Saturday, 28 May 2016

Edible flowers and leaves

This is an excerpt from Raw Edible Flowers and Leaves by Amanda Rofe. Available on Amazon Kindle for £2.50. It refers specifically to those plants listed in the book but provides a useful general overview regarding what parts of the flowes and leaves we should be eating.

Eating the flowers

When we talk about edible flowers, generally speaking we refer to the petals only. However, this doesn't necessarily mean the rest of the flower is inedible. It usually means we are taking the choice part of the plant. It is often recommended to remove the stamens, pistils, and sepals before eating because they can be bitter or might aggravate allergies. It is also said that these parts can detract from the flavour.

In all fairness the white base of the petal on some plants can be bitter. However, it would have to be quite big and very bitter for me to bother with removing because it is fiddly and time consuming. If the petals are a little bitter, small amounts can be tolerated or the bitterness masked with a salad dressing.

A word about sepals. These are the green leaves that surround the base of the petal. Some recommend removing all the sepals of all flowers except the Violas. However, this is only a general rule and I urge flower pickers to use their own initiative. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) sepals, for example, are perfectly edible and I usually include them when I snip the petals off this flower.

Certainly do a taste test before spending hours snipping bits off. If it is listed as edible and tastes good then it is sometimes not worth wasting time removing various parts. There are certain flowers that have a long tradition of being eaten whole and these include Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris), Borage (Borago officinalis), Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) and all Violas (Viola species).

Many flowers are used as adornments to dishes, particularly at weddings or other special occasions, but it doesn't necessarily mean they are edible. Always check before eating anything. Never eat flowers from garden centres, nurseries, supermarkets, fruit shops or florist shops as these are usually grown using chemicals, unless they are specifically labelled as edible (unlikely).

Some flowers are edible but really don't taste nice enough to eat. In addition, depending on the growing conditions, some flowers will taste very sweet while others will be very bitter. I repeatedly see articles referring to Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) flowers being very sweet but all the Lilac that I have ever tasted have been bitter.

Pollen from flowers is highly nutritious but the outer coating needs to be cracked or shattered otherwise only a tiny percentage of the pollen will be digested. This coating is so good that it can protect a pollen grain from rotting for tens of thousands of years. There has been talk of Vitamix blenders being able to crack the pollen coating but at the time of writing the company were unable to confirm either way. There are some companies who have used various techniques such as fermentation or low temperature air pulverization, to make the flower pollen more bio-available and these are available to purchase. If collecting pollen eat immediately or freeze because it will rapidly go mouldy at room temperature.

Anyone with hayfever, allergies or asthma should be careful eating the pollen on flowers since this is the part that usually causes an allergic reaction. Choose one flower at a time and if any reaction does occur stop eating immediately!

Eating the leaves

Unless specified otherwise, if it says leaves, then it means all the leaves. However, the young and fast growing leaves of the wild varieties usually taste better. As wild plants get older or if they are living under stressful conditions, they often become quite tough and bitter. The leaves of the domesticated varieties of plants used for salads or greens, on the other hand, are usually more tasty and nutritious if left to mature. Many are better before the plant produces flowers.

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