If you follow health and wellness trends at all, you might have noticed a recent spike in the number of practitioners touting the mental and physical benefits of flower-infused foods, beverages, and dietary supplements. “Our interest in our health has increased our curiosity to explore different types of food-like substances,” Samira Jones, PhD, MPH, RD, a registered dietitian and the owner of Sunshine Nutrition 4 Health Enterprises, tells TZR of this phenomenon. Unlike many other buzzy wellness trends (here’s looking at you collagen), however, science supports the basic claim that consuming certain edible flowers can actually lead to tangible results.
By and large, flowers owe their superfood status to their complex, individualized chemical profiles. “Flowers are naturally rich in phytochemicals, bioactive nutrients which can have positive health benefits,” Maria Uspenski, the founder of loose-leaf tea retailer The Tea Spot, tells TZR. What’s more, chances are some of these edible florals are sprouting right in your own backyard.
Studies suggest that species as common as roses and dandelions can promote better eyesight, enhance brain function, and protect organs such as the liver, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed scholarly journal Frontiers in Plant Science earlier this year. In this review, the authors concluded, “Integrating them into a daily or periodic diet can help prevent generalized … and/or specific pathologies.” Translation: Eating certain edible flowers either regularly or occasionally can help stave off disease. (When contacted by TZR for comment, corresponding author Stefano Benvenuti, a researcher in the department of agricultural, food, and agro-environmental sciences at the University of Pisa in Italy, said, “Unfortunately, my English is not sufficient to be able to carry out an interview.”)
In addition to researchers like Benvenuti, dietitians and nutritionists sing the praises of floral foods. “Many Americans are increasingly turning to holistic regimens for health problems instead of only relying on prescription medications. These include, but are not limited to, teas, supplements, and other nutritional products,” Divya L. Selvakumar, PhD, RD, a registered dietitian and nutrition specialist and the founder and CEO of Divine Diets, LLC, tells TZR.
Ahead, the florals that are blooming in abundance in the health world. Take notes, as their benefits could make them a perfect fit for your wellness routine.
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While they’re best known for symbolizing romantic interest and affection, roses can also reduce inflammation, relieve menstruation-associated pain, and iron out wrinkles in the digestive process, Selvakumar says. One particularly well-known rose-infused beverage is the aptly named rose milk, a frothy pink confection that wouldn’t look out of place in a lifestyle influencer’s Instagram grid. “Rose milk … is definitely one of my absolute favorites,” Uspenski says. “It’s awesome … with a little honey added.”
Like roses, dandelions can facilitate digestion, according to Selvakumar. Furthermore, they can reduce bad cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure as well as promote weight loss, she says. Finally, they can also nourish “good” gut bacteria and may even improve pancreas health, Andrea Arikawa, PhD, MPH, RD, LD/N, an associate professor of nutrition and dietetics and the co-director of the clinical nutrition doctoral program at the University of North Florida, tells TZR.
Elaborating on their benefits, Uspenski notes that dandelions belong to a class of non-toxic plants called adaptogens. For those not in the know, adaptogens help the body adapt to or resist the effects of stress on the body (although they are not a cure for it). While dandelions are edible from top to bottom, some components taste better than others. For this reason, their roots are more commonly subjected to the brewing process than their petals and leaves, Uspenski says.
Jasmine flowers have what Uspenski describes as “stimulating and arousing” effects when an essential oil derived from their petals is used to scent tea. Consequently, the shrub can reduce anxiety, boost concentration, and serve as an antidepressant, Uspenski says. Jasmine can also treat diarrhea and relieve abdominal discomfort as well as all-around aches and pains, Selvakumar says.
The most popular ingredient in floral teas nationwide, according to Uspenski, hibiscus is highly recommended for people who have pre-diabetes and are at risk of developing type II diabetes as a result. “Its antiseptic qualities have brought this herbal tea into use as a folk remedy for leveling blood sugar and blood pressure levels,” Uspenski says.
In addition, hibiscus, like roses and chamomile, can prevent inflammation and infection, Jones says. “These flowers … actually reduce the production of apoptosis-related proteins,” or proteins that promote cell death, she says. Plus, hibiscus “enhances skin and hair health,” Selvakumar says.
It’s not the active ingredient in all those sleepy-time teas your college cafeteria stocked in bulk for nothing. Chamomile has calming, relaxing, and antispasmodic properties, according to Uspenski. Medical practitioners have been aware of its salutary abilities for centuries. “There are hieroglyphs of the chamomile flower dating back to 1550 BCE in Egypt,” Uspenski says. Thanks to its soothing effects, women have historically turned to chamomile to alleviate painful menstrual cramps, Selvakumar says, but the plant can also treat other common gastrointestinal complaints and conditions. Generally speaking, it “protects the stomach,” Arikawa says.
Warning: Not All Flowers Are Edible
Before you start sampling local flora willy-nilly you should be aware that not all of the estimated 400,000-plus plants in existence are fit for consumption. Some flowers, like nightshade and water hemlock, can cause severe illness or even death if eaten. (In the 1999 bildungsroman White Oleander, for example, the protagonist’s mother uses the titular shrub to poison her erstwhile boyfriend.)
While you can ingest edible flowers and the phytochemicals therein in a number of ways (some, like lavender, you can even eat straight, according to Uspenski), Arikawa has a preferred method. “In my opinion, the best way to consume edible flowers is through tea,” she says. By comparison, she declines to recommend dietary supplements “just because there is little research available in humans related to their effectiveness,” she says. Jones herself drinks floral tea regularly and reports that she feels perceptibly better when she does. “I notice more alertness and improvement in my performance and energy and that sort of thing just in general when I'm consuming them versus not consuming them,” she says.
Naturally, that anecdote raises the question of how much tea you have to down in order to feel the effects. Cautioning that relevant studies are scarce, Uspenski says that one conducted by Taiwanese researchers concluded that drinking between 30 and 40 ounces (roughly five cups) of lavender tea a day was maximally beneficial for postpartum women. That said, as she points out, the old adage “Everything in moderation” itself suggests reasonable parameters. If you’re planning to DIY the beverage, make sure to purchase flowers from reputable sources to avoid inadvertently sipping pesticides, fungicides, and other potentially harmful chemical compounds.
Benvenuti, S., and Mazzoncini, M. (2021, February 22).The biodiversity of edible flowers: Discovering new tastes and new health benefits. Frontiers in Plant Science. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2020.569499
Warren, J. (2016, January 15). Why do we consume only a tiny fraction of the world's edible plants? World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/why-do-we-consume-only-a-tiny-fraction-of-the-world-s-edible-plants
Aggie Horticulture. Common poisonous plants and plant parts. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/landscape/poisonous-plants-resources/common-poisonous-plants-and-plant-parts/
Guiné, R.P.F., et al. (2020, July 23). Edible flowers, old tradition or new gastronomic trend: A first look at consumption in Portugal versus Costa Rica. Foods. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods9080977
Chen, S.L., and Chen, C.H. (2015, November 2). Effects of lavender tea on fatigue, depression, and maternal-infant attachment in sleep-disturbed postnatal women. Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing. https://doi.org/10.1111/wvn.12122