Flowering Up Food with Edible Flowers
Edible Flowers Demand Driven by Social Media
The rise of social media applications such as Instagram and Pinterest have increased the demand for photogenic food. More people are eating gorgeous food thus leading to an influx in demand for edible flowers. The food industry is pressured to provide tasty and photogenic food; therefore, chefs are using more edible flowers to enhance taste and appearance to appeal to social media crazed consumers.
Historically, edible flowers have been used to enhance the taste and aesthetics of food all around the world. In France, calendula would brighten up salads, roses were used in omelets in ancient Rome, and violets were used to dye sugar and syrups. Many of these flowers are still popular to use in our food today.
Edible flower consumption is on an upward trend, thus the demand for packaged edible flowers such as: rose, hibiscus, lavender, and dandelion, is expected to rise in the next few years. Customers tend to prefer edible flowers that are yellow and orange (dandelions and calendula), then blue (borage and violets), with the other colors.
The Health Benefits of Edible Flowers
Additionally, there are many health benefits that are associated with edible flowers that lead to an increased demand for edible flower products. Many flowers have associated medicinal uses; therefore, consumers are interested in edible flowers to help treat aches, pains, colds, and flu symptoms. Some example includes: violets and calendula have medicinal properties that are good for skin, and rose and nasturtium petals are antibacterial.
Safe Cultivation and Harvesting Methods
However, it is important that edible flowers are not affected by fertilizers, herbicides, animal manure, or pesticides that are used for cut/ornamental flowers that could be potentially harmful to consume. Therefore, it would be best to grow flowers in a greenhouse, hoop house, or low tunnel to aid in pest protection. They can be grown similar to many crops; however, they are more delicate and thus might need greater protection against wind and rain. For example, calendula is frost hardy; however, if there is a lot of rain, they must be harvested and then dried before they can be packaged.
Additionally, due to their delicate nature, it is important to pick flowers once the morning dew has burned off and the flower heads are dry. However, it is best to still harvest the flowers in the morning when it is cooler to avoid water loss in the petals. Flowers should be harvested into plastic bags or containers to prevent wilting and contamination. It is important that their containers and bags will be free of condensation on the inside. Also, since they are so fragile, there is only about a 4-day window to ensure no wilting or shriveling by the time they are picked and placed on a plate. Furthermore, many flowers need to have stamens, pistils, and sepals before consumption. Thus, flower petals could be sold but then the flowers lose their aesthetic value. For this reason, it can be a very intensive process that requires a lot of labor and care.
Benefits of Growing Flowers on the Farm
Flowering crops are a great addition to farms since they will attract beneficial insects, including pollinators. For example, chamomile attracts beneficial wasps that will prevent aphids, ladybugs, and honeybees. Flowers are a great crop to plant in a strip to aid in repelling pests; anise hyssop has a strong scent that will protect vegetable crops from certain pests.
Some edible flowers that would be easy to grow: chives, bachelor buttons (cone flower), borage, lavender, hibiscus, zinnias, fennel, anise hyssop, violets, calendula, marigold.
About Margaret Cooper
Margaret is a student studying environmental science management with a passion for conservation, ecology, and sustainability. She is a gardener and floriculturist at her university’s Student Farm where she enjoys creating a working landscape that provides both food and ecological habitat. She loves going into the garden and creating recipes on the spot from farm-fresh food.
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