Get a whiff of this news: Some flowers not only smell great and are beautiful to look at, but are beneficial to eat as well, because they contain health-promoting phytochemicals according to new research. Discover which flowers were considered the healthiest and some great recipes featuring them.
A recent study published in the Journal of Food Science found that 10 edible flowers that are commonly used in Chinese cooking to garnish, season, and flavor dishes may possess some very potent health benefits due to their phenolic content and high antioxidant levels. Phenolic compounds, which are also called phenols, are anti-inflammatory in nature and have been associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers and heart disease according to this press release about the study. Antioxidants are substances that help prevent free radicals from wreaking havoc on your cells, so they have anti-aging benefits and also the potential to prevent disease from happening in the first place.
According to the study, tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) and honeysuckle (Flos lonicerae) had the highest total phenolic content, including major phenolic compounds, such as gallic acid, chlorogenic acid, and rutin. With regard to antioxidant activity, tree peony and roses (Rosa chinensis) ranked highest.
So, this study definitely makes it very clear that using using edible flowers in your cooking, especially tree peony, honeysuckle, and rose, is a great way to enhance your health and prevent chronic disease, because of the anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and antioxidant properties of the flowers.
I didn’t find these results surprising considering that many other plant-based foods, such as herbs, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, contain antioxidants and phenolic compounds. For example, red grapes contain the antioxidant resveratrol and olives are high in phenolics, which in part explains the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
So, this study underscores the importance of eating plant-based foods as a part of a healthy diet. Plus, now you can tell your kids to not forget to eat their fruits, veggies — and flowers!
What kinds of flowers are used in Chinese cooking?
Because the study abstract only mentioned 3 of the 10 flowers tested, I decided to do a little research and found this interesting article by Marry Bai published on the China International Travel Service website. It talks about the history of using flowers in Chinese cuisine — something that has been done for nearly 2000 years — and also highlights the individual health benefits and cooking uses of these particular flowers:
- Peach blossoms
- Osmanthus flowers
- Sophora flowers
It’s quite fascinating the number of ways these flowers are used. Bai points out how they are used to make candy, desserts, soups, teas, and drinks, and added to dishes by salting, boiling, and sautéing them. For example, sophora flowers may be sautéed with eggs for what sounds like a super elegant and delicious way to enjoy them.
Are there some good Chinese recipes using these flowers?
To get started with using edible flowers in your Chinese cooking, here are a few tasty recipes I found online:
- Cooking with Flowers for Health
- 3 Edible Flower Recipes to Boost Your Heatlh – TCM
- Egg Fu Young (Peony Flower Eggs)
- Honeysuckle and Jasmine Jelly for Sore Throats
- Szechwan Hot and Sour Soup Recipe with Tiger Lilly Buds
I haven’t had the opportunity to try them yet, so please let me know if you get a chance to and how they turn out. Also, if you have any favorite Chinese recipes using flowers or any experiences eating dishes made with flowers, please share them by leaving a comment.
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Copyright © Karen Peltier and Well Gal, 2014 – 2015. All rights reserved.
We have been drinking hibiscus tea for quite some time and it is quite a fad in the west but did know that so many different flowers are consumed in the Chinese dishes and are so good for our health.
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There are some highly scented flowers in your list. It would be interesting to see how much their flavor alters a dish. I used to grow nasturtiums and would add the flowers to salads. The kids thought that was fun.
I grow hibiscus, jasmine and roses now but there are so many varieties I am not sure that I want to try them in case they are the wrong variety. I don’t mind trying the right sort.
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Hello Sue. Thanks for your comment. Knowing the exact plants you have in your yard is definitely important. There are many kinds of hibiscus as you said. This website has a lot of good information on hibiscus plants and many useful links to conduct further research: http://www.hibiscus.org/toeat.php. One of the resources it mentions is Plants for a Future, which has a chart listing some varieties of hibiscus along with an edibility rating and even a medicinal rating. You can also look up the ratings of other kinds of plants. Here’s the link: http://www.pfaf.org/user/DatabaseSearhResult.aspx.
With regard to roses, I’ve never smelled a fragrant rose that wouldn’t also taste good! My advice would be to not eat roses from a florist because you most likely don’t know if they had been sprayed with fungicides, pesticides, or herbicides. Likewise, I wouldn’t eat garden roses if they had been sprayed. Other than that, from my understanding, all roses are edible.
Jasmine is a lot trickier as there are many plant varieties that have the name jasmine in them, but aren’t true jasmine. So I would definitely want to know the kind I have before attempting to eat it. According to a edible flower chart on the Home Cooking site on About.com (http://homecooking.about.com/library/weekly/blflowers.htm), the kind that is edible is Arabian Jasmine, which goes by the botanical name Jasminum sambac. Other varieties may be edible, too, which is when a book — or a botanist — would come in handy.
I hope this helps you get started on the path to enjoying more flowers in your cooking!
Thank you so much for taking the time to give such a comprehensive answer. I will take a look at the resources you mention and learn which of my garden flowers are safe to eat.
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