It turns out that flowering plants are not just for decorating our gardens and windowsills: their blossoms can also serve as an excellent garnish for desserts, salads, cocktails, and many other dishes. In addition to aesthetic beauty, edible flowers will enrich even the simplest food with an extraordinary aroma and health benefits. Today, let us explore what blooms can be edible, and where and how exactly they are used.
To eat or not to eat: the history and various uses of edible flowers
Take all you want, but eat all you take.
An old food conservation slogan
For centuries, cooks have been decorating their creations in every possible way to please kings and emperors, and flowers, due to their fresh look and beautiful fragrance, have been a popular decoration choice since ancient times. That didn’t mean the garnish itself could be eaten, though: the brightest blooms could easily be poisonous, so dedicated foretasters were employed who would bet their own life on how healthy the fragrant innovations would turn out to be, sometimes to disastrous results.
In China, the peak of using edible flowers was during the period of the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD). At that time, young women consumed blooms to prolong their youth. In the Renaissance, people ate stewed primrose or used it to produce rose water. Clove petals were also the main component of Chartreuse, a liqueur prepared by monks. And during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), candied violets in sweets and teas were especially popular.
Friend of the cook
Flowers are a perfect garnish, and not just for foods that naturally attract a green aesthetic: confectioners have also been known to decorate their cakes and pastries with fresh and candied blossoms. Not to mention how elegant a brightly-colored flower looks in a glass with sparkling wine or any other kind of refreshment!
Flowers are also directly used in making jams, herbal teas, and various tinctures. Many foods, such as soups, meat, and fish, get a boost of flavor when delicate petals of certain species are added. The biggest winners, some might argue, are salads: adding edible blossoms will give them an extraordinary soft taste along with a distinctive design.
The species that say “Eat me”
Let’s start diving into the world of edible flowers with violas, whose blossoms have a sweet minty flavor and a herbous smell. All parts are consumable, though: violas are both used in decorating soups and salads and added to main course dishes. Confectioners have also learned to candy their gracious blooms to use in cakes and muffins.
Those with begonia blooms on their windowsills are going to have a supply of vitamins handy even in winter; the blossoms, especially pink ones, tend to have a nice sourness to them, resembling sorrels in taste. That sour note makes begonia a perfect counterpart for any dish that combines well with lemons, such as salmon or steak. Its blossoms also pair perfectly with soft cheese and dairy-based snacks. Begonia is especially good in salads, adding a bit of poignancy to ingredients with an otherwise neutral taste, such as lettuce, fresh cabbage, or carrots; such salads should be seasoned with olive or vegetable oil to keep the petals from getting spoiled.
Dried calendula (also called marigold) petals can be used as a seasoning, replacing saffron, despite not having as strong an aroma or its dyeing properties. Its blossoms can be part of various herbal teas or added when brewing green tea. They can also complement salads, such as a spring salad with egg and cucumber or one with boiled potatoes and green onions, by adding a bit of elegance and spiciness, similarly to mustard leaves.
The leaves and blossoms of Tropaeolum, commonly known as nasturtium or Indian cress, are also edible and actually very tasty, with the leaves, traditionally added to fresh salads, having a sharper, more vivid taste, like radishes or garden cress. Its brightly-colored blooms can be used not only as an original salad garnish but as edible containers for small foods: the large scarlet or orange petals, filled with white cottage cheese and laid out on the round green leaves, will look extremely alluring. And that’s not all Tropaeolum has to give: its green pods filled with immature seeds are used in marinades for pickling cucumbers or tomatoes, and once marinated, can be consumed in their own right, resembling capers.
The large bright petals of rudbeckia and sunflowers are also perfectly edible, with a pleasantly tart note. The blossoms can be used as a seasoning or garnish for salads and sandwiches, as well as added to teas or stuffings — in ham rolls, for example.
The vegetable chrysanthemum, or chrysanthemum coronarium, is a green plant that’s very common in China and Japan. People studied its health benefits, so it gets added to salads and main courses quite a lot. All parts of the plant — buds, blossoms, stems, and leaves — can be eaten.
All types of carnations, common daisies, and primrose also have edible blossoms. But the most iconic edible flower option is, without a doubt, jam made from rose petals — with their delicate texture and ethereal fragrance, it makes for a truly exquisite dessert. You can also add dried rose petals to teas.
A word of caution: tasting everything that has blossomed in your garden is by no means a good idea, as a lot of plants can be poisonous, so make sure you look up all kinds of information in several sources before experimenting with a new species.
Few gestures show more affection than a lovingly-prepared dish garnished with a dainty blossom! But when that special someone is far from you, we can help to send a messenger of beauty.
- Our catalogs are filled with gorgeous bouquets and resilient plants — to delight not only the taste buds of your dearest ones but their aesthetic sensitivity.
- For something more substantial, like actual food to add those delicate petals too, you can always compliment a bouquet with sweets or fruit, or place an order of flowers.
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Born in Nalchik in 1966, graduated with a major in English Lit, and working as a school teacher since 1990. My interests are diverse: music, good literature, and computer technology at the user level. I like to try new things, and I bring what I started to its logical conclusion. Oh! And I do love my pets! I’m already 54 and I still believe in miracles and hobbits with elves and Gandalf. I myself am a bit of an adventuress like a hobbit, and I love mushrooms, too, like they do.