Flower Power | Edible Flowers
“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.”
Flowers, among the most admirable aspects of nature, endow our environment with beauty and fragrance. They are the symbol of happiness, long life and regarded as medicine for the soul. But could they also be medicine for our physical bodies too?
It’s only upon realising how widely flowers were consumed in the past, and still are in other cultures, that we realise just how limited, in both variety and nutritional value, our ‘modern’ diets have become. Incorporating edible flowers into our foods not only introduces new colours, aromas, flavours and textures, but as we are about to see packs a power punch when it comes to boosting our health and wellbeing.
The petals of roses give a sweet and aromatic flavour to dishes, and were used as far back as Roman times for cooking various kinds of purée and omelettes. Their attractive, characteristic red colour, which makes them a culinary decorative choice, is attributable to their rich content of the health promoting nutrients the anthocyanidins and the carotenes. But what really makes rose petals a standout is their health boosting potential
They are especially high in healthful phenols, particularly gallic acid. So much so, that rose petal tea has a higher antioxidant and phenol content than the much acclaimed green tea. Possessing antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activity, rose petal tea offers an holistic health enhancer. And best of all its caffeine free, thus suitable for consumption at any time of the day and for those with caffeine sensitive high blood pressure.
The use of English violet, also known as sweet violet (due to its sweet scent) or simply garden violet achieved great popularity in the late Victorian period, and has since been used in the production of many cosmetic products and perfumes as well as confectionary (especially jellies) and syrups due to its desirable fragrance and colour.
Its health promoting uses date back as far as 500 BC and modern science is now starting to support its consumption with its traditional touted uses to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as reducing anxiety and insomnia. Containing an aspirin like ingredient and possessing antiseptic and expectorant activity it is also used in various respiratory ailments, with much benefit seen in the treatment of congestion, coughs and sore throat and their associated headaches and pains.
The saffron crocus is now a native flower to England thanks to its introduction by the Romans. In Tudor times enough were grown in Essex to give the town of Saffron Walden its name. A large and vibrant purple flower, it stands out by growing during the autumn, providing a visual pick me up throughout the winter bleakness.
But it’s not only through visual means that this flower improves our mood. The dried stigma of the Saffron Crocus, is known as saffron (now the world’s most expensive spice by weight). Adding the orange/red stigma filaments to cooking was touted as a tonic to make people cheerful. And it seems there is more than a grain of truth to this traditional use. Saffron modulates certain chemicals in the brain, including serotonin (a mood-elevating neurotransmitter). A growing body of evidence shows it to improve mood as well as it being as effective as conventional antidepressant drugs for treating major depression.
Hailing from the daisy family, Chamomile, commonly referred to as the ‘star among medicinal species’, is one of the oldest, most widely used flowers as a medicine in the world. Its traditional role is pretty much as a cure-all, used extensively in conditions where inflammation, digestive upset, anxiety, skin issues, infection and even the common cold arose. These powerful actions and diverse array of applications had the Anglo-Saxons regarding it as one of nine sacred herbs given to humans by the Lord.
Nowadays Chamomile use [typically as a tea (inhaled and drank) or in creams] still has much favour, and science is supporting its traditional uses. It is an excess of over 100 chemical constituents – of which sesquiterpenes, flavonoids, coumarins, and polyacetylenes are considered the most important – that are responsible for chamomile’s assorted therapeutic benefits, and evidence is now even suggesting a beneficial role in heart conditions and protecting against cancer.