Flower power in food 

A dish at Hunters, decorated with edible blossoms.
Published: June 22nd, 2022

Flower power in food all the rage

The Garden Route – and especially the hip and happening Plettenberg Bay – is very much “on the ball” when it comes to keeping up with the Joneses. So, when it comes to the growing fashion of adding flowers to food, local restaurants and vineyards are excelling themselves.

A wine and food pairing/tasting at Luka Vineyards in Plettenberg Bay is a splendid example of how flowers enhance all dishes. Owner Laura Harvey uses organic vegetables, salad leaves and herbs, fresh from the garden. However, she also gets the very important edible flowers from neighbouring farmer, Elrie Bosman.

Luka’s Chef Richie, as he is known, plates his treats with viola, borage flowers, pineapple sage, dianthus, marigold, dahlia, pak choi and thyme as well as a host of flowers from herbs. Richie uses the blooms for aesthetic purposes, but also for their distinctive tastes. “Flowers have different flavours and should always compliment the food,” says Richie.

Do diners actually eat them? Richie says everybody enjoys the visual display, diners will certainly smell them – and some folk taste them!

Louis Jansen, head chef of the five-star Hunter Hotels in Plettenberg Bay, loves using flowers in his delectable concoctions, and he sources his blossoms from local shops like Woolies and Food Lovers, among other retail outlets, which now sell edible bouquets – so popular has this trend become.

Jansen says, “flowers add that elegant touch and enhance taste.” His favourites are the bright blue cornflowers – they also come in such beautiful hues, that using them spruces up any dish, he says. Honeybush, which grows on the estate, brings a tang of sweetness to many dishes, bright purple geranium flowers liven up a plate. “And one I use a lot is the flower from wild garlic. It’s a pretty little white flower with quite a potent taste so I usually combine it with recipes that have cumin in them – and it goes beautifully with mushrooms too,” says Jansen.

Although flowers in food is now all the rage, this practice goes back thousands of years. Chinese cooks were experimenting with edible flowers as far back as 3 000 BC while the ancient Romans used violets and roses in their food as well as lavender in sauces.

Testament to the growing demand for edible flowers is the story of Khiza Farm. Anthony Rau and his partner Herman Bosman gave up their corporate jobs and swapped the city for their Rheenendal farm. Khiza (meaning soft drizzle in isiZulu) grows vegetables and herbs for the region, but also more than half of their farming now is invested in flowers, edible and ornamental.

Their edible flowers go to supermarkets on the Garden Route and they have a stall at the Sedgefield Wild Oats Market. Rau says what they call their cottage garden flowers are very popular with locals, as they are packaged in edible bouquets. From fynbos flowers to Sunflowers, they grow the whole gambit of flowers. Rau says a fabulous array of flowers come from herb and vegetable plants. Who would have known that lettuce produces a very dainty flower as do the blossoms on herbs from Rosemary to Sage and the rest of the herb family.

Khiza grows a huge variety of edible flowers from Calendula, to Dianthus and the stunning blue Cornflowers. Rau says that now, more than ever, it is fashionable to use flowers to decorate confectionery like wedding cakes.

Future plans for Khiza will be to open up to the public and have a pick-your-own flower day. Rau also plans to open a stall on the farm selling flowers, vegetables and herbs.

Now that the flowers on food are de rigueur there is every reason for us all to use them, so here is the lowdown on what you can eat straight from your garden.

Roses are one of the well-known edible chaps. Add the petals to tea or jams or add generous handfuls to make a cake look stunning. Most of us know about the cheerful little Marigolds which keep pests away in a veggie garden, but which also offers a bitter-sweet taste in food.

Anise Hyssop are delicate little flowers with a kind of licorice- flavour so they can be sprinkled on ice-cream and desserts or in a salad. A Zucchini blossom in all its yellow splendour goes with most things. The Butterfly Pea is a vibrant purple colour, which can be used as a dye (put it in icing) or boil it to get a purple liquid, which is ideal for infusing cakes or teas, instead of artificial food colouring.

Violets in white and purple are historically placed in and around desserts.  A Pansy isn’t just a happy little flower in the garden, it can be popped into all sorts of dishes. Dahlia, Hibiscus, Honeysuckle, Magnolia and Nasturtium can be eaten. Camellia is used as a garnish or dried and used in Asian cuisine.

For those who are not seasoned gardeners, refer to Thompson and Morgan who call themselves experts in the garden since 1855.

They list the edible flowers, but also those which are poisonous. 

Daffodils, Poppy, Foxglove, Oleander (one of the most toxic plants), Clematis, Bluebell, Rhododendrom, Larksupr and Hydrangea are dangerous.

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