Edible flowers: Adding color, flavor and fun to your dinner plate

Adding edible flowers to your summer meals is colorful, fun and can be nutritious.

Bee balm. Photo credit: Alan Silvester, Wikimedia Commons

Bee balm. Photo credit: Alan Silvester, Wikimedia Commons

This may seem like a new “foodie” trend, but eating flowers is not a new trend at all. The culinary use of flowers dates back thousands of years with the first recorded mention in 140 B.C. People throughout history have incorporated flowers into their cuisine and flowers still appear in many traditional foods throughout the world. For example, oriental dishes make use of daylily buds and Romans used mallow, rose and violets. Italian and Hispanic cultures are known for stuffing squash blossoms and Asian Indians use rose petals in many recipes. Dandelions were one of the bitter herbs mentioned in the Bible, and Chartreuse, a classic green liqueur produced in France in the 17th century, used carnation petals as a “secret ingredient.”

Some other recorded uses of flowers include Victorians using candied violets to decorate desserts. A quick Pinterest search will confirm this is quite trendy today too. During the Renaissance, a common beverage served at plays was rose-petal water and stewed primroses. In more recent history, bee balm was used as a tea substitute during the Boston Tea Party of 1773.

As well as adding visual interest, some flowers have nutritional value and many have long been used for their medicinal qualities. Michigan State University Extension suggests these 10 basic tips to enjoying edible flowers:

  1. Eat flowers only if you are absolutely positive they are edible. Many books and several websites have lists of edible flowers. Two great books to consider are “The Edible Flower Garden: From Garden to Kitchen: Choosing, Growing and Cooking Edible Flowers” by Kathy Brown and “The Edible Flower Garden (Edible Garden Series)” by Rosalind Creasy. You can also go to Garden.org and read the online article, “Growing Edible Flowers in Your Garden.”
  2. Do not eat flowers that have been sprayed with any type of chemicals. Simply washing flowers does not always wash off chemicals. The best thing to do is to grow your own flowers without using chemicals.
  3. Never eat flowers from a flower shop, nursery or garden center as they may have been sprayed with chemicals.
  4. Never pick flowers from the side of the road to eat as they may have been sprayed with chemicals and may contain particles of car exhaust.
  5. When growing your own flowers, always wash flowers with water before eating and look closely for bugs.
  6. Make sure the pistils and stamen are removed and eat only the flower petals.
  7. Eat only one type of flower at a time and only eat a few at a time. Do not consume a whole bunch of flowers at once.
  8. The best time to pick flowers to eat is in the morning after the dew has evaporated. If flowers have long stems, you can put them in water in the refrigerator. If flowers are small, put them in a re-sealable zipper storage bag with a moist paper towel and then place in the refrigerator. Use the flowers as soon as possible.
  9. As flowers grow older they sometimes develop a bitter taste, so if possible pick young flowers or flower buds.
  10. Enjoy! Flowers have different flavors that are not like other foods we eat. Be adventurous and try flowers in different foods.

Choosing and Using Edible Flowers” from North Carolina State University is a great resource that explains the uses of edible flowers. Some of these uses include:

  • Salads
  • Garnishes
  • Chip or vegetable dip
  • Cake and cookie decorations
  • Fancy ice cubes
  • Desserts

Have fun adding flowers to your meals for a colorful, tasty treat!

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