Most people who enjoy gardening and growing plants are occasionally tempted to try a leaf or two. Plants are so beautiful and often, it’s hard to resist just breaking off a piece and tasting it, especially with the prettiest plants. If this sounds like you then you’re probably wondering are orchids edible? Can you eat their beautiful flowers?
Amazingly, the answer is yes, orchid flowers are edible, and they are eaten in many parts of the world, often being used to make salad dishes particularly attractive. Some orchid flowers cause stomach irritation and these should be avoided, but on the whole, orchids are edible.
What Parts Of An Orchid Can You Eat?
The flowers of orchids are edible on the whole, and they are used for many different things, including as decorations on cakes and in salads and stir-fries. In many cultures, they are considered a key part of cooking, partly because of the elegance they lend to the food.
But what about other parts of the orchid? You will need to do some research about your specific plant because there are many different species, but on the whole, orchids are non-toxic and even if it is not common to consume them, the leaves and stems are not likely to do you any harm. However, they may not taste good either
You should always double-check before eating something and if in doubt, don’t consume it. Although orchids are generally not poisonous, it’s better not to take a risk, so read up on the kind you have before sampling its leaves.
Do Orchids Have Medicinal Value?
You may have heard about people using orchids in medicine, and this goes back many years to Ancient Greece, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and some parts of Europe. Orchids were – and sometimes still are – used to treat many different diseases.
These include gum disease, digestive problems, sore throats, headaches, poor eyesight, and cancer. It was also thought that orchids could boost the immune system, and the tubers were eaten in Ancient Greece to improve fertility.
Over time, orchids have been eaten as they are, dried, crushed, turned into salep (a Turkish drink), and even ground into a flour that was used to make desserts in some countries.
However, it is not advisable to use orchids for medicinal reasons. Little or no research has gone into whether orchids actually carry the medicinal properties they are claimed to have, and you should seek treatment from your doctor for any and all illnesses.
While traditional beliefs have listed orchids as curing a multitude of ills, the diversity of the list alone is enough to be a potential cause for concern. It seems unlikely that one plant has the ability to treat all the illnesses listed above (plus others, depending on the culture that you look at).
Orchids may have medicinal properties, but these have not yet been confirmed by science, and it is not a good idea to use orchids to treat any medical issues that you may have.
Before talking about how the orchids most of us have in our homes can be used in cooking, let’s discuss the only edible fruit-bearing orchid: the vanilla orchid. This orchid is the source of vanilla flavoring, which we use in all sorts of cooking and desserts.
The orchid produces vanilla beans, and different varieties produce slightly different flavors, which means that it’s worth checking where the vanilla has come from if you want to get consistency in your recipes.
Vanilla flavoring is extremely popular and we use it in all kinds of places – not just food. It can be used for cosmetics, bath products, alcohol, cigars, coffee, and many more things. It is also very popular in food.
How often have you added vanilla extract to your desserts and baking? You’re using orchids every time, although admittedly the fruits, not the flowers or leaves. However, this is a good indication that orchids are useful and almost universal in their popularity. Next time you opt for vanilla ice cream, thank the orchids for their contribution!
However, this probably wasn’t what you were thinking of when you questioned whether orchids were edible, so let’s look at other ways in which orchids – and their flowers in particular – can be eaten and used in cooking.
What Sorts Of Foods Are Orchids Used In?
If you’re keen to start incorporating orchid flowers in your cooking but you don’t know where to start, let’s explore that next. Orchids can be used in a whole range of different foods, in part because so many different cultures have used them traditionally.
So, once you have checked that your variety is safe for consumption and decided you would like to eat the flowers, where should you begin?
Orchid Ice Cream
This sounds like a rare and exotic treat eaten by royalty. It is popular in Turkey and sometimes in Greece, and is made using powdered orchids. The ice cream is quite different from other kinds of ice cream, having a somewhat chewy texture. It also doesn’t really melt!
This is a bit of an acquired taste, but if you’re interested in having orchids in your food, it’s definitely worth trying it.
Using orchid flowers in a salad is one of the easiest ways to incorporate them into your diet, and it’s healthy, too. You can use the petals of an orchid to make your salads beautiful and unique, simply by rinsing them and dropping them in among the leaves.
Adding other flowers, such as nasturtiums, will make your salads works of art that are almost too pretty to eat.
It’s always tricky to describe flavors, but some people say that orchid flowers taste rather like endives and cucumbers, giving your salads a fresh, crispy flavor without changing the overall taste too much. They can be a little bitter, but the taste will depend somewhat on the kind of orchid you are eating.
You might want to try several different varieties, but it’s very clear that orchids make a beautiful addition to a salad.
Fried Orchid Petals
If you fancy a less healthy snack, you might enjoy fried orchid petals. These are dipped in a mixture of egg and flour, and then deep-fried until they become crunchy and delicious.
Few people would think of trying this with such delicate blossom, but it is a popular snack in Thailand, usually using dendrobium orchid petals. It’s certainly worth experimenting with if you’re keen to try orchid-based food and expand your culinary repertoire.
Orchid Cake Decoration
This one seems obvious, given that orchids are viewed as one of the most beautiful flowers in the world, and we often want our cakes to be masterpieces that are both gorgeous to look at and edible.
Orchid petals serve as candy to the eye and candy to the taste buds; they can be placed fresh on the cake (but be aware that they won’t last for long before they wilt) or they can be infused with sugar syrup beforehand.
This will give them a sweet flavor that adds to the overall taste of the cake and may help them to last better.
Use them as cupcake toppers or to pretty up a cake, and you’ll have picture-worthy cakes in no time. Some people also use the flowers to top ice cream, making a fancy but very simple dessert that could have come straight out of a fancy restaurant.
If the fried orchid petals caught your attention but sound a bit too fatty and greasy, how about stir-frying them? They are a light and pleasant addition that doesn’t have a particularly strong flavor, but will bring a bit more taste and texture to the dish.
They are also very pretty in a stir fry and can add to the color of an already rather beautiful and vibrant dish.
If you are a fan of making marinades, pickles, jellies, or other home preserves, you can use orchids here too. Sweet or savory, they can be added to either kind.
If you choose to, you can include orchid flowers in jelly of any kind, such as raspberry or strawberry. This will enrich both the flavor and the texture of the jelly, and the idea of giving jelly with orchids in as Christmas gifts is lovely.
Alternatively, you can use orchid flowers in marinades for meats, and this is particularly popular in South Africa. It lends the meat a rich, succulent flavor.
Another option involves including orchids in salad dressings. They will add to the flavor and can also be included in the salad for the ultimate orchid-based meal.
Orchids are certainly edible, although it is always worth specifically checking the variety you have before you consume it, as some can cause stomach irritation. Orchids are used across the world for all sorts of different dishes, so try including them in your favorite recipes or branching out to try new dishes that use them.