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Flowers for Thought

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Throughout history and cultures, flowers have been a part of religious and spiritual ceremonies, consumed as medicine, adorned for aesthetic appeal, and seen as a marker of new life in Spring. 

Lately, flowers have captured my attention for a few reasons.

Metaphorically, they can represent a complete whole that is comprised of fragmented parts; a theme we’ll explore next month at the summer solstice celebration. In a more literal sense, edible flowers have been making their way onto my plate regularly. They are a very enjoyable way to bring color and a sense of play into meals in addition to offering an array of health benefits.

The more beautiful we view our food, the more digestible it becomes.

Some believe digestion begins with our eyes because we secrete more amylase and other digestive enzymes when we perceive our food as appealing. In practices of mindful eating, this is called “eye-hunger.”  You can liken this to when you suddenly crave a piece of cheesecake when the person at the table next to you orders a delicious looking piece of cheesecake – it awakens eye-hunger. 

Certain flowers have medicinal value.

For example, edible flowers like calendula (also called pot marigold) have a very clearing effect on the lymphatic system, and can help build immunity. Elderflowers are used in various traditions to prevent colds and fevers. Both of these are available at various farmers markets around the city and make a beautiful addition to meals.

I always buy edible flowers when I see them available because the addition to my meals is a given mood enhancer – who doesn’t like colorful flower petals arranged beautifully on a meal?

What I find particularly fascinating about edible flowers is that, despite their beauty, they tend to be very bitter. This is important to know because bitter (aside from a surprising taste!) has a specific medicinal property in Ayurveda. Bitter, created by the elements air and ether, stimulates secretion of digestive enzymes in the gut, it can curb sweet cravings and is said to be balancing for people of a Pitta (fire) or Kapha (earth and water) constitution. 

Exploring foods through their tastes, or Rasa’s in Ayurveda, with the practice of mindfulness, teaches us to become attuned to the medicinal value of what we are consuming.

I believe all food can be medicine or poison depending on how it is consumed, your individual constitution, and state of digestion. Learning about food from an elemental standpoint gives you a broader understanding of patterns present in nourishment. In my upcoming mindful eating and the six tastes workshop, we will explore the six traditional Ayurvedic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent – and their nutritious and elemental compositions. 

Learning to really taste – even savor – the food we are eating in a mindful practice makes us more attuned to what foods are medicinal for each individual.

Taking a bottom-up approach to our consumption rather than cognitively learning about the health benefits of certain nutrients makes us more willing to be an active participant in our healing journey. 

To start awakening this sense of internal awareness, consider buying some edible flowers and consuming them in a salad or atop a soup. Take time to chew them slowly. Notice the cooling and gentle bitter taste. See how long this taste lasts in your mouth before taking your next bite. How does this effect your digestion?

Flowers are powerful, yet subtle, healing forces and are a fun way to begin interacting with using food as medicine. 

*Please be sure to buy edible flowers from a trusted source, where they have been harvested without pesticides or chemicals. Most farmers at farmers markets are happy to answer questions about the production and growing process.* 

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