Ralph Waldo Emerson, prolific American poet and essayist, held Mother Nature (and her sense of humour) in high esteem. Envisioning riotous colour bursting with divine fragrance as expression of the earth’s pure joy comes easily since flowers have given us pleasure from the beginning of mankind.
“Earth laughs in flowers.” - Ralph Waldo Emmerso
Flowers have expressed feelings, conveyed messages of love, brought cheer to the sick or downhearted and enhanced our homes. Their fragrances have been used to make lovely perfumes and for centuries humans have foraged and cultivated them for food, drink and medicine. Even art, in all its forms, depicts botanical imagery of the blossoming kind. Claude Monet, famous French impressionist, once said, “I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”
In this Summer Issue, it’s time to think outside of the bouquet and explore some interesting uses of the bountiful blooms of the Okanagan...
Sometimes you have to stop and EAT the roses
If you find yourself asking, “Are those petals in my pasta?” the answer is probably, yes! Many Okanagan chefs dress up dishes, from pastas to pastries, with local buds and blooms to add color, diversity, texture and new flavours.
According to Executive Chef Brock Bowes at RauDZ Regional Table “It’s not every day you eat flowers, so from a guest’s point of view, they definitely add to the dining experience.”
Think zucchini flowers, pansies, tiny carnations, rose petals elder flowers and lavender as essential ingredients in exotic creations like Dungeness Crab Mousse Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms, Wildflower Honey Crème Brûlée and house-made ice-cream rolled in local dried wildflowers. Chef Brock loves marigolds for their flavour. For punch and splash of colour in salads, his favourites are little purple violets.
He explains, “Fifteen different local farmers provide our restaurants with fresh produce, including flowers, and a professional forager brings us bags of fresh botanicals...wild violets, dandelions with greens, elder flowers, tiny edible buttercups....all straight from the forest to the plate in less than 24-hours.”
Sandrine’s French Pastry and Chocolate, another Okanagan business, offers exquisite confectionaries using local, high quality ingredients including blossoms. Owner, French-trained pastry chef, Sandrine Raffault says, with a delightful French accent:
“We use mostly lavender and rose...and some violet. Each has a distinct taste. We make macaroons and Raspberry Rose Cake. Some of our chocolates are made with lavender...and often we use rose and violet in our meringues and marshmallow. Oh...and in the summer we make lavender gelato.”
Before you head out to graze in your garden, one small caveat about edible flowers: don’t nibble on any you cannot identify – with absolute certainty – as safe to eat.
Infuse your booze!
Crisp, dry and refreshing, gin and tonic is the quintessentially classic summer cocktail.
Over the last decade, interest in gin has exploded, with more emphasis on artisanal methods. This enthusiasm can, at least in part, be attributed to the use of botanicals in the distilling process.
Rodney Goodchild, the Sales and Marketing Manager for Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery, says, “For the record, today’s gin tastes significantly different from that piney, nasty flavour we all remember from those gin-cidents of our misspent youths.” Chuckling, he adds, “Juniper may be the common denominator - every gin has it – but after that, the Master Distiller determines what other ingredients to add. Our award winning gin is crafted with the finest of botanicals, including rose petals.
Describing the process they use to capture that elusive floral accent, Goodchild explains:
“It is a closely guarded recipe, but in general terms our Master Distiller soaks fresh rose petals in an alcohol base for a period then extracts the petals, leaving a rose infused alcohol that is used in the distillation process.
Rose petals add a wonderful, aromatic bouquet - the signature of our Okanagan Spirits Gin. The taste is subtle, but the lingering floral accent is apparent in the mouth after the heat of the alcohol has gone.”
If not, you will be. Consider the cocktails crafted by the creative minds of award-winning Beverage Director and Bar Manager of RauDZ, Andrew Schneider and his team:
“The most popular signature drink at our restaurant is the Lavender Bee’s Knees. The floral flavour of the lavender works very well with the Okanagan Spirits Gin. There is a trio of flowers we use behind the bar...rose, lavender and orange flower. With cocktails, it is difficult...flowers can easily overwhelm and taste like potpourri. It’s all about balance.”
Flowers with benefits
Flowers and their titillating fragrances have long played a part in the game of seduction. The fiercely amorous Queen Cleopatra carpeted her sleeping area with rose petals and reputedly doused herself in the scent of lavender to seduce both Marc Antony and Julius Caesar.
Ancient Romans believed flowers ramped up sexual attraction. Archeologists excavating the volcanic remnants of Pompeii unearthed preserved perfume jars from the ancient brothels. These Latin lovers purportedly used rose blossoms, violets, rosemary and lavender to mix with myrrh and honey as love potions.
The art of blending oils in massage lotions and other sensual products is ancient. Even today, essential oils derived from roses, lavender, chamomile, morning glory, poppy and lily of the valley, all of which flourish in the Okanagan, are still touted by some to have libido-enhancing properties.
But, is the power of flowers in the bedroom just folk wisdom?
Maybe not. In a 2014 study entitled Human Male Sexual Response to Olfactory Stimuli, psychiatrist and neurologist Alan Hirsch measured penal blood flow of subjects. Of thirty different smells, he found men were most aroused (by a firm forty percent) when they inhaled the unique combination of lavender and pumpkin pie.
Who knew wearing your favorite floral fragrance while serving Thanksgiving Dinner could drive your man wild? A great reason to give thanks!
The Power of Flowers for mind, body and spirit
Nestled in the rolling hills of Southeast Kelowna, you’ll find the family-run Okanagan Lavender and Herb Farm. All eight acres burst into bloom every spring with mostly lavender - but also roses, flowering linden trees, calendulas and a vast variety of fresh herbs. This bounty is used to make fifty different products, all of which are sold in the farm’s gift shop, on-line and wholesale to local boutiques, wineries and speciality stores.
The lovely owner, Andrea McFaddin – who, by the way, smells divine – tells us transforming blossoms to elixirs of health and relaxation is both art and science.
She says, “To make invisible aromas tangible, certain flowers...like calendula petals – must be infused in carrier oils to release their unique properties. We use sweet almond and sunflower as our oil bases in this process.
Other flowers must be distilled, an ancient process used to extract the essence of the plant. With lavender, we use steam. Two products result: pure essential oil and hydrosol, the aromatic water containing micro-elements of both the oil and plant material.
Therapeutic blends of the different essential oils created on our farm are used in aromatherapy to maintain and promote physical, physiological and spiritual well-being.”
Lavender oil is versatile, and as a result, McFaddin and her staff use at least some of it in all the blends they create on the farm. She says, “It has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and calming properties and heals skin...plus it’s incredibly revitalizing and restorative.”
The names of the blended oils - Balance, Alive, Joy and Calm – are certainly indicative of their purpose. But the Lavender Farm’s abundantly stocked gift shop is filled with much more than just essential oils. Massage lotions, facial mists, whipped body butter, bath essential, teas, perfumes, even sachets, neck bags and eye pillows – all made from flowers grown on the farm.
According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a project of the Breast Cancer Fund), women slather, lather, rub and spray an average of twelve personal care products on their faces and bodies every day – men use six. Absorbed into the skin, these products contain dozens of chemicals with unpronounceable names.
Wouldn’t you rather choose products that contain only all- natural ingredients - and tap into the power of the petal?
So, don’t let that pretty face fool you. The humble flower has a long and rich history beyond decorating your table or wedding venue. What better time to celebrate its multitude of uses! Ah,
For more information about the Okanagan businesses mentioned in this article, check out their websites: RauDZ Regional Table: www.raudz.com; Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery: www.okanaganspirits.com; Sandrine’s French Pastry and Chocolate: www.sandrinepastry.com; Okanagan Lavender and Herb Farm: www.okanaganlavender.com