Flowers appeal to our senses because they’re fragrant, and the colourful petals are esthetically pleasing on a plate. In many dishes, flowers aren’t the main ingredient but are added as an attractive edible garnish or used as a herb for seasoning.
We’re still discovering the health benefits of blooms. Research in the Journal of Food Science finds that many of the flowers used in traditional Chinese practices are rich in natural phenolics (compounds found to be antioxidative and anticarcinogenic) and may provide protection against diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke and cancers. A 2012 Czech study found high levels of essential minerals, particularly potassium and phosphorus, in flowers like chrysanthemums and pansies. Many species are also sources of vitamins C or A.
If you’re keen to broaden your palate, keep in mind that not all flowers are edible. In fact, many are poisonous, like iris and daffodil. Even within flower families, certain species are safer than others.
“You may think something is okay because it’s a type of clover or nasturtium,” Bale says. “Just be sure you have the right species.” An expert at your local garden centre or nursery can help or go to Cornell University’s flower database (www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening). And check out Cooking with Flowers (Quirk Books) for more than 100 recipes and Natural Beauty (DK) for beauty-boosting blooms.
Once you’re informed on the right species, make sure the plants have been raised without pesticides. They should be disease- and bug-free. Don’t eat florist bouquets or flowers harvested from the roadside (they’re exposed to car exhaust, and you never know if Fido’s been by!).