They’ve been tagged as one of this year’s hottest food trends and they’re popping up on plates everywhere. Edible flowers are one of the easiest ways to add a joyful burst of colour to any meal, whether you choose whole blossoms or individual petals.
Locally, we have a robust supply thanks to Corinne Mooney of Ottawa Edible Flowers. For the past six years, she’s been cultivating her passions for organic gardening, food and cocktails. As her flowerbeds were preparing to burst into bloom this spring, she shared her thoughts on why edible flowers are so versatile and appealing.
How did Ottawa Edible Flowers come to be? I had long wanted to live in the country and was ready for a change after working for the government. When I found this rural property on the water, I knew it was the perfect spot. Since launching Ottawa Edible Flowers, with my wonderful husband’s support I have been slowly expanding the business, adding more beds to the garden each year.
Why do you think edible flowers are becoming so popular? They can elevate even the humblest of meals into something elegant and I think people see them as an affordable luxury. They’re being featured on food shows like Chef’s Table and popping up all over Instagram. Most importantly, they are beautiful but also really accessible and easy to use.
What do you grow in your gardens? I grow about 45 different varieties of flowering plants each year, with an ever-changing mix thanks to trial and error. I focus on selecting plants which are not a tremendous struggle to grow and which provide enough blooms to make them commercially viable. Among my favourites are violets, pansies, forsythia, lavender, lilac, bachelor’s buttons, columbine, dianthus, primula and begonias, to name just a few.
Who are your customers? Edible flowers are really popular with restaurants, hotels and caterers, as well as wedding and event venues. I also have many home cooks who appreciate the ability to add something truly beautiful to their plates. Thanks to word-of-mouth and my website (ottawa-edible-flowers.myshopify.com), I’m now shipping fresh flowers regularly from late April to early October, and my crystallized flowers, petals and leaves ship worldwide year round! I’m currently exploring several retail options in Ottawa as well.
Are there any flowers that are especially popular? I have a huge range of colours and blossoms, from large tulip petals to micro-sized whole flowers. Some people are happy to get an assortment of fresh mixed petals while others are more selective. Restaurants often want as much of one particular flower as they can get and some enjoy more savoury options like allium, chives or carrot blossoms. My restaurant customers often look for specific colours in season; blue and black are the most requested. Chefs usually have a vision and want the flowers to complement but not overwhelm their dish.
Are there any rules to follow when using edible flowers? You really can’t go wrong as most flowers are either almost flavourless or have a very faint floral flavour. Just be mindful when adding flowers to desserts. For example, oniony allium or peppery nasturtium are not great choices for sweet dishes, but delicate little pansies that taste like wintergreen are ideal.
What do you enjoy about your work? I just love being outdoors, working in the soil with the bees, butterflies and frogs for company. It is tremendously satisfying to watch chefs and home cooks incorporating my flowers into creative plating and I feel like my little business really does help make people feel happy.
How can people learn more about adding edible flowers to their plates? I have developed a food pairing tool on my website that is useful for guiding selection in terms of what’s in season as well as by colour, flavour and size of petals. There are also great ideas on Pinterest and Instagram that can be very inspiring. I encourage people to play around with adding them to cocktails, salads and cheese or charcuterie boards. Even just a few petals can dramatically enhance the appearance of any dish.