How to Make Your Meals Look Amazing with Edible Flowers
Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake.” I say, “Let them eat flowers!”
You are not so much what you eat as what you can digest. And guess what – digestion starts in your eyes! When you see an appetising morsel, a message is sent to your brain triggering the release of digestive enzymes.
So, the more attractive you can make a meal the readier your stomach will be to make the most of it.
Garnishing food really does make it look so much more inviting. Even boiled potatoes can be given a lift by drizzling a little olive oil onto them with an added touch of chopped parsley.
I started off using dried herbs and spices. Over the years I graduated to growing them myself. Then two years ago flowers came onto my radar. At first, I used them purely for garnish, then started using them in my recipes.
In a series of articles, I’d like to share with you my newfound passion, starting right where I started – garnishing.
Flowers are so beautiful to look at and often smell wonderful too, but we very rarely eat them. In Elizabethan and Victorian times, flowers were commonly used in cuisine but steadily lost favour (not flavour!) in the twentieth century.
We happily eat the leaves, stems, roots, seeds and fruits of plants but somehow the thought of eating flowers does not appeal to many. I must say that I was one of the crowd until a few years ago. Now there’s no stopping me – I garnish and cook with flowers whenever I can.
When I walk into the garden to pick fresh herbs and blooms, I feel invigorated – a lung full of fresh air, the refreshing feel of the leaves as I delve into them, and then the tangy aroma that wafts up as I cut into the stems.
I generally take a little time to rub the leaves between my fingers and wallow in the scents that engulf me. It lifts my spirits, gives me a feeling of communing with nature and a sense of satisfaction at having chosen which ones to use. This is followed by the anticipation of a tasty treat to come.
When I started to look into it, I was amazed at just how many flowers are edible. The easiest to use are herb flowers, e.g., chive, thyme, sage, mint. Then there are the more common garden flowers – lavender, rose, nasturtium, sunflower. Last come some vegetable flowers such as pea, bean and courgette.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more, some of which I will be talking about in future articles.
Garnishing is the easiest and most attractive way to use flowers with food. However, it is important to ensure they are edible, as you don’t want to poison family and friends by mistake!
How to Prepare Flowers
I always use flowers I have grown myself as I can be sure they are organically grown and haven’t been sprayed with insecticides or the like. After picking them I check for stowaways – like the odd bug – and ensure they are clean.
It is worth mentioning that some people have pollen allergies. If it is a strong allergy, it is probably best that they do not eat flowers at all. For a mild allergy, it might be enough just to remove the stamens and ovaries from the central part of the flower, or just use the petals.
In most flowers, the green parts at the bottom of the petals are quite bitter, so if you wish to eat the whole thing, it is wise to remove them. If you are using the flowers merely for garnish, the green parts can be kept in place.
How to Use Flowers
The most beautiful way of using flowers is as garnish or in salad. They can also be used in drinks, baking, pickles and more.
Using flowers is a great way to get conversation flowing at the table – in my experience, people are fascinated by the concept and generally want to know more.
For my Sixty and Me sisters, I created a filo pastry flower filled with rose petal custard and strawberries – the recipe can be found on my website. Roses and strawberries are in the same family and so compliment each other in this dessert beautifully.
The custard has a very subtle mix of flavours: the first to hit the taste buds is lemon, then comes a touch of vanilla. After swallowing, there is a soft but lingering hint of rose.
In my next article, I’ll share some more ideas and recipes for using flowers in the kitchen.
Do you use flowers to garnish your food? Which edible flowers do you use in your salads or as a decoration? I hope some of you give it a try and let me know how you get on. Please share any experience you have of cooking with flowers.
Jayne Avery is a strong advocate of healthy eating. Her children’s book TG and the Rainbow Warriors draws on personal experience as a science teacher and nutrition consultant. As a lifelong crafting butterfly, she dwells in the space between disciplines where she finds fun, humour and novelty – sharing it whenever she can. Please visit her website here.