Seeing as many of you don’t have access to some of the publications I write for, I thought that I might start sharing a few of my articles on here, for all to read.
In the 12th issue of STATUS Magazine I wrote a piece about the benefits of edible flowers. So get healthy this spring with some flora and fauna!
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Healthy Living with a Taste of Botanics
In today’s increasingly health-conscious society, the focus on living and eating well has taken on a much wider scope with great importance placed on home cooking and the use of natural, organic products. Plant-based diets are a growing trend and the art of botanical cooking is fast becoming a popular way to bring a stunning and natural finish to food and drink.
For thousands of years, regional cuisines have adopted the culinary use of flowers to provide taste, aroma and colour, with many cultures incorporating edible flora into their traditional cooking. Archaeological evidence shows that early man ate flowers such as roses, while the Chinese, Greek and Romans flavoured teas, wines and other beverages with petals and flower buds. Amongst other plants, chrysanthemum petals, rose flowers and dried daylily buds were consumed for their nutritional quality as well as for their flavour and aroma.
Today horticultural cuisine is embraced across the world including Asia, Europe and the Middle East with ever more creative uses inspired from the diverse range of flora and fauna. While some have a spicy quality, others are more herbaceous and used for their medicinal attributes. Rose hips, marigolds and nasturtiums are very high in vitamin C while dandelion blossoms also contain vitamin A.
Many vegetable dishes are made up of edible flowers; broccoli and cauliflower are huge clusters of flower buds and the artichoke is a large individual unopened flower head. Sometimes overlooked as part of the common vegetable plants, fried squash blossoms are an Italian delicacy, while the popular but very expensive saffron spice, is collected from the inside of a crocus flower.
Rose petals and lavender flowers are heavily used in Asian and French cuisine to add flavour and colour to dishes. Part of the herb family, lavender imparts great aromas and a distinctive taste, and both rose and lavender are used to intensify desserts such as sorbet or homemade ice-cream, as well as to make syrups and jellies. Violets too go particularly well in sorbets and are often used as a pretty decoration for cakes and salads. Other herb flowers also combine both colour and seasoning; the bright colour and peppery taste of nasturtiums makes them perfect for use as a savoury garnish and serves to provide an additional dimension of visual enhancement to culinary treats.
Along with sorbets, syrups and spices, flowers can be used for recipes in baking, sauces, vinegars, sugars, wine, oil, tea and flavoured liquors. Among the most popular of edible flora, particularly in savoury cooking, basil and sage are used across the globe to add flavour to salad, pasta, soups and pesto. Chives are also among the most versatile of edible flowers, providing a subtle onion flavour to sauces and salads. In sweet cooking, elderflower has long been a favourite in North Western Europe, where it has a strong Victorian heritage, and is used to make wine and cordials. Geraniums, pot marigolds, primrose and hibiscus are popular ingredients in baking and sweet desserts and many are also used to flavour hot drinks, such as the bergamot flower which suffuses tea with a spicy, citrusy scent.
While flora and fauna can add a unique twist to a gastronomist’s menu, many plants are not safe to eat and it is important to identify flowers as consumable. Flowers such as honeysuckle, clover, violets and violas are entirely edible, but roses, tulips, calendulas and chrysanthemums have only edible petals, which should be removed from pistils and stamens and washed carefully before eating. No chemicals should be used in the cultivation of the plant and flowers should be picked at their peak; sugars and oils which are the basis for aroma and flavour are highest before photosynthesis converts them into starch, and choosing the right time to harvest can heavily influence the quality of the flowers.
Flowers can be the most magical of ingredients, adding a dash of vivid colour or that extra kick of flavour to the most bland and mundane meal. Medicinal, organic and beautifully pure, it’s little wonder that kitchens worldwide are choosing Mother Nature as their head chef.