This coming Monday 18th May marks what would have been the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2020. The Chelsea Flower Show is a hugely iconic garden show that occurs annually and showcases the very best in garden design. The show has been held at Royal Hospital Chelsea since 1912 and is the most famous flower and landscape gardens show in the United Kingdom, and perhaps even in the world! The show is attended by members of the British Royal Family and attracts visitors from all over the world. The show is going digital this year, bringing you an exciting line-up of world-leading designers, plant experts and practical gardening advice all from the comfort of your home.
Here at Artisans and Adventurers, we are lucky enough to work in Kent, the beautiful garden of England, and we’re constantly inspired by the nature around us and the beautiful colours of all the flowers and plants - it’s almost like the Chelsea Flower Show every day! We all know that we love having flowers in our homes and gardens, but did you know that there's many types of flowers you can eat? We took a deep-dive into the world of edible flowers, and we wanted to share with you all the interesting and exciting things we learned.
Flowers have been used for culinary purposes since as far back as Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt! In fact, the first recorded mention of edible flowers being used was in 140 B.C. The Romans were known to use violets and roses in their food, the flower petals were most commonly eaten in salads or as garnishes. Flowers were believed to be cleansing for the body and many varieties do have medicinal properties. For example, roses are rich in antioxidants that are said to help prevent cardiovascular disease. Ancient Greek and Chinese herbalists also recorded both medicinal and culinary uses for flowers. The early Incas, Aztecs and Hindus included flowers in some of their most important rituals.
Nearly every early civilisation recognised Calendula, otherwise known as Marigold, whose petals were served as food and piled on alters. The petals of saffron were often preserved for medicinal uses, and so the Marigold was used by the ancient civilisations to infuse a similar golden colour in cooked dishes. Calendula was also commonly referred to as ‘pot marigold’ by medieval monks, who used it in their cooking pots. In addition, carnation petals were a key ingredient in Chartreuse, a liquor that was created by French monks during the 1600s.
The Victorians often used flowers in their food, associating them with refinement and elegance. Most commonly, the Victorians would use candied violets and borage to decorate cakes and desserts. Violets remain popular today for use in desserts and sweets, most notably in violet cream chocolates. Bee balm, also known as monarda, is a flowering plant in the mint family that is very popular with bees. It was used by the Victorians as a treatment for bee stings and was also used as a substitute for tea when black tea became unavailable during the Boston Tea Party in 1773. During the Renaissance, it was common for audiences of plays to be served rose-petal infused water and stewed primroses.
Historically, it was common to dry the petals of flowers and include them in tea blends. Popular tea flowers were hibiscus, rose, jasmine and bee balm, some of which we still enjoy today. Other countries use flowers for culinary uses today more often than we do. For example, in China and Japan chrysanthemum petals are often stirred into soup or included with tea. Sakura, or Japanese cherry blossoms, are also incredibly popular in Japanese cuisine, from flavouring sake to yokan (a traditional jellied dessert) to kit kats! Papaya flowers are often used in Indian cuisine, commonly included in salads, cooked with potatoes and simmered with fish heads. Banana blossom is also frequently found in South Indian cooking, a popular dish is the protein-rich Adai-Vazhaipoo. The edible flowers used in Indian cooking are often chosen not just for their taste and appearance, but mostly for their health benefits. Papaya flowers are believed to be good for eradicating lung infections and liver-related concerns whilst banana blossoms are a rich source of protein and vitamin C, as well as being very high in fibre.
Many edible flowers have long been recognised for their medicinal qualities and health benefits. For example, the common dandelion has been shown to contain high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants and possess anti-inflammatory properties. Hibiscus, a large tropical flower that is often used in teas, is believed to help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Honeysuckle has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for years, and is thought to be a cure for various inflammatory conditions and is often ingested or applied directly to the skin. Rose is probably one of the most commonly used edible flowers for its sweet, floral taste, but some research suggests that certain compounds in roses may also play a role in reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation.
Although you may not be accustomed to eating flowers, they really can make a great addition to a meal. Whether you use them simply to add a pop of colour and texture to a beautiful dessert or salad, or if you choose to include them in your everyday food habits for their health benefits, we really do think everyone should give them a go! Just remember to do your own research, especially if you intend to forage for the flowers yourself as you want to be sure everything you pick is safe to ingest. Many edible flowers are available online either fresh or freeze-dried, or you can even buy kits to grow your own! Have you ever tried edible flowers? Let us know!
Written by Leona Chapman
Photography by Paula O'Hara