A brief history of Edible Flowers…
The nutritional benefit of eating your greens is widely agreed but edible flowers…….? They are generally eaten in such small quantities as to make their nutritional benefit rather negligible! Why then, have generations across many different cultures had a love affair with edible flowers? Are we simply seduced and captivated by their beauty?
Eating flowers is not just the new hipster thing to do, in fact, the oldest recorded history of edible flowers is the cultivation of the crocus flower for its coveted stamens, saffron. Records show, it was used as far back as 4500 BC by the Egyptians and also later by the ancient Greeks. We move up a notch with the ancient Romans who believed that mustard flower were an aphrodisiac, thyme flowers as every good gladiator knew gave strength and borage flowers cured melancholy.
In the bible, there are many accounts of edible flowers in particular Hyssop. Depicted as sacred, it was believed to have spiritual cleansing properties and is a main contender for the last drink that Jesus was given on the cross.
The Chinese …inventors of our modern tea used chives, amaranths, lotus flowers and flavoured wine with orchids. Over in Europe, Charlemagne grew chives in his kitchen garden as he believed them to be a source of his power and used a decoction as a restorative. By the 17c, an infusion of violets created a powerful love potion and daisy flowers with sage leaves steeped in wine could quieten a rambling mind!
But the Victorians elevated and esteemed the use of edible flowers, taking them from the ranks of lowly peasant food and moving them swiftly into the upper class, wealthy kitchens of England. This was the age of plant hunters and it saw the introduction of many new and exotic leaves and flowers. Crystallized flowers and candied leaves became popular, as did cakes and syrups flavour with scented geraniums. The fortunes of the edible flower exploded when the Victorians added emotional meaning to each flower. What better way to tell your girl that you devoted to her then by giving her a posie of honeysuckle. If you wanted to convey more ardent admirations, a bouquet of mallow flowers would bring a blush to any girl’s cheeks!! Fluorography was the name given to the coding of messages associated with each flower and was incredible popular amongst young Victorian lovers.
Sadly for a period in the 20c, edible flowers fell into obscurity for a number of reason and they were deemed frivolous and even dangerous.
Thankfully in the 90’s their fortunes were resurrected by visionary Michelin chefs such as Michel Bras and Marc Veyrat. Chef Adria in his three star Michelin restaurant ElBulli in Spain, pioneered new ways to use edible flowers such as serving cashews over a soup of tea, geranium leaves and begonia flowers.
Now in this new 21c we are witnessing the marriage of edible flowers with microgreens and a new chapter begins. Baby leaves and edible flowers have captured the imagination of many great chefs but that is not to exclude us … the home chef. With a little bit of knowledge, some inclination and a window box, we too can begin our own love affair with edible flowers. A visual and culinary delight guaranteed to wow all of your dinner guests!