Edible Flowers Enhance the Menu and Benefit Our Bodies

Plucking a petal almost seems cruel as if it were being stripped away from its place among family and friends. When a flower is whole—that is, petals intact—a purpose seems fulfilled: She has brightened a room as a member of a bouquet but her purpose does not need end there. Beneath the lush and assorted colors of her petals exists the power to sweeten our recipes and promote longevity. Several varieties of edible flowers—including chrysanthemums, marigolds, roses, and basil flowers—can easily be grown in a home garden, or even on a window sill in the kitchen, where they can be quickly washed, dried and added to the food on our tables.

Dating back more than 3,000 years, chrysanthemum flowers are widely used in Chinese cooking and in tea. Chrysanthemums (or “mums”) come in a wide variety of colors, and their flavor varies by color. For example, red blossoms typically have a slightly tangy boldness, which contrasts quite nicely with sweet frosting.

All varieties of marigolds are edible, but three in particular are favored for their flavor: Tagetes lucida, Tagetes patula and Tagetes tenuifolia. They possess a mild citrus flavor, which pairs nicely with a lemon cupcake. Marigolds can also be used to color dishes yellow; they are occasionally termed “poor man’s saffron.”

The rose’s beauty cannot be disputed, and its inclusion in our cooking repertoire will surely add elegance to any dish. Like marigolds, all pure roses (genus Rosa) are edible, but their flavor depends on the color, from tart to sweet. Typically, the darker the color, the more tart the flavor.

Basil flowers can be white, light lavender or pale pink, depending on the type of basil and their flavor echoes a milder version of dried cooking basil. Not only are the flowers attractive and delicious, but they also possess strong anti-aging benefits. Loaded with antioxidants, basil can protect our cells from the damaging molecules that contribute to heart disease and osteoporosis.

Lemon Marigold Basil Cupcakes with Candied Chrysanthemums and Roses

2½ cups flour

2 cups sugar

1 cup butter, softened

4 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

1 tablespoon shredded basil

1½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350° F. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking powder and soda. In a large bowl, beat butter with electric mixer until fluffy. Slowly add eggs, until well mixed. Add sugar, lemon peel, lemon juice and basil; mix until just combined. Add flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk, until well-blended. Place batter into cupcake liners placed in a cupcake baking dish. Bake 11-13 minutes, or until lightly brown. Remove from pan; cool on wire rack. Frost when cool and garnish with edible flowers.

Yield: 24 servings. Per serving: Calories: 345; Fat 5.2 g; Carbs: 18.1 g; Protein 3.3 g.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

3-4 cups powdered sugar

2/3 cup butter

1 teaspoon lemon peel

1 teaspoon lemon juice

In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and butter. Add lemon; beat about 2 minutes, until fluffy. Gradually add 2 cups of sugar, until combined. Mix additional sugar, until frosting becomes a spreadable consistency.

Candied Chrysanthemums 
and Wildflowers

35-45 edible flower blossoms or petals of your choice, such as edible mums, roses or marigolds

2 teaspoons meringue powder

2 tablespoons water

1½ cups superfine sugar

In a small bowl, dissolve meringue powder in water. Using a small brush, lightly coat all sides of flower petals. Dust with sugar. Place flowers on a baking sheet lined with wax paper; dry for 1-2 days. Store in an airtight container, or freeze for later use.

Note: Use only flowers you are certain to be edible, free of any pesticides. Be cautious of flowers from nurseries and garden centers, as many of these have pesticides. Pick flowers in the morning, when water content is highest. Gently wash and dry all flowers thoroughly before using.