When we think about foods for Spring, we often just think about the root, leaf, or stalk of the food. But there’s a lot of nutritional and medicinal value being overlooked in many varieties of edible flowers. Some flowers can be eaten, others can be mixed in with the herb they are attached to, and then there are others that work better as a tea or tonic.
This expands the argument for organic gardening. When you raise your garden using GMO free, heritage, or heirloom seeds, and free from chemical pesticides, you open up a whole new benefit from your typical flower garden. Not only can you enjoy looking at your garden, but you can enjoy eating and getting some nutrition form your flowers as well. Here is a list of some edible flowers that you may not be aware are perfectly safe to eat, along with some of their nutritional qualities.
Nutritious Edible Flowers Sitting Right Under Your Nose
Where I live in Southern California, nasturtiums grow wild and sometimes occupy entire hillsides. Although foraging for wild edible flowers can seem exciting, it’s best to only forage from private yards or remote areas where you know for sure the flowers haven’t been contaminated by pesticides, car exhaust or other pollutants. Nasturtiums add awesome color to any plate, and have a peppery, slightly spicy kick in flavor. They can be used in salads, mixed into compound butter, or sautéed with pasta or scrambled eggs.
The leaves and petals of nasturtium are extremely nutritious as they contain vitamin C and iron. The leaves also have antibiotic properties which are at their most effective just before the plant flowers.
According to this article, in traditional medicine, an ointment is made from nasturtium flowers and used to treat skin conditions as well as hair loss. The group of phenols in the pigments of orange and red flowers helps naturalize the damaging effects of free radicals, thereby helping to protect us from chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Check out this recipe for spaghetti with calabrese broccoli & nasturtium.
Rose petals can be used for all sorts of culinary purposes. I have made candied rose petals, rose flavored ice cream, and I even tried the rose petal sauce that goes with quail from the novel Like Water for Chocolate, just for fun and giggles! Roses are used for jam, cake decorating, or even more obscure recipes like this Indian rose milk, which can be done as written, or try a modified version with healthier sweeteners, vegan milk, and chia seeds.
Because petals contain about 95 percent water, their nutritional value is limited and their calorie count is low. However, the petals do contain some vitamin C, though less than that found in rose hips, the fruit of the rose that appears after the flowers drop. Ancient Chinese medicine used roses to treat digestive disorders, the pain from injuries and menstrual irregularities.
Fennel is another plant that grows wild all over California. Fennel leaves, stalks and bulbs give a great licorice flavor to soups, stews, and sauces. But, if you can catch your fennel plant when it is flowering, you can bring the same licorice essence with a simple sprinkle of the flowers over a salad, a pice of fish, or a scoop of ice cream or yogurt. When you are done enjoying the flower, don’t forget to eat the bulb sometime soon, as fennel is considered one of the world’s healthiest foods. Fennel contains vitamin C, folate, molybendum, manganese, potassium, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and vitamin B3, or niacin. For example, a one-cup serving of raw fennel provides about 10 mg of vitamin C, or 17 percent of the daily value; 360 mg of potassium, or 10 percent of the daily value; and 43 mg of calcium, or 4 percent of the daily value. One cup of raw fennel bulb also contains less substantial amounts of the minerals selenium and zinc and vitamins A, B1, B2, B5 and B6.
One of my favorite edible flowers is the squash blossom, mostly due to its ability to be stuffed! A highlight of our summer gardening adventures at my house is foraging into the squash patch in the morning to pick fresh squash blossoms while they are big and open, then stuffing them with delightful things like goat cheese, vegan cheese, shellfish, or pumpkinseed filling.
Squash blossoms, like any flower, are light and delicate, and therefore don’t offer a lot of calories. One cup of squash blossoms only has five calories! That said, squash blossoms offer some carbohydrates and protein, and are high in calcium and iron and especially high in vitamins C and A. So, they are a much better choice than a lot of less healthful, calorically dense foods you could be stuffing. Here is a recipe for vegan stuffed and pan seared squash blossoms.
Well, this is one you probably wish you wouldn’t find in your garden, because it’s considered a weed by many standards. But dandelions are one of those unsuspecting “weeds” that actually bring a lot of nutritional value to the picture. Dandelion is high in vitamins A, C, & K, and also provides some protein, carbohydrates, and omega-3 fatty acids, and they score high on the ANDI score for nutrient density. And, they are super abundant in Spring!
Dandelion leaves can be used in salads, soups, juiced, cooked the same way as spinach, or dried (with flowers) to make dandelion tea. The root can be dried and roasted and used as a coffee substitute, and the flowers can be used to make dandelion wine. The entire plant is edible, and the leaves contain vitamins A, C and K, along with calcium, iron, manganese, and potassium.
Have you ever had lavender chicken, or white fish poached with lavender cream, or lavender ice cream? Well, this blog is about nutrition, so I am not going to push the cream or the ice cream too much on here. But I did want to point out that lavender flowers can be enjoyed in food. They make a great garnish for salad, sprinkle over ravioli, or make a cup of lavender tea.
Lavender flowers are sweet, spicy, and perfumed, making them a bit distinguished and a bit of a flavor adventure. Have fun with it and see where it goes!
Check out this recipe for Lavender Roasted Potatoes.
Johnny Jump Up
Johnny Jump Ups are great because you can use them as colorful ground cover for your garden, adding big patches of color, but then you can pic a few for a salad or a garnish, and no matter how many you pick, it doesn’t seem to put a dent in the lush colorful garden. The flowers have a subtle mint flavor great for salads, pastas, fruit dishes and drinks.
There Are Many Others
There are a lot of edible flowers hiding in your garden or on your local hillside, including chamomile, lemon verbena, pansy, angelica, violet, and much more. If you want to explore adding flowers to your meals or as a tea or beverage, be sure you only use flowers from your own garden, from the Farmers Market, or another trusted source. If you use commercially raised edible flowers, be sure they have been raised for food purposes. Flowers at your florist or the wholesale flower mart are very likely to be contaminated with pesticides and other toxins, that would overwhelm any nutrition the flower has to offer, and do more damage to your body than good.
You can also explore the herbal benefits of flowers by contacting a good herbalist in your area. Herbalism is a different approach to nourishing your body, that makes a great adjunct to basic food nutrition, and if you see the need, you can obtain herbal supplements from flowers in a much more concentrated dose than you can from the flower itself. Be sure to always contact a licensed herbalist or use a high quality herbal supplement company when taking herbs. An herbalist or professional who dispenses herbal supplements can test your body to make sure the herbs you are taking are appropriate for your body’s individual needs.
If you are interested in incorporating more flowers, plants and herbs into your routine, consider coming to visit us at Vibrant Living Wellness Center, where we can give you a comprehensive screening and recommend a Designed Clinical Nutrition program, with whole food supplements, herbal supplements, and personalized meal planning and nutrition coaching. Make an appointment to come see me soon and I can get you all set up with our wellness team!