The flowers are designed to attract attention. Its attractiveness has a main objective, —without which we would not be here—: to be pollinated. Grow, multiply and maintain ecosystems. Over time, however, flowers have been given other uses, more linked to their beauty and symbolism: they are cultivated, given as gifts, they decorate spaces and, to a lesser extent, they are eaten and drunk.
The latter is told by Monica Nelson in Edible Flowers: How, Why, and When We Eat Flowers (edible flowers, how, why and when we eat flowers), a book by the Monacelli publishing house that compiles more than one hundred flowers in strict alphabetical order to eat. Nelson's texts are complemented by the attractive images of Adrianna Glaviano, a photographer specializing in gastronomy and lifestyle.
The work of both achieves that carnations and marigolds float suspended in the sky and we focus on the beauty of the humblest flowers. Like the elderflower that, according to Nelson, already had medicinal uses in the Middle Ages and, at the same time, protected against evil spirits. Very North European, its flowers flavor teas and waters, but they are also fried with a little butter, becoming a unique snack.
Or pansies: a sign of love in the Victorian era that today has become one of the most common edible flowers; although perhaps not the level of cauliflower and artichoke which, yes, are also flowers, and very succulent. The nutritional value of pansies is more discreet: their colored petals add flavor and garnish salads and cakes. Like the ones made by the Argentine pastry chef Chula Gálvez, which she has given a twist to her cakes and cookies by adding flowers. These ingredients vary depending on the season: orange marigolds in the fall, violas and blue pansies in the summer, and red roses for the summer.
These flowers have also been consumed for centuries. In the Middle Ages, the flavor of roses ("sweet and fruity, similar to that of strawberries or green apples," Nelson describes), flavored meat and poultry. In Renaissance Italy they were a prized ingredient, as well as in India and the Middle East. Without forgetting that they were also the basis of the sweetest Turkish delight, still very popular today.
The sunflower, that flower as beautiful as it is rare, and it also appears in the book. Its seeds (the pipes) are well known, but the flower is also eaten whole: at the vegan restaurant Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan —considered one of the 50 best in the world—, it is served stewed. The most prestigious chefs have been incorporating flowers into their dishes for some time: in Mexico, Quintonil, also among the 50 best, sprinkles its tasting menu with flowers.
Some of these sophisticated recipes can be found in the book: such as pasta dough, yogurt with lilac, rose jelly, fennel cakes and marigold bread.