Forgot your sweetheart’s birthday? Don’t worry, it happens – especially when you’re so busy exploring the world of fresh, wholesome food. Fortunately, with these edible flowers, you can now apologise with a nice bouquet AND cook an amazing meal.
Edible flowers are more than just an attractive garnish – their subtle, often unique flavours and aromas can add exotic notes to a surprising number of dishes. But remember: Flowers bought at an ordinary florist shop are usually laced with chemicals and varietals grown for colour, not flavour. Make sure your blossoms are purchased from a farmer’s market, specialty grocer or other legitimate ingredient source.
The most commonly eaten part of the rose plant are rose hips – the little, red, berry-like fruit that grows on the stalks of rose bushes. These are a minor source of vitamin C and work well for preserves, such as jams and marmalades, not to mention pies, bread, wine and other beverages.
But the rose flower itself is what will really win over your sweetheart. While rose petals don’t offer much in the way of nutrition, they are excellent for adding that sweet rosy aroma to your dishes. Rose petals work as a quick and easy garnish, but you can also cook them with meats and stew them into sauces for an exotic flavour.
A staple garden flower today, the pansy’s simple, striking beauty has inspired European mythology for centuries. In Arthurian legend, knights were said to gaze on the pattern of a pansy flower for a glimpse into the trials, lucks and loves in store for them.
As a garnish alone, they have the colour and depth to make your dish look fantastic. But when put in ye olde mouth, they have a light, fresh taste with hints of lemon and wintergreen – perfect for bringing out the flavour of cakes, pastries, frozen desserts and sweet cocktails.
This classic yellow blossom has been used as a medicinal and culinary herb for centuries in China. As a result it’s been cultivated into hundreds of sizes, shapes and colours to add subtle, floral notes to all sorts of Chinese dishes and teas.
These striking flowers are often the same colour as their name, but there are actually hundreds of variants and patterns grown all over the world. American varieties are prized for their depth of colour, but European and especially Australian violets are most commonly served in dishes for their rich, sweet flavour.
Violets are not robust enough to be stewed or baked in the same way as, say, rose petals, but they can be served raw or glazed with sweet or savoury dishes, or mixed in with fresh salads. Like the pansy – indeed, they are in the same family – the whole flower is edible, making them a particularly stunning garnish.
First point of note: Daylilies are not the same as ordinary lilies, such as the white Easter lily. Don’t eat those.
What you want to eat are the long petals of the often (but not always) orange or yellow Hemerocallis, native to east Asia. These have a subtle, lemony flavour; the best approach is to sauté the unopened buds in oil.
Daylilies are uniquely versatile as an edible flowering plant, with stalks, leaves and buds that can be confectioned in a number of ways. The base of the flower itself though is rather bitter, so be sure to the bottoms off the petals.
Blue Pea Flowers
So far we’ve mostly surveyed the the sweet and fragrant options, but for those wanting to try something a bit more bitter the the blue pea (or butterfly pea) flower packs a big punch in a tiny package. This Southeast Asian favourite is the go-to not just for its earthy taste and high antioxidant content, but also because its deep, blue pigments can blue-ify all sorts of confections.
As an ingredient, blue pea flowers lend an azure tint to Malaysian pastries and rice dishes, and in other parts of the region, you might see them floating in a tea or even a cocktail, often paired with ginger and lemon.