Flowers are more than looks, you know. They're not just for perfumes either. You can eat many of those pretty petals in all sorts of ways. Consider taking your spring seasonal eating to another level.
Jason Cohen started his Flower Pot Tea Company based in New Rochelle, New York, in February after tasting food and tea across Asia for years. He sells rose butter tea cakes along with his blooming teas and tisanes.
The tea cakes are soft, chewy, and a little sticky-sweet inside, made with real crushed rose petals — not rose water, extract, or rosehips like many other rose products are. "When you bite it, you can see that," Cohen says. "It has that texture to it. That’s the thing that really tastes like what you think. It tastes like a rose and smells like a rose."
You can find macarons, gelato, and other sweets in rose flavors (such as the rose-vanilla marshmallow from Whimsy & Spice) — along with jasmine and lavender flavors. Hibiscus is getting popular too, like this cassis-hibiscus marshmallow from Patisserie Chanson. But rose is less commonly used in desserts, especially in savory dishes, in the United States as it is in the Middle East.
Then again, munching on flowers at all is unusual.
Tea is a more familiar way to consume flowers. Cohen's signature drink, The Enlightening Lotus Tisane, is technically not a tea because it contains no tea leaf essence. The ingredient list is simple: lotus flowers. The tisane's golden honey aroma evolves with a subtle herbaceous finish. He found the tea-quality flower at a single plantation in a Buddhist monastery in China.
Make sure to get food-grade quality flowers. If you buy nonorganic ones, you could be eating pesticides that aren't approved for consumption, even worse than the pesticides used in conventional foods. Also, you can use the flowers from the herbs you're growing already, such as cilantro, arugula, chives, marjoram, sage, and thyme.
Another tip: When eating flowers, make sure to display their beauty before you gobble or guzzle them. "The main thing with flowers is to create an experience with the food. Even adding flowers to your salad can create a texture or a subtle taste," Cohen says. "Blindfolded, you might not be able to identify it, but otherwise you see it and smell it, and that transforms the dish."
Desserts and salads are the easiest ways to use flowers in your food, like this tomato nasturtium salad with dates and pistachios from Simple Bites. Get the recipe. Play with flowers all sorts of ways in the kitchen, but stick to a few favorites. These are the most common edible flowers:
Rose: These fragrant petals can accent braised dishes, enhance creamy desserts, and embellish salads. Try a jam, cupcakes, or ice cream.
Violets: The flower buds of sweet violets can add depth to desserts with their flavor and beauty, as well as salads. Closely related pansies and violas have less flavor, but are vivid and more easily available. Make a violet syrup for your baked goods.
Nasturtiums: These blossoms are some of the most colorful and useful, especially in salads. Their peppery bite resembles watercress. Consider them for poultry, soups, and vegetables — even composed butter.
Hibiscus: This popular edible flower is often used in Jamaican drinks because of its surprisingly meaty texture and tangy taste. Besides alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, try them in cakes and even enchiladas.
Lavender: If you overdo the lavender, your food can taste soapy. You were warned. Lavender is a little more common too. Grind it into sugar when baking or infuse it into a liquid. Herbes de Provence is a French spice mix that includes lavender and can flavor roast lamb or grilled chicken. Like the others, try it with desserts and salads.
Geraniums: These multi-faceted petals impart flavors ranging from minty and fruity to spicy and rosy. They're talented flavor mimics of nutmeg, orange, apple, lemon, and strawberry. Make some cookies or pound cake with them.
Or start your edible flower odyssey with our Hibiscus Margarita:
You'll want to swill this flower-infused beverage. Steep dried hibiscus flowers in your favorite high-quality tequila to get a sangria-inspired mixed drink we'll call a margarita. Please garnish with the flower in some way. Make use of it visually. Get our Hibiscus Margarita recipe.
— Head photo: Flower Pot Tea Company.
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She's trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.