Text and photography by Elodie Bellegarde
Edible herbs and flowers. Not only do they smell and taste wonderfully delicious but also give any naturally lit kitchen counter or window ledge a touch of green and sense of pride to most cooks. A sprinkle over a curry or a few threads infused in milk can elevate a dish to something a little more special. Think lavender lemonade, rosemary cake or French rose tea. A small handful of rose petals left untouched in a pot of sugar makes the perfect sprinkle over a yellow fruit tart. A few dried orange blossoms flowers thrown in a bottle of vodka to marinade for a couple of weeks add a superb aroma to a cocktail or even a plain sponge cake. Whether used in savoury or sweet dishes and drinks, edible herbs and flowers have become a staple in my little kitchen.
The best edible flowers are those freshly picked in the morning and savoured on the very same day. Of the numerous varieties of culinary herbs and flowers, not all can be consumed carelessly and in profusion. The likes of apple flowers and marigolds are for instance best consumed in moderation due to potential harmful side effects, while most flowers sprayed with pesticides or toxic substances should be avoided. Flowers and herbs grown under organic or biodynamic standards are recommended, whenever possible.
The world of edible flowers and herbs is wide and diverse, and Chinese medicines along with many cuisines from across all continents have known how to make the best use out of their leaves, petals, seeds and buds. We are all familiar with jasmine tea, a popular drink in China, while the French are famous for turning violets into sugary treats and syrup. Roses are reminiscent of the beautifully green and wet English countryside whilst saffron (from the stigmas of Crocus sativus) is an iconic flavour of Middle Eastern cuisines that is praised around the world. Other less celebrated or widespread types are nonetheless in their own ways as incredibly flavoursome and aesthetically pleasing as the ones we are used to in Asia. Sumac and salad burnet (also called garden burnet) come to mind. The perhaps even less known bee balm (or monarda) originally used by Native Americans for its medicinal properties is often used in herbal teas and seasoning. Culinary herbs and flowers have a place in every meal from starter to finish.
Read more in The U Press N˚11 (Singapore edition).