My wife gave me the nickname “man who fancies flowers” or “the girl-like man” as I picnic to enjoy the beauty of spring flowers going on the hill and up to the mountains. Being a major in biology, I loved flowers so much that I applied for a gardener of the Buckingham Palace when I used to live in Britain in my early 20s. However, I was not given any chance probably because I was a foreigner. To make a living, I had no option but to work as a dish-boy at a hotel, which later turned out to be my first step toward becoming a chef.
Back in 1980, I bumped into two lamas eating red-colored gladioli scattered in the valleys around Machu Picchu, Peru. It was interesting that they only cherrypicked blossoms. Out of curiosity, I tried some but it did not taste anything. When I picked up the blossoms of hibiscus in my childhood, it tasted sweet. I remember sucking them so hard that I ended up feeling hungry. Hibiscus can be found everywhere along the street of Okinawa. You can purchase dried hibiscus and enjoy the sour and sweet tea with some ice, which is widely popular as an antioxidant.
When I worked at a French restaurant in New York, the owner once gave me some lavender from his hometown, Provence, which he recommended using for cooking. Lavender is grain-shaped and purple with deep scent. I boiled whipped cream and mixed it with lavender so that the scent dissipated. Then, I put some honey to make ice cream with syrup-soaked and dried lavender buds on it.
American botanist Luther Burbank once said that flowers move the hearts of people and make them happy, adding that they are not only something to appreciate but also something that heals our soul in the form of food and medicine. Given it became a regular menu, the guests who tried the menu must have felt the same way as the botanist said.
In the 1992 Mexican film “Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water For Chocolate),” Tita serves a quail with the sauce of ground rose leaves for his love Pedro. In the scene, with the recipe boosting energy and stamina, the food stimulates and excites everyone around the table.
Edible flowers date back to the year 140 B.C. Rosewater- and orange flower-based fragrances are popular in homes in Middle East. Saffron, which is dried stamens of crocus used for food, and Hop, the main ingredient of beer, are also types of edible flowers. So are broccoli and cauliflowers, widely enjoyed in Korea.
I am occupied with taking care of my plants and flowers around this time every year. I grow edible flowers and flavored herbs. Despite its beautiful charms, nasturtium tastes spicy unexpectedly. Its flowers and leaves are used for salad. I also use pumpkins, but prefer pumpkin flowers to the pulp. I fry them with fillings in Italian style or add them to salad.
Since the turn of the 20th century, edible flowers have been affected by the wide use of agricultural pesticides. Organically grown edible flowers cost you a lot at high-end restaurants, but you can grow them on your own. I recommend growing some flowers to eat even at a small pot. Chewing and drinking them can give you a full feeling of pleasure.