Edible flowers bloom in the Scenic Rim
If it’s eye candy on Instagram, it’s sure to be a success. In recent years, edible flowers have hit the mainstream, as stunning cake decorations, adorning chocolates and as pops of pretty colour on high-end restaurant dishes around the world. But these beautiful blooms can be more than just unique ornaments that happen to be safe to eat.
There are countless flowers that are safe for human consumption. Many of them also offer health benefits. Hibiscus may help to reduce blood pressure. Nasturtiums have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Purslane is also rich in antioxidants and contains more omega-3s than any other leafy green vegetable. Chamomile can make the perfect soothing cup of tea to help you sleep. Our own native lemon myrtle is rich in calcium, antioxidants, lutein, vitamin E, zinc and magnesium. It also has antifungal and antimicrobial properties.
But while edible flowers certainly can be nutritional superstars, it’s their visual appeal that really catapults these blooms into the spotlight. Former photojournalist Simone Jelley saw the possibilities that edible flowers could offer, and began producing them at her farm on Macleay Island in Queensland after she was made redundant from her job in 2013.
“I love shooting food, and I love shooting nature,” she says. “I recognised back then that edible flowers were going to be a thing. And when I was made redundant, my husband suggested I take six months off and start gardening. The two things just came together, as these things tend to do. It’s funny how fate sometimes gives you a little push.”
Jelley and her husband created Pretty Produce, and now produce around 70 different blooms, hand-in-hand with nature without the use of chemicals. When Jelley first began producing edible flowers, she was growing the standard blooms recognised in Australia as being safe for human consumption – nasturtiums, violas, roses. But she soon grew curious about the use of edible flowers and weeds in other cultures and cuisines – everything from chrysanthemum and jasmine to gotu kola, an Ayurvedic herb from the pennywort family. All of this also got her thinking about how her flowers could work in the culinary realm.
“Edible flowers have their own flavour profiles,” she says. “For instance, herb flowers are basically a floral version of the herb. When you look at them like that, and you divide them up into what their flavour profiles are, you start to understand how they fit with food. They’re not just a pretty garnish. You can fit different flowers into different cuisines.”
Jelley’s work with high-end chefs in the Brisbane area saw her nominated several times for a delicious. produce award. She won a national gold medal in 2016 and 2017, and was a state winner in 2018. In 2019, Pretty Produce made the move to Canungra on the Scenic Rim.
Pressed for success
Of course, the biggest demand for edible flowers comes from cake decorators. They’re particularly popular for wedding cakes. And this is where Instagram had a huge part to play.
“Being a photographer, I was able to see how that medium was going to work,” Jelley says. “There are certain things on Instagram that just work really well. Anything that’s pretty and lightens people’s mood; it offers them an escape.”
Jelley was following a UK baker known as the Blushing Cook, who was the first to start using pressed floral arrangements on cakes, known as pressed floral or wild meadow cakes.
“They’re special, because they actually link the garden with the kitchen in a really beautiful way,” she says. “It’s my main product stream now. They’re a unique designed portfolio of pressed flowers and pressed leaves that fit within a season. People can order these and they’re a one-off – it’s never duplicated. You can use them to adorn a cake with a scene, as if it’s a meadow. Right now, it’s really starting to hit its straps. It’s a global trend in wedding cakes especially. But people are also using them for plating in general, and in cocktails.”
Moments of joy
Being around beautiful flowers can also soothe the soul. This realisation inspired Jelley to set up a wildflower forest on her farm, for tourists to visit in the summer months. Zinnias, sunflowers and cosmos jostle for attention among the butterflies and bees. It’s heaven.
“We’d just moved to Canungra, and COVID had just started,” she says. “I’d initially set up the wildflowers just for pleasure. In summer, I love to grow long rows of beautiful things. But I had a lot of people pulling up to the farm gate who wanted to come through and have a look. And one of them was this poor woman who was escaping domestic violence. She had a car full of kids, and she was beyond traumatised.
“She asked if she could come in. We weren’t supposed to be letting people on the property because of COVID, but I opened up the gates and told her to take all the time she needed. She ended up just wandering around, and she found solace. She found joy. This gave me the idea that it could be a space that can transition into something else in the summer. It doesn’t need to grow food. It can be a space where people find joy and peace.”
You can order Pretty Produce pressed flowers, floral teas and dried flowers year-round at prettyproduce.com.au. Fresh edible flowers are only available from April to September.