Edible Flowers, Uses, and Common
Flower Vegetables

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There are many crop plants with edible flowers although, beware, there are also those with poisonous flowers. These plants necessarily belong to the angiosperms because it is only in this group of plants that flowers are produced. These flowers are edible in the sense that they or their parts can be eaten or incorporated in food preparation and drinks, or otherwise ingested in some manner without adverse health effects.

Some edible flowers or blossoms are largely used as main ingredient in the preparation of vegetable dishes and raw salads. But there are other more uses such as for jelly making, flavoring or garnishing, or to add color or aroma with wide application including in wines and beverages, syrups, vinegars, sauces, pastries and cakes. Generally they are better used fresh but they can also be preserved or processed dry.

The whole flower, including sepals, petals, carpels (pistil) and stamens, as well as the receptacle, may be used but with some only selected parts. There are plants also in which the whole inflorescences or parts thereof can be consumed.

Perhaps the most popular among agricultural crops that produce edible flowers are the cauliflower and broccoli (Brassica oleracea) and globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus). There is a steady and high demand for their flowers and they are thus grown intentionally in commercial scale. They are commonly used worldwide as flower vegetables, that is, their main usage is in culinary preparation including salads. However, their economic parts consist not only of pure flowers but rather of the entire immature inflorescence or flower cluster.

Cauliflower and broccoli are likewise common ingredients in culinary preparations in the Philippines. But there are crops also which, although grown for some other primary purposes, are traditionally exploited as sources of flower vegetables. More familiar are the banana, particularly the “Cardaba” or “Saba,” giant sesbania, and squash.

With banana, the plant part that usually finds its way to the dining table is the male bud, also called banana blossom or puso, a vernacular term for heart. It is a popular flower vegetable that is used as an ingredient in sinigangkare-kare, and dinuguan, or blanched for salad making flavored with coconut milk.

Now ready-to-cook, dried perianths (sepals and petals) in packages can be found in market shelves. This is a clear proof that edible flowers with special application can possibly have huge entrepreneurial potential. In fact, a national of the Czech Republic (the birthplace of the Father of Genetics) who happened to visit told us that they use the hop in making beer. Apparently, the female flower cluster, called seed cone, of the common hop (Humulus lupulus) is used to impart a bitter and tangy taste to beer. This angiospermous plant is likewise grown commercially as an agricultural crop in some countries (Wikipedia 2012).

The male bud of banana, that cone-shaped plant structure that is connected to by an elongated peduncle and hangs from the fruit bunch is not really a whole flower but a terminal portion of the inflorescence. It consists of a central rachis, an extension of the peduncle, with male flowers attached and enclosed by a reddish bract. Each male flower has 5 stamens with outer tube-like perianth.

Edible flowers: example roses (Rosa spp.)

For sesbania (Sesbania grandiflora), also called katuray and gaway-gaway, the fully opened, pendulous, white or pinkish flowers are used. For squash or kalabasa (Cucurbita maxima), it can be both the male and female flowers which have large yellow petals. However, only the male flowers are commonly harvested to allow the development of the female flowers into fruits.

In addition to the common flower vegetables, including the abovementioned banana, sesbania and squash, the herein author also had the opportunity of eating vegetable dish consisting largely of male flowers of papaya, also called pawpaw or kapayas (Carica papaya) cooked with coconut milk. I have used the leaves and flowers of basil (Ocimum basilicum) as a spice in fish tinola, preferring it over the lemon grass or tanglad (Cymbopogon citratus) when available. Those of the horseradish tree or malunggay (Moringa oleifera) just naturally go with leaves into the same recipe. Further, my mother insists that they used to cook vegetable from flowers of the bolbolan tree, which lumber is used in making boat keel.

But how about okra, china rose or gumamela, sunflower, poinsettia (Euphorbia spp.), sampagita (Jasminum sambac), and thorn apple or talumpunay (Datura metel) ? Are they also edible? Please keep a deep breath and contemplate...

Well, the rule is to ascertain safety first even though toxicity is always subject to lethal dosage. It would be wise to consult experts and to search the literature for the verified uses of edible flowers. Make sure that the flower to be consumed is correctly identified. Where the flower, or any plant part, or any offered food item is unfamiliar, there is even more reason to be cautious. Lists of edible flowers should not be considered as a secure prescription and allergies can happen to anyone.

The edible flowers of banana or plantain originates from an inflorescence, the same plant organ that gives rise to fruits.
The banana blossom or male bud, actually an extension of the inflorescence, is a common ingredient in culinary recipes that include edible flowers.

As to the above question, the answer should be both Yes and No. Yes for the first three, but No for the remaining three. According to Newman and O’Connor (2012), poinsettias are not poisonous, however, they are likewise not edible. All plant parts, if eaten, can irritate the mouth and cause vomiting though not death. Plant species under the genera Jasminum and Datura are poisonous. I wouldn't try any of them just to confirm that they are indeed not edible or poisonous.

Click here to view list of selected crops with edible flowers

LITERATURE CITED

NEWMAN SE, O’CONNOR AS. 2012. Edible flowers. Retrieved Oct. 15, 2012 from http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07237.html.

WIKIPEDIA. 2012. Hops. Retrieved Oct. 16, 2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hops.

(Ben G. Bareja Oct. 2012)

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and should not be deemed to provide an expert advise, either express or implied, to consume or try any flower reported to be edible. This article is largely based on review of literature with the exception of those edible flowers which the author himself has had personal culinary experience.

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