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Flowers aren’t always just something pretty to look at and smell good. They can taste good, too. That profusion of color and fragrance is wonderful in our living spaces, but just think of the culinary value they have. Some edible flowers can be used in soups, casseroles, salads, roasts, desserts, jellies and cold drinks. Some well-known flowers that we all know about are chives and mustard blooms.
The recommendation is to trim away the white base of flower petals that can be bitter, however the entire Johnny-jump- ups, honeysuckle, violets and clover can be consumed. If you like lettuce, the gladiolus flowers taste a little like this and can be used in salads. The hibiscus has a citrus-like cranberry essence that is good for salads or can be dried for making tea. Besides being used by bees to make honey, tulips, roses and dahlias are gaining popularity in the kitchen. Over the last 100 years they have been popular in ancient Roman, Middle Eastern and Chinese cultures. Romans used roses for creamy puree dishes but they are traditionally known now as an ornamental flower.
Some flowers and their flavors are as follows:
· Marigolds can be spicy, bitter, tangy or peppery
· Pansy petals impart a vaguely sweet, grassy essence and introduces a wintergreen flavor
· Queen Anne’s Lace has a flavor similar to carrots and lovely in soups
· Clover has a sweet, anise-like taste
· Dame’s Rocket has lavender and purple flowers and related to mustard plants
· Begonia leaves impart a sour citrusy flavor
· Day Lilies have a flavor between sweet lettuce or melon and asparagus
· Bachelor Buttons have a sweet, clove-like essence
· Carnations are sweet and work well added to desserts or as a garnish
· Honeysuckle has a sweet, honey flavor, but don’t eat the toxic leaves
· Chrysanthemums have a faint spicy flavor like cauliflower
A study that tested 12 flower species found antioxidants, phenolic and flavonoids, with mineral content found in the chrysanthemum, dianthus and viola, with high amounts of potassium. The Polytechnic Institute of Braganca in Portugal examined the nutritional aspects of flowers that were already known in the scientific world as having carotenoid content. Marigolds had the highest concentration of polyunsaturated fats like linolenic acid and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E). Rose contained the highest amounts of total proteins and organic acid while centaurea had the lowest percentage of saturated fats.
Flowers that we know as vegetables are artichokes, broccoli and cauliflower. The flowers of most vegetables and herbs are edible, but be sure to do your research first for any exceptions to the rule. Not all flowers are edible and may cause headaches, rashes, nausea or worse. Some of these to avoid are Lily of the Valley, Monkshood, Ageratina altissima, Foxgloves and Autumn crocus.
Use flowers in your culinary endeavors but keep the dish simple and never use flowers you find on the side of the road. Use only those flowers you can positively identify and be sure to shake all insects, then clean thoroughly in water before using.
–Dr Fredda Branyon