The History of Edible Flowers

While we typically think of flowers as something just to be seen, humans have always known that certain flower petals can also be eaten. Today, the crystallized rose petal and other edible blossoms are used in many different ways to enhance our eating experience. Here’s what you need to know about the crystallized rose petal and other edible flowers.

  • We used to think of edible flower petals as a type of spice. At least, that’s the closest analogy. Today edible flowers for salads are more of a decorative item, and a crystallized rose petal is most likely to be seen upon something like a wedding cake. But a long time ago, edible seeds were seen as something very much like a fine and expensive spice. It’s impossible to say which cultures first began using edible flowers for something other than tea, but edible flowers used as teas is almost certainly the first such use. We do know that the carnation was brought to Europe from Africa and became a great favorite as a food among the French. The pot marigold is a native flower from Europe that also came to be eaten in the same way as spices: as a kind of garnish that was also considered good for the health as well. Other edible flowers include the nasturtium from the Americas, and the violet and the bee balm, both of which grow in Europe and North America.
  • How long have flowers been considered a kind of food? The first records we have of flowers being used for food come from those ancient cultures whose herbalists recorded the medicinal use of all types of growing things. The Chinese, the ancient Greeks, and the Roman civilizations all used edible flowers in their cooking and in their medicine. In the Americas, the Aztecs included flowers in some of their important religious rituals, as did the Hindus of India. Almost every early civilization on record recognized that calendula is both edible and nutritionally helpful, and the petals of this flower were typically served as food, drunk as tea, and sacrificed as an offering to the gods.
  • How did ancient peoples eat their flower petals? Flowers were most commonly eaten as a garnish or in salads. Ancient peoples typically thought of edible petals and flowers as important for cleansing the body, as well as for providing an aesthetic beauty to the dinner table. Dried petals, of course, were typically included in teas, and some of the most popular tea blends were made from the petals of the rose, jasmine, bee balm, and hibiscus flowers. In fact, when black tea became unavailable during the American Revolution, bee balm was the most common tea substitute. The idea of making a crystallized or sugar covered pedal can be traced back to medieval monks. They used to put violets into sugar water to create a sweet, flavored syrup. It was the Victorians of England who began crystallizing the flower petals, and during their time the crystallized rose petal and other crystallized edible flowers became important for decorating cakes and other desserts.
  • How are crystallized flowers used today? Today, the crystallized rose petal and other edible flowers are typically used as a garnish for desserts. Un-crystallized flowers are eaten in salads and used on garnishes for many main dishes. These edible flowers re not only aesthetically pleasing, but also tasty. They lend incredible color, elegance, and taste to nearly anything you can think to add them to. In fact, the only thing to be wary of when using flowers in your cooking and decorating is the need to find flowers that have not been sprayed with pesticides.

We’ve been eating and decorating with the crystallized rose petal and all kinds of herb crystals and edible flowers and plants for thousands of years. The trend continues, and today it’s easy to find these beautiful and edible creations in the finest restaurants in the humblest homes. If you want to decorate a cake or other dessert in a meaningful, and beautiful way, don’t forget the flowers.

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