Top trend: cooking with flowers

With everything from tiny purple violets frozen into translucent lollipops and sugared rose petals peeking out of a ball of ice cream to bright pea flowers pressed into pancakes, floral food is a hot trend right now.

But, according to the Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine’s Grub Street, it’s not just cyberspace that’s coming up roses: flowers are one of the hottest trends in restaurants around the world.

International flower fans

René Redzepi of Noma – no. 1 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants – is famous for dishes like the edible flowerpot and his centrepiece of ‘twigs’ made from juniper-dusted malt flatbread and brilliant red blooms stuffed with snails. At Petersham Nurseries in the UK, salads and desserts are almost too pretty to eat, closer to contemporary flower arranging than hearty British fare.

It was Michel Bras, the three-Michelin starred Frenchman, who first started using flowers in his food in the nineties. Like one of those odd kids who wore skinny jeans before they were hip, the self-taught chef (trained by his Cordon Bleu-educated mother) began by exploring countryside of Laguoile and Aubrac, and naturally began experimenting with rose petals and elderflowers that the locals had used for centuries in jams and liqueurs.

Local flower fans

But what about closer to home? “It’s a huge trend,” acknowledges Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly, who’s noticed it in menus all over the country, whilst judging for our upcoming awards.

Chantal Dartnall, chef at The Restaurant Mosaic at the Orient in Pretoria, is one of the local chefs who first pioneered Michel Bras’s floral landscapes locally, producing perfect pretty plates with flowers. Her favourites? “I always enjoy working with the gardenia flowers, which make wonderful infused teas and sorbets.” She also uses day lilies in salads, and violets and geraniums to make floral-scented macaroons.

And Chantal is far from alone. At The Test Kitchen, the winter menu features duck with fresh and dried jasmine flowers; at Jordan Restaurant George Jardine serves up wild radish flowers tempura-style with miso, poached turnip and bone marrow; and you’ll spot blooms on your plate at Reuben’s, The Roundhouse, and Cube, too.

“Eating from the wild is part of our heritage in Africa,” says chef Kobus van der Merwe. “I grew up collecting periwinkels and mussels, and picking seaweed for making jelly.”

These days, Kobus uses his foraging knowledge to put together his local menus at Oep ve Koep in Paternoster on the West Coast. His favourite flowers? Wild parsley, wild radish, borage, bruinsalie (wild sage), buchu, oxalis and young veldkool flowers. (Check out the beautifully evocative photo diary on his blog, Sardines on Toast, to see how Kobus translates the floral paths, dunes and other West Coast scenery into dishes.)

In Durban, Gina and Graham Nielsen of 9th Avenue Bistro are also avid foragers, using flowers from the KZN midlands such as artemisia, wild dagga, elderflower and lavender. The kitchen even once hid a ring for a proposal inside a flower garnish for a customer planning a proposal.

The gardeners

While ‘foraging’ may have become the hip term of the noughties, the ascendancy of the restaurant vegetable garden is another trend that has helped flowers to find their way into food. Pierneef à La Motte and Delaire Graaff boast fabulous gardens, and Simone Rossouw of Babel is particularly spoilt with the spectacular garden at Babylonstoren. Rose petals are added to the restaurant’s beautiful salads, paired with pomegranate, and used in jellies and cordials; violets are crystallised for desserts or made into cordials for dressings sauces; and ice creams and are currently being trialled as base for mampoer (provided they can harvest enough of the miniature blooms).

“We use everything that is available from the garden,” says Mariana Esterhuizen of Mariana’s out in Stanford. Along with veggies, their organic garden supplies them with pea and broad bean blossoms, and when the rocket and coriander run to seed, these flowers are added to the salads.

So is this just a fad, or do flowers add flavour?

They can, says Abigail Donnelly, but she cautions against using flowers merely for decoration. Some flowers have their own incredible, surprising flavours – like pickled fennel flowers, which taste like liquorice. Borage has a lovely fresh flavour, like cucumber, while chickweed is lovely and fresh, a little like new garden peas. Others can be tasteless, bitter and strangely textured, and garish colours can also detract from a dish, rather than enhance it. “You don’t want to feel like a cow,” says Abigail, laughing about munching on overzealous garnishes.

The key, of course, is to treat flowers like any other ingredient. “Taste it to make sure the flavour is not too strong or overpowering, the stem not too hard, and that the texture is good. Then pair well,” advises Simone from Babel.

Keen to give it a bash at home? The simplest way is in salads: pelargoniums, malvas, nasturtiums, day lilies, wild garlic flowers and herb flowers such as basil, rosemary, mint, and borage flowers all add colour and flavour. In desserts, try crystallising rose petals and violets, or infusing syrups with your favourite flower and then using these to create ice creams, dressings and sauces. Take a leaf out of Mariana’s book and use hibiscus and day lilies to add eye-candy to cakes and tarts. Or try this savoury recipe for pan-fried courgette flowers with goat’s cheese stuffing.

“The most important thing is to harvest early in the morning,” advises Simone. (Aside from making sure the flower is edible, that is.) It’s also vital to wash any garden harvest thoroughly, and to steer clear of foraging in any areas where pesticide might have been used.

Get your bloom on at these restaurants that serve edible flowers:


Look out for pansies, dianthus and narsturtiums in the garnishes.

The Rambling Vine
Narsturtiums, cornflowers and other flowers from a local farm are frequently used in the garnishes.


Order dark chocolate délice infused with bergamot, and geranium-scented and violet-scented macaroons.

Durban and Natal Midlands

9th Avenue Bistro
The menu changes every three months, but dishes could include gorgonzola and artemisia fritters with balsamic baby onion salad, apple chutney and beetroot vinaigrette; wild dagga-smoked kudu with hummus, grilled pitas and roasted red pepper jam; and wild spearmint panna cotta with blackberry compote and lavender gelée.

Café Bloom
Michael Haigh uses violet flowers, violas, coriander flowers in his cooking.

Cape Town

Dear Me
Order the grilled ‘oceanwise’ cob with saffron risotto, poached fennel and pear, and pea flowers.

The Roundhouse
Cape May flower, lemon boegoe, rosemary and lavender flowers are used in the venison dish which is served with caramelised pear.


Babel and the Glasshouse at Babylonstoren
Look out for rose petal salad; violet cordial used in dressings, sauce, ice cream and cocktails; and pelargoniums, malvas and nasturtiums in salads at the Glasshouse.

Fyndraai Restaurant
Here they make use of indigenous herbs like spekboom, boegoe, wild rosemary and wild sage in a variety of vegetarian, meat, fish dishes and desserts.

Jordan Restaurant
Taste the likes of wood sorrel flowers with gammoned pork fillet; Riesling-poached pear charlotte and wood sorrel flowers; a warm salad of organic baby carrots and buffalo milk mozzarella, garnished with wild garlic flowers; and tempura wild radish flowers with miso-poached turnip and bone marrow.

Savour a palette of free-range chicken, nasturtium flower beignet, and barley and pea risotto.

Reuben’s (Franschhoek)
Narsturtiums (katterkies) are used in some of the starters and in the smoked salmon dish. Fine leaves of fennel, rocket, radish, mustard, sierangs and pak choi are used in a variety of the main course plates.


Oep ve Koep
Here you’ll find a range of West Coast eye candy. Currently there’s pea parfait with seasonal weeds, including edible wild radish and oxalis flowers.


The menu is constantly changing, but look out for hibiscus, day lily flowers and borage in summer salads and garnishing the cakes and tarts.

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