Over the last couple of years we have seen a significant increase in the consumption of edible flowers, primarily within salads where they have been used to add colour. Apart from providing colour, edible flowers are a rich source of bioactive compounds or phytochemicals, and it is this that attributes to our health and wellbeing.
First, phytochemicals have anti-oxidant and hypoglycemic properties, further they are anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-obesity, and have a neuroprotection effect! Research findings (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.jafc.5b03092?journalCode-jafcau) from food scientists advise that edible flowers are a functional food. Although phytochemicals are non-nutritive i.e. they are not required by us for our sustenance; plant chemicals do, however, have functional properties that provide our bodies with protection and disease prevention.
Flowers are natural plant foods, and like many plant foods in nature often contain valuable nutrients for your health. For instance, dandelions contain numerous antioxidant properties and flavonoids, including FOUR times the beta carotene of broccoli, as well as lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin. They're also a rich source of vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, pyroxidine, niacin, and vitamins E and C. Other examples include:
- Violets contain rutin, a phytochemical with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that ay help strengthen capillary walls
- Rose petals contain bioflavonoids and antioxidants, as well as vitamins A, B3, C and E
- Nasturtiums contain cancer-fighting lycopene and lutein, a carotenoid found in vegetables and fruits that is important for vision health
- Lavender contains vitamin A, calcium and iron, and is said to benefit your central nervous system
- Chive blossoms (the purple flower of the chive herb) contain vitamin C, iron and sulfur, and have traditionally been used to help support healthy blood pressure level
Second, as flowers blossom in spring, the photosynthesis of the 'spring sun' is an unseen chemical reaction bursting the dormant plants into renewed life, flowers that will give seeds for later new growth. It is a regenerative cycle. The winter and autumn sun chemical processes are different to the spring sun, and when we eat the edible flowers and blossoms from these plants, we too benefit with that same energy of rejuvenation, hence another good reason to eat foods in season.
One note of advice - edible flowers should be used sparingly, as an accompaniment, and never as their own food.