The beauty of home gardens is that they are always blooming, and are filled with all sorts of excellent produce. Taking kitchen gardening to another level, several home gardeners have taken to growing small herbs and flowers. Prominent chefs across India, and across the world have taken to using some of nature’s best gifts in their dishes—flowers!
Of course, flowers have been known to be featured in dishes across India, whether it is the famous gulab jamun, or even banana blossom (vazhaipoo) curry. Flowers have been used in food for ages, and for good reason.
Here are ten flowers that can spruce up any dish.
Marigolds are typically used as a pest repellant. However, the flowers can also be used in food! Their distinct earthy, yet slightly bitter flavour lends itself to many dishes. The vinegar made out of marigold is also used as a salad dressing, for its distinct flavours and its vibrant colour! It also makes for a wonderful, soothing tea. The petals simply need to be dried and steeped in boiling water for a hot drink.
2. Banana Blossoms
Popular in Kerala, where it is known as vazhaipoo, the banana blossom’s flavour is a milder version of a banana. It is rich in iron and fibre and is useful for building immunity against bacterial infections.
It is extensively used in Malabar cuisine, where it is fried in coconut oil, along with spices. While cleaning the banana blossoms can be slightly cumbersome—each blossom needs to be peeled and separated—the dish makes for an incredibly healthy and tasty meal!
3. Moringa Flowers
Moringa, or drumstick, is a popular vegetable in South India, where it frequently makes an appearance in sambar. However, few know that the moringa flower, too, is packed full of flavours and is perfect for cooking!
The flowers can be steeped in boiling water for a calming tea, blended into a mild chutney, or can even be fried in oil for a crispy snack. The flowers are rich in potassium and calcium and have been known as an effective cure for muscle spasms and tension.
4. Mint Flowers
Many times, growers of mint find that their plant is flowering, but have no idea what to do with the flowers, or if they can be put to use. All flowers from the mint family are edible, and they have a taste similar to the more popularly used leaves. Since the flowers themselves have a slight minty flavour, they lend themselves to desserts, such as custards, as a garnish for drinks like iced tea or lemonade, and can also be paired off with other vegetables!
Whether it is to ease fatigue, depression, or even to improve digestion, the benefits of the mint flower are endless, and can add a little spice to any food item!
The most commonly used chamomile flower is often nicknamed “Water of Youth,” and for a good reason! Its delicate flowers, when dried, can be infused into boiling water for a soothing tea.
In fact, research has been undertaken to understand exactly how chamomile aids in fighting anxiety, and in many parts of the world, it is used for its medicinal properties. Chamomile flowers have a distinct herbal flavour, which does wonders for the common cold.
This flower needs no introduction. In India, the ‘gulab’ is used as a common flavouring in several desserts, and rosewater syrup is a necessary component of the sweet, gulab jamun. The petals themselves, carry a palpable floral sweetness and is also used across the Middle East.
While the fruits of the rose plants, known as rose hips have been made into jams and marmalades, the extract from the petals is often used in syrups. The Indian classic, Rooh Afza sharbat also uses an extract of rose as a flavouring. A great source of Vitamin C, the petals can even be dried and combined with other herbs for a refreshing sweet tea.
7. Papaya Blossom
It is well known that papaya leaves and the fruit itself are edible, but did you know that the entire plant has its own benefit—even the flowers? Rich in antioxidants and vitamins A,C, and E, the flower has several health benefits including lowering cholesterol, improving appetite, and treating diabetes.
The miniature white flowers are slightly bitter to taste, but can be squeezed with salt and washed under water in order to reduce the intensity of flavour, and used alongside common vegetables for a tasty dish!
A fragrant flower, lavender is mostly known for its oil, which can be used for baths as an antiseptic and for its anti-inflammatory properties. However, a certain lavender, known as the English lavender can be used for culinary purposes as well. It is generally considered part of a family of herbs along with thyme and rosemary. The drier the buds, the more potent the flavour, and therefore, chefs recommend using it sparingly to amplify the dish.
Lavender is also a great addition to honey, adding floral undertones to the sweetness. It is a flower which provides relaxation, aids sleep problems, and helps in cultivating good skin and hair.
These bright yellow flowers are a must in the kitchen. Not only do they add a vibrancy to the dish as a garnish, but also are full of flavour. It is often surprising that such a delicate flower can have a dominant peppery taste. Yet, that is precisely what nasturtium adds to a dish! It is recommended that the flowers be harvested in the early mornings, as the more heat is exposed to the plant the more pungent the flowers become.
Chefs across the world have used them in stir fries, stuffed the flowers, and have even pickled the buds. Of course, it can also be used as is, and are a rich source of Vitamin C and iron.
10. Toothache Plant
Also called the electric daisy, ting flowers, and buzz buttons, the toothache plant is an exciting addition to any dish. Break off a part of the flower and put it in your mouth, but with caution! Because once the bud touches your tongue, it sets off an electric tingling flavour.
Since it causes salivation and creates a numbing sensation after it is eaten on the tongue, it is often used as a palate cleanser, and as another dimension to drinks! The toothache plant isn’t without its benefits though. As its name suggests, it was once used as a cure for toothaches and to aid digestion.
Try these flowers next time you cook, to not only add a gourmet flair to your dishes but also to pack a nutritious punch. After all, a natural touch can only do wonders for food!
If you would like the know how to grow your very own herb garden, you can read more here.