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Petal Power – The culinary use and nutritional value of edible flowers

Inspire Health Event Calendar July 16, 2015


To find our food visually appealing goes far beyond the superficial; it stimulates digestion in the same way that smelling a delicious meal can make your mouth water.   The art or nourishing one’s self is meant to be a multisensory experience and what better way to create this than the use of edible flowers.

From the scent and color to nutritional value, adding a few petals to even the most basic of dishes ups the culinary wow tenfold.  They can be used to garnish everything from salads and soups, to meat and fish dishes, iced teas and desserts.

Below are just a few of the many edible flowers to choose from.  While many of these are widely available commercially, keep in mind that the majority of store-bought plants are heavily sprayed.  Ensure that when choosing flowers for culinary use, they are organic or wild-growing and make certain you have confirmed the identity of the flower before eating it.

The focus in general is to use the petal and discard the inner stamens and styles, which for those with a pollen allergy may cause trouble, otherwise, indulge in power of the petal and bon appétit!

Marigold – Also known as calendula, marigold is commonly used topically for its calming and soothing properties, but did you know that the flower petals of all marigolds are edible?  They add an incredible punch of color to salads or cold summer soups and lend a mild peppery to bitter flavor.  The bright red, yellow and orange colors indicate a high flavonoid content, which provides antioxidant and immune system support, along with a hit of vitamin C.  

Dandelion – This ubiquitous plant which many regard as a pesky weed is entirely edible and offers many nutritional benefits from root to leaf to petal.  The green leaves are the more commonly eaten part of the plant but before opening, the young, small buds have a honey-like sweetness and, once they flower, the yellow petals add a beautiful addition to rice dishes, pasta or salads. They also provide an array of vitamins and minerals including beta-carotene.

Be sure to pick dandelions away from roadsides or public spaces where chemicals are often present and harvest them from organic gardens or green spaces that you know to be clean. 

Lilac – The flowers of the lilac are intensely perfumed and offer lemony undertones to a dish.  A little goes a long way with this one. 

Nasturtium – This beautifully vibrant flower is a cousin to the brassica family (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage etc.) and has a sweet, peppery flavor to it.   They are great for garnishing meat, fish or vegetable dishes and bring any salad to life. 

Nasturtiums also offer wonderful nutritional benefit.  A 2009 study by the Universidad Nacional de Colombia identified the bright pigments of the nasturtium as having the same phenolic compound as blueberries.  This compound, called anthocyanin, is shown to help neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals and exhibit anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anti-cancer effects.

Pansy – The decorative properties of this flower are the real draw as there is not much flavor to the petals.  However, the nutritional properties of this flower also offer incentive for its use. Similar to the nasturtium and many other edible flowers, the brightly colored petals of the pansy provide significant antioxidant support and have been shown to offer cellular protection due to the presence of powerful polyphenols.  The whole flower of the pansy can be used and makes a great addition to fruit salads. 

Rose – The essence of this flower is commonly used in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines, where rose water can be found in many recipes and lends a delicate, floral hint. However, the entire petal can be eaten. Rose petals can be intensely perfumed, so a little goes a long way. Their flavor is slightly fruity and milder than their scent would lead you to believe.  When adding to a dish, remove the bitter white base of the petal and be sure to use organically grown roses. 

Squash/zucchini blossoms – If you find yourself growing zucchini in your garden this year expand your harvest by collecting more than just the fruit and treat yourself to some of the flowers as well.  There are both male and female flowers on the squash plant.  As the female flowers are the ones that will end up baring fruit, you’ll want to avoid or limit how many of them you harvest and focus on picking the male flowers only.  These can be identified by the long, winding stems to which they’re attached.  The female blossoms grow closer the center of the squash plant, on shorter, stubby stems.

The blossoms themselves have a mild squash like flavor and can be stuffed with savory ingredients such as goat cheese and herbs or rice and like any flower used to garnish almost anything.

Regardless of how you use them, a few petals can make the experience of eating both artful and nourishing.  Experiment, enjoy the season and allow yourself to think outside the box of what we eat in the plant kingdom. 

About the Author
Hillary Krupa, RNCP, Nutritionist, InspireHealth – Vancouver Island Victoria

As a holistic nutritionist, Hillary encourages healing and balance through the use of whole foods.  She has seen how foods in their purest, most unadulterated form can serve as practical, powerful and fundamental parts of healing.