Not only do edible flowers bring beauty and subtle flavors to the plate, a sampling of popular Chinese edible flowers indicates they're also high in phytochemicals. That's according to a new research published in the Journal of Food Science.
Edible flowers, long standing in Asian cooking and popular historically in American cuisine, especially during Victorian times, are experiencing a resurgance in the U.S. For example, I first saw squash blossoms at the Santa Fe farmers' market about eight years ago, and now they're easily had in season at the Boulder farmers' market. And edible flowers can often be found in the produce section of grocery stores. If edible flowers become more than an occasional nibble, this recent phytochemical find may take on more practical significance.
In the study noted above, researchers analyzed 10 common Chinese edible flowers and found high levels of phenolic compounds and high antioxidant capacity. The total phenolic content "was strongly correlated with antioxidant capacity, which indicated that phenolics were the major contributors to the antioxidant activity of the selected edible flowers." The Tree Peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) and Japanese honeysuckle (Flos lonicerae) showed the highest phenolic content. These findings may encourage researchers to broaden analysis to other edible flowers.
Edible flowers have not been a mainstay in my kitchen; however, I did achieve great success with Peach Lavender Ice Cream a few summers ago. Just writing about it makes me long for August and peaches.
If you're interested in adding flowers to your culinary adventures, here's an excellent resource from What's Cooking America, which includes listings and uses of individual edible flowers as well as instructions on cleaning, preserving and garnishing. Taking on a clever idea from the site, I plan to make blossom ice cubes from crab apple and wild plum blossoms, just starting to open on our trees. Later in the season, crab apple jelly and wild plum barbeque sauce are in the offing, if the weather and the trees cooperate.
Having moved mid-summer 2013, if only a short distance in our neighborhood, each month brings a surprise in flora and fauna at our new homestead. I learned yesterday that our crab apple trees bloom in gorgeous magenta. We planted three wild plum trees in the fall. Just this morning did I notice for the first time a stand of wild plum trees (only easily spotted when blooming) at the far back of the yard by the lake. A little further, a Great Blue Heron appears to be nesting in the wetlands, while a Lesser Scaup floats nearby in lingering curiosity, before diving in hopes of a meal.