By Brittany P. Anderson
My puppy, Ku‘u Lei, bounds around the backyard plucking flowers from their branches, then playfully running about with flowers in his mouth like a little prince. He only drops the flowers to chew on their petals. Like Ku‘u Lei, we can enjoy a variety of edible flowers and have a little fun with our food in the process.
There is not much nutritional value to flowers, though some have medicinal use when brewed in teas and tinctures. They can impart bitter, sweet, spicy and aromatic notes to dishes while adding visual excitement as a garnish or ingredient.
On Hawai‘i Island, we are fortunate to have a wide selection of edible flowers that can be foraged or easily cultivated. Stumbling upon a flowering red ‘awapuhi while on a hike is a satisfying moment for the flower forager. If you are going to forage for edible flowers, please make sure that it is at a trusted location.
Orchids have long been used in traditional medicine, specifically the Dendrobium genus. While most research shows that these orchids are usually benign, please use caution when consuming—it is important to avoid ingesting pesticides or herbicides.
If you are not certain of a plant’s identity, do not eat it! It’s always best to get information from more than one source on a plant’s edibility. Some plants contain both edible and poisonous parts, so safe handling and knowledge is key.
Lavender, oregano, chive, and basil are all fragrant herbs that produce flowers which can impart their herbal flavor while looking pretty on the plate. The purple puff flowers of the chive plant can be pulled apart and tossed about the plate indiscriminately as a young flower girl would. They convey a light onion flavor which makes them great for adding to salads, deviled eggs, or to enhance a hot dish. The plight of the gardener is making sure plants don’t go to seed, known as “bolting.” It is one of my biggest obstacles with basil plants. Turn that predicament into a bonus! Snipped basil flowers impart a mild basil taste which works well in cold pasta salads or fruit salad.
The aroma of the gardenia-related coffee flower is intoxicatingly fragrant, similar to the jasmine flower. Once flowers have opened, germination occurs, giving coffee growers at most three days to harvest these sweet-scented white blossoms. Harvesting blooms is careful work so as not to disturb the growing coffee cherries. Because of their delicate nature, coffee blossoms are a rare specialty item most commonly dried for tea. Coffee blossom tea has a mellow floral flavor with hints of vanilla. Hawai‘i Island has a few coffee producers who sell straight coffee blossoms as tea, however local herbal teas will sometimes include coffee flowers. A favorite use for coffee blossoms is infusing simple syrup.
What hostess doesn’t love decorating with a bouquet of flowers? With edible flowers, you can decorate the plate with something you can eat. Viola tricolor, also known as heartsease and love-in-idleness have the appearance of a miniature pansy. They were originally a wildflower in Europe, and went on to become cultivated into the popular garden pansy. Their ease of cultivation and mild flavor of soft spearmint and sweet pea make it a versatile joyous addition to the plate. Colors range from dark velvety purple to sunny yellow—all with the happy little pansy face.
You don’t need to be a seasoned botanist to add flowers to your next dish. Try adding freshly picked edible blossoms to your next salad. These easy floral ice cubes are another way to bring a little excitement to the table.
Flower Power Ice Cubes
Materials: Edible Flowers, Water, Ice Cube Tray
To suspend flowers in the ice cubes, work in layers. First, fill the ice tray half way with water. Then, add flowers and freeze. Once the ice is set, fill with water the rest of the way and freeze again. When cubes are completely frozen remove from freezer and enjoy! ❖