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Full instructions for how to crystallize edible flowers to preserve their pretty blossoms long into summer. The process is simple and demonstrated in this piece with primrose flowers which are some of the easiest to begin with.
Flowers that you can eat, called edible flowers, are non-toxic, have a nice flavor, and look lovely. Usually, they’re served on special occasions or in swanky venues, making them seem quite an elite item. Think wedding cakes, fancy salads, and cocktails. Though they are quite expensive to buy, the reality is that the average person probably has edible flowers growing in their yard, garden, or wild within their community. The challenge is knowing which ones to use, harvesting safely and sustainably, and using edible flowers before the petals fade. That means that if you’re eager to learn about and use edible flowers, knowing how to preserve them is a valuable skill. This piece will take you through one method and show how to crystallize edible flowers with a focus on primroses.
Popular in Victorian times, edible flowers are enjoying something of a comeback. They’re a completely natural way to decorate food and can be eaten too! While you can of course use them fresh, there are also ways to preserve them. The edible flower ice-cubes that you’ll find in my book, for example, but also pretty crystallized flowers. Crystallized flowers are not in a real crystal but coated in sugar that hardens and preserves the petals for many months.
How to Crystallize Edible Flowers
Use the method described in the below printable recipe to crystallize edible flowers. Not all flowers are edible, though. Before you begin, please ensure that the flowers you want to use are both safe and delicious. Edible flowers range in flavor from lightly-peppery calendula to cucumber-flavored borage blossoms. There are also mild-flavored flowers such as primroses and floral flavored such as lavender and roses.
When working with thicker flowers or petals, either dry them in a warm place to speed up the drying time or separate the petals and crystallize them individually. There are a few delicious edible flower recipes here on Lovely Greens including elderflower champagne and dark chocolate Turkish delight. Here is a list of edible flowers:
- Angelica – celery flavored
- Borage (Starflower) – cucumber flavored
- Burnet – lightly flavored like cucumber
- Calendula (pot marigold) – lightly peppery
- Carnation (Pink) – spicy and anise-like
- Chamomile – light apple flavor.
- Chives – onion flavor
- Gladioli – lettuce flavor
- Hollyhock – no definable flavor
- Impatiens – no definable flavor
- Jasmine – sweet and floral
- Lavender – fragrant and floral
- Lilac – lemony and floral (can be bitter)
- Nasturtium – peppery
- Pansy – lightly sweet to tart
- Primrose – lightly sweet to no flavor
- Rose – sweet and aromatic. Use only the colored parts of the petals
- Runner and Climbing Beans – crisp and bean-like
- Scented Geraniums – faintly citrusy
- Snapdragon – no flavor to bitter
- Squash & Pumpkin Flowers – sweet
- Sunflower – may be slightly bitter but adds a lot of color
- Violet – sweet and floral
Egg White Safety and Salmonella
The traditional process of crystallization involves an egg white wash and a coat of sugar. Afterward, you let the flowers dry and use them without any aspect of cooking. I’ve had some questions about the risk of salmonella though and it is a serious question. Salmonella is a type of food poisoning that results in some pretty nasty side effects. It’s rarely fatal (less than 1% chance) but still something to avoid if possible.
For the safest possible egg whites, use pasteurized dried egg whites mixed with water. If you wish to use actual eggs, avoid using ones that are dirty or that have been washed. Unfortunately, that’s most commercial eggs in the USA.
Why Use Unwashed Eggs?
Salmonella is never inside the egg initially but enters raw egg from contact with bacteria on the shell. Salmonella bacteria reside in chicken poo, which is why dirty eggs are a risk. It’s spread to the egg white and yolk through exposure to the outside part of the shell. Usually, this happens when you crack an egg open. However, if you wash eggs before storing them it removes the shell’s protective coating allowing bacteria to penetrate the shell. One way to know if eggs have been washed or not is how they’re presented in the supermarket. If they’re not refrigerated, they’ve not been washed. If they are refrigerated, they probably have been. Commercial eggs in Europe and the UK are almost never washed.
How to Crystallize Primroses
Primroses are one of the first flowers to bloom each year. I smile to see them open their petals so early – weeks ahead of our other more familiar spring blossoms. They’re easily torn in the wind and battered by rain and weather. One way to preserve their fleeting beauty is as crystallized edible flowers.
Mild-flavored primroses are great in everything from salads, cakes, to cocktails. They don’t last very long though, and once picked you must keep them cool and try to use them the same day. You can preserve them though, and by crystallizing them with sugar they become a sweet botanical artwork. Crystalized primroses have a shelf-life of up to six months and are a beautifully sweet and natural decoration that you can use on desserts and cakes and save for a special occasion.
When finished, the flowers are hard and sugary and the petals inside are fully dried. Think of crystallized flowers as dried flowers rather than fresh, since both the egg wash and sugar dry and preserve the petals for months.
Primroses come in a range of colors
Primroses are low-growing plants with a rosette of tongue-like green leaves. When they come into flower, simple open blossoms form on thin stems that grow from the center. In colder climates, the plants are herbaceous perennials that die back each autumn. In regions with mild winters, primroses are semi-evergreen perennials and can flower right through the colder months.
The flowers’ color varies, but they range from a creamy yellow to vibrant magenta, purple, and red. The softer yellow-hue is the color of native cowslips (Primula veris) and true primroses (Primula vulgaris) that pepper hedgerows in early spring. The brighter-hued primroses that you see as bedding plants are also of the Primula genus. This highly cultivated and hybridized type is called polyanthus, or Primrose polyanthus (Primula polyantha), and like true primroses, they’re also edible.
Please keep in mind is that most primroses presented as bedding plants could be sprayed with chemicals. Pesticides and herbicides that are meant to keep the flowers in peak condition until their sale. Avoid these ones if you’re looking for edible flowers. Only use organically-grown flowers in edible flower recipes, including those that could be growing in your garden right now.
How to Make Crystallized Primroses
- Clean paintbrush
- Grease-proof paper
- 24 primrose flowers (Or other edible flowers (see list further on))
- 1 egg white
- 1 tsp cold water
- 1/4 cup granulated white sugar (50 g)
- Pick the primroses the same day, and preferably within an hour of this project. Morning is best when the flowers are perky and filled with dew. If you’re sure the flowers are clean, then you don’t need to wash them. If you do rinse them, you must let the flowers dry completely before continuing.
- Make an egg wash by lightly beating the white of one egg with a teaspoon of cold water.
- Using a clean paintbrush that has never been in contact with potentially toxic substances (oil paint, etc.), paint the egg wash on a flower. Make sure to coat the entire surface, both front, and back.
- Pour the sugar into a bowl and once you’ve coated the flower in egg wash, place the flower in with the sugar. Gently coat as much of the flower’s surface as you can, then take it out and put the flower face-down on a layer of greaseproof/baking paper. Leave to try for between 1-2 days; primroses can take about a day to dry and harden but can take longer.
- Once fully dry, you can use the crystallized primroses to decorate cakes, cupcakes, and desserts. They’re also so pretty that they’d be perfect for giving as a handmade gift too.
- Crystallizedprimroses can last for up to six months if stored in a dark, dry place. A Tupperwarefilled with a cushioning layer of tissue paper is an excellent way to keep them. Spread them on the paper in a single layer so that the flowers don’t stick together.