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Flowers you can eat

A flowery menu

Adding flowers to your cooking may or may not bring health benefits, but they will certainly add a distinct look and flavour.

Earlier this week there was quite a bit of news about the benefits of eating certain flowers. Yes, flowers, the pretty bits with petals that we all love to look at.

The stories in various media were reporting on how flowers can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer and that some flowers contain high levels of compounds which can be used at anti-inflammatories. The stories have mentioned a range of ten Chinese edible flowers that, when checked, were found to contain high levels of phenolic compounds, which has definite health benefits.

Japanese honeysuckle and a species of tree peony were named as having seriously high amounts of phenolic compounds.

Here at Laterlife we decided to look further into this. The research was undertaken at Zhejiang University, a national university in China and one of the country’s oldest institutes of further education. Leading the research was Lina Xiong who has an international reputation in this field. The research was extensive and has brought a far greater level of understanding to the benefits of certain flowers. However, the Chinese research has yet to be fully tested for long term health benefits on humans, so it is too early yet to start eating flowers for guaranteed health benefits.

But what the research certainly has done is bring renewed interest in adding flowers to recipes, something that is more widely practices in China than here. Whether they bring real health benefits, adding flower petals certainly creates unique interest and flavour to a dish.

More exciting is the range of flowers that can be used, all with different colours, shapes and flavours.

Elderflowers have been known about for a long time- dipped in a light batter, fried and sprinkled with sugar, they are a fascinating and tasty desert.

The petals of roses too have been used for generations, often added to pancakes, custards and biscuits for a soft new flavour and decoration of course. The same can be said for lavender, which adds a stronger and clearly identifiable flavour.

Pot marigolds sound lovely and have a slightly peppery, bitter flavoured flower which is good with savoury dishes; or pop it into rice to add a gentle golden yellow tinge.

The list goes on, but it is not just the flower than needs to be selected with care. Flavours also vary from species to species. For instant, while nasturtiums can be eaten, some can be quite bitter but the Alaska Salmon Orange variety has a gentle peppery flavour , perfect for adding to salads.

Pinks are great favourites in the garden, and varieties such as Spring Beauty can add a sweet flavour with a touch of clove, perfect for puddings, cakes and fruit salads.

Before you go wildly picking colourful flowers for the kitchen, it is vital you know a little about what you are doing. Some flowers can cause an allergic reaction; some can contain pesticides from commercial gardens, and some simply are poisonous!

Homegrown flowers picked early in the morning or late in the afternoon are best because this is when their water content should be highest. Obviously check they are bug free and don’t contain any sign of disease (spots etc). Then they need to be washed carefully, ideally in a little salt water and then plunge them into ice water for half a minute before popping on kitchen paper.

Always trim the petals carefully as where it connects to the stem can often be bitter. It is best to use the petals as fresh as possible but you can store them in water in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

There is lots of advice on the internet about using flowers in cooking, and a cook basic guide is at About Com’s edible cooking guide, visit;

They also have a section highlighting flowers than can cause allergic reactions or in some cases are actually poisonous - flowers such as azaleas, crocus, daffodils, foxgloves, oleander, rhododendrons and wisteria.

The research may eventually come up with conclusive proof that some edible flowers really can help prevent cancer and heart disease; but until that comes, flowers are still a wonderful way to add unique style and flavour to a variety of dishes. Just make sure you know what you are doing before starting your cooking!


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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

It includes both one off articles and also associated regular columns of a more specialist nature such as Healthwise, Gardener's Diary, our regular IT question and answer section called YoucandoIT and there's also 'It could be you' by Maggi Stamp laterlife's counsellor on human relationships. 

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