Take time to smell (and taste) the roses

No time to pick up veggies for tonight’s dinner? Don’t worry, the roses in your garden may be just as healthy for you. According to researchers, decorative flowers such as roses or chrysanthemum are not only beautiful to look at, but they also have health and medical benefits for humans well. 

In last month’s Trends in Food Science and Technology (doi:10.1016/j.tifs.2011.04.0060), Jiri Mlcek and Otakar Rop from Tomas Bata University in the Czech Republic discuss the nutritional qualities of some edible flowers. Historically, flowers have been used for medicinal purposes; however, little information has been complied on the dietary benefits of consuming decorative flowers. 

Flowers are no more nutritious than plants; the proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and vitamins of edible flowers are similar to the composition of plant leaves. What’s important is the idea that edible flowers are additional sources of healthy foods. Flowers contain chemical compounds that have antioxidant effects and inhibit reactive oxygen species (ROS) from damaging DNA molecules, proteins and/or enzymes in the human body. For example flavonoids, a type of antioxidant, found in roses as well as chrysanthemums have been linked to antioxidant activities and inhibition of ROS. 

Marigolds are another type of edible flowers that are healthy for humans, particularly for improving eye health. Marigolds contain the carotenoid lutein, which are antioxidants that accumulate in the macula and help reduce the risk of macular degeneration by preventing oxidative damage. Furthermore, the concentration of lutein is not very high in staple foods in the human diet, so edible flowers could be valuable source of it.

Edible flowers are generally eaten whole, but they can be divided into three major parts which have different roles in human nutrition. The first is pollen and it usually has a nondistinctive taste. Even though it is a small amount, pollen is a rich source of proteins, amino acids, carbohydrates, carotenoids, and flavonoids. The second is nectar. It has a sweet taste and is a source of sugars (fructose, glucose, sucrose), organic acids, as well as proteins and amino acids. The third are petals/other flower parts. The taste can vary from sweet and aromatic to bitter, depending on the type of flower. They are sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. 

So not only are edible flowers beautiful to look at as garnishes on cakes and salads, they are also valuable sources of nutrition. But before you dig up your flower garden for dinner remember that flowers, just like vegetables, can absorb chemicals found in soil and may be affected by fertilizers, herbicides and other kinds of pesticides that are used.

Jiri Mlcek, & Otakar Rop (2011). Fresh edible flowers of ornamental plants–A new source of nutraceutical foods Trends in Food Science & Technology : 10.1016/j.tifs.2011.04.006

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