At this time of year, I enjoy seeing the resurgence of the many perennial flowers we first planted years ago in our garden. I even enjoy the reappearance of dandelions, deemed “weeds” by many people these days.
However, dandelions are just like many other types of flowers and have a long history of use in both cooking and medicine. So, today, let’s take some time to discuss the many uses and health benefits of edible flowers…
Healing and culinary benefits of flowers through the ages
Humans have been enjoying edible flowers in their cooking…and in their medicine…for thousands of years.
In fact, the Chinese have utilized flowers in cooking and medicine since at least 3,000 B.C. Dried lily buds, which are the unopened flowers of the daylily plant (Hemerocallis fulva), are still enjoyed in dishes like moo shoo pork, stir fries, and hot and sour soup. And in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), they’re used to help with insomnia, anxiety, and coughs.
Likewise, ancient Romans used the blossoms of lavender, roses, and violets in both their cooking and as home remedies. And Native Americans used the large blossoms of pumpkin and squash, which enhances immunity and helps with infertility.
About 20 years ago, U.S. scientists even began to take note of a traditional Chinese herbal preparation called PC-SPES, which has long been used to treat prostate cancer. Among other ingredients, PC-SPES contains chrysanthemum flower extract, which was known to have potent antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.
At one point, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the federal agency charged with researching natural treatments, even began to look into PC-SPES. But, as usual, they completely fumbled the ball.
They didn’t check the purity of the PC-SPES formulation they used, which is the most basic requirement for any research into a drug or natural supplement. And it turns out, the ingredients for the PC-SPES formulation they used were contaminated with prescription drugs. So, the whole project was useless.
But nobody at NIH was held accountable for this mess. And the failed research bureaucrat in charge of this disaster died (ironically, of cancer) while still holding his government position.
Healing flowers growing right in your own backyard
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for the NIH to get back around to studying chrysanthemums or other medicinal flowers. You can grow them and enjoy them on your own.
Simply gather the blossoms early in the morning, before the flowers open. Then, you can eat them fresh, fried, or added to soups and stews. Or, you can dry and store them for winter, as the Chinese and Native Americans did.
Just make sure to avoid consuming flowers from florists, garden centers, and nurseries—since they’re typically treated with pesticides and not labeled for food use.
In addition, only certain types of flowers are safe for consumption. So, be sure to check out the March 2020 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter to learn more about six safe-to-enjoy flowers, their medicinal uses, and how to prepare/consume them (“Six flowers that can combat everything from obesity to anxiety”). If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.
“What Nutritional Contribution Do Edible Flowers Make?” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2015; 115(5): 856. doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.03.002
“What Are Dried Lily Buds?” Spruce Eats, 1/21/20. (thespruceeats.com/dried-lily-buds-695013)