Do people eat flowers? Yes, many of them. Experts say the Greeks, Romans and French during the Middle Ages and the English during the Victorian era included edible flowers in their cuisine, either as an appetizer or to enhance the flavor of the dish.
A new review examines many edible flowers used in several countries around the Mediterranean Sea, their inclusion in various traditional forms of food and medicine, their impact on health and their commercial potential.
Study: Edible flowers used in some countries of the Mediterranean basin: An ethnobotanical review. Image credit: photofantasia / Shutterstock
Flowers have been used as food in various cultures for centuries. Examples include saffron, part of the flowers of Crocus sativus, violated by summer or PINKreferring to Italian purple and rose wines, respectively, as well as marigold or dandelion flower salads.
As a garnish, flowers not only enhance the appearance of food, but also add specific aromas and flavors. Consequently, they are used in sweets, drinks, liqueurs and teas. Because of their nectar, fresh flowers are sometimes used as sweet treats in certain regions.
Flowers are also known to contain antioxidants and antimicrobial compounds in terms of their pigments, which can positively affect human health. This motivated the current review on edible flowers, published in the journal MDPI Plants, which examines the safety and nutritional aspects of this food type. The aim is to preserve the traditional knowledge of plants in the Mediterranean region – an ethnobotanical study.
What did the study show?
The current review includes data on over 250 species of plants, which are divided into 45 families, comprising about 140 genera. The most significant number, about one in five, come from Asteraceae, closely followed by Lamiaceae and Fabaceae. Among the former, Viola is the most represented genus, with 12 species.
The Echinacea flower group belongs to the Asteraceae or composite flower family. Image credit: Kyliki / Shutterstock
The most cited plant was, however, from Caprifoliaceaebeing Black Elder L., elderberry flowers. This is used in a variety of ways: “Fried as dessert, omelette, pancake, juice, condiment, jam, jelly, drink, vinegar flavoringAccording to newspapers from five countries. It is native to Europe but can now be found in East Asia, North America, New Zealand and southern Australia.
Blackberry seeds are dispersed by birds and grow along roadsides, railway lines, fences and forest borders. They bear large clusters of intensely scented white flowers from June to August. These are rich in plant phenolics, and their use in nutrients and food supplements is coming into vogue.
Strawberries are now said to fight cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, stimulate the immune system by fighting inflammation, and prevent atherosclerosis. They have traditionally been used to treat respiratory ailments, colds and colic, as well as to fight fever and inflammation and a variety of other uses. They are also applied topically to treat conjunctivitis, burns and wounds, and joint pain.
Other interesting edible flowers include the false acacia (black locust), originally from North America but now considered very invasive in some parts of the world. It currently grows in Europe, southern Africa and Asia. Its flowers are rich in polyphenols with antioxidant and tumor-fighting properties and have been used to treat the flu, promote calmness, or improve general health.
False acacia (black locust). Image credit: Artur Synenko / Shutterstock
Borage is also widely used in many ways that berries are used, but not for making wines or liqueurs. Containing terpenes, aldehydes and many fatty acids, they can help fight inflammation and bacterial infection, as well as preserve food and cosmetics. It is traditionally used in Spain and Italy for colds, inflammation of the respiratory tract, sore throats and to increase urine flow, as well as for joint pain and stomach irritation.
Dandelions are found all over the world except the southern ice continent. They are used for respiratory and urogenital diseases and applied to wounds. They are also used in salads, jams, teas, risottos and stir-fries.
Dandelion flower. Image credit: tinnko / Shutterstock
Dandelion flowers contain numerous phytochemicals, including luteolin and its 7-glucoside, with antioxidant and cytotoxic properties.
Clover, red and white, are also important edible flowers grown as fodder or growing wild. They contain luteolin, kaempferol (red clover), rutin and quercetin (white clover). They are used to treat stomach ailments, coughs and diseases related to menopause. Pot marigolds are used for various ailments and skin conditions due to their anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and wound healing properties. However, according to the observed pharmacological properties, they can also lower blood sugar and lipid levels.
Scientists also cover pansies, both English and wild; corn poppy; and sturgeon with large leaves. These are used in different conditions, in the form of teas, liqueurs, spices, salads, with eggs or vegetables, dressings or sherbets. These contain compounds such as anthocyanidins, flavonoids, alkaloids, vitamins and essential oils. These provide antimicrobial, antidepressant, wound healing, hypoglycemic, hypolipidemic and cytotoxic antioxidant properties in various flowers.
What are the conclusions?
This interesting study reveals the potential of edible flowers to promote health and prevent disease in many ways. For example, they can help scavenge or prevent the release of free radicals, which underlie many degenerative conditions such as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Moreover, following their traditional dietary use in naturally low concentrations, the phytochemicals found in them exert a protective effect, accounting for the benefits associated with nutrients.
Edible flowers can also be used to produce a variety of therapies for skin rejuvenation, immune stimulation in the elderly, and prevention or mitigation of neurodegeneration.
Some flowers may be toxic, so further studies should aim to understand, identify and recommend useful edible flowers while accounting for those that may be contaminated, contain high pesticide content or be contaminated by microbes. In addition to these uses, their use in traditional foods can help increase the economic potential for farmers in some endangered agricultural localities, providing an outlet for endangered farmers to continue living and farming there. “The potential of edible flowers should be further explored for the potential economic opportunities that can be created for collectors and local communities..”