Have you ever had a drink or meal garnished with an orchid flower and wondered if that orchid was edible? I’ve definitely wondered if that orchid flower on the side of my plate or drink was meant to be eaten or if it was just there for decoration. As it turns out, orchids are, in fact, edible!
Edible orchids include the well-known Vanilla orchid. Many orchid flowers, including Dendrobium and Epidendrum orchid flowers, are also edible. These have a wide variety of uses in cooking, baking and as a garnish.
Orchids are not just a pretty plant to look at. In fact, there are many ways you can use edible orchids in the kitchen.
In this article, I’ll go more in depth about the different ways you can use edible orchids. You’ll learn what they taste like and where to buy food-grade edible orchids. Plus, you’ll get some ideas on how you can use edible orchids in your cooking and baking. Keep reading to learn more.
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Table of Contents
Are Orchids Poisonous?
The first question most people will have is, are orchids poisonous? Are orchids even edible? Obviously you want to know what would happen if you ate an orchid flower or part of an orchid. Will you get sick? Fortunately, the answer is no.
Most orchids are not poisonous. Furthermore, many orchids are non-toxic and safe for consumption, both by humans and animals.
Orchids have been safely eaten throughout history. Ancient Greek men used to eat orchid tubers to increase the chances that the woman would give birth to a boy. Long ago, Aztecs drank beverages containing vanilla orchids. They believed that doing so would increase their strength and power.
Orchid parts have also long been used for medicinal purposes in Asia and other parts of the world. Chinese medicine, both past and present, uses orchids to treat a variety of illnesses and symptoms. Orchid tubers were thought to have restorative properties with the ability to stop fevers, cure tuberculosis, reduce sores, and more.
In Greece, street vendors sell a drink made of ground orchid powder, called “salepi.” It can help ward off colds and illnesses, making it ideal to drink when one starts feeling run down. Turkish vendors also have a similar hot drink made with ground orchids.
These are just a few examples of different cultures throughout history safely using orchids in their food, drink and medicine.
Are Orchids Poisonous To Cats And Other Animals?
Fortunately, orchids are not poisonous to cats or other pets and animals. Pets, such as dogs and cats, will also sometimes eat orchid plants. They do this out of curiosity or boredom.
Depending on the type of orchid consumed, your dog or cat may experience some stomach upset afterwards. If your pet does eat part of your orchid plant, read more about orchids and pets here to find out what to do.
Wild animals, such as rabbits, deer and squirrels, also eat orchids. These animals inherently know which plants are safe to eat and which plants are not. They know that orchids are safe to eat.
Much to the annoyance of many orchid growers, these wild animals will happily eat any orchid plant left outdoors. Young orchids, in particular, are tender and a favorite of deer.
If you have wild rabbits, or even pet rabbits, that are eating your orchids, here are some suggestions on what to do in order to prevent them from eating your orchids.
Are Orchids Edible?
In most cases, yes, you can eat most orchids. The majority of orchids are not poisonous. In some cases, you may experience some mild gastrointestinal discomfort after eating an orchid. Whether or not this happens really depends on the orchid species and the orchid part consumed.
Dried Orchid Tubers
One of the most commonly eaten orchid parts are dried orchid tubers, or salep. To make salep, orchid tubers, or the bulbous roots of the orchid, are first dried, then ground into a fine powder. This fine powder is called salep. Salep is a key ingredient in a variety of drinks, desserts, and main dishes.
Edible Orchid Flowers
Besides salep, edible orchid flowers are another orchid part which people can eat. While eating orchid leaves and stems is not common, using edible orchid flowers in meals is a common practice for many dining establishments.
Thai or Hawaiian restaurants commonly use edible orchid flowers in the meal or as a garnish. You may also see edible orchids used in places serving Asian-fusion cuisine.
The most popular edible orchid flowers include soft-cane Dendrobium and Epidendrum orchid blooms. You can use these beautiful edible orchids as a garnish. They can add a pop of color and touch of elegance to drinks and dishes, giving the meal an added level of sophistication.
Some restaurants will also take it one step further and actually incorporate orchids into the meal as an ingredient. I’ll go over this in more detail later on.
Vanilla orchids, of course, are another type of edible orchid. They are, in fact, the only fruit-bearing orchid in existence. Vanilla is widely used in foods, drinks, and cosmetics, either as a flavoring or as an aromatic scent. These orchids are widely cultivated for commercial purposes, but you can also grow vanilla orchids at home.
Vanilla Planifolia is a type of miniature vanilla orchid that does well in climates with daytime temps ranging from 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temps ranging from 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. When in bloom, the green-yellow flowers are about 2 inches in size.
The vine-like vanilla orchid blooms for a short period of time. Once the vanilla orchid flower is fully grown, it blooms for just one day, opening in the morning, then closing in the evening.
During this brief blooming period, orchid growers must hand-pollinate each flower before it closes. This hand-pollination allows the vanilla orchid to produce the coveted vanilla seedpod. As you might guess, this is a painstaking and labor-intensive process.
From there, it takes several more months of curing the seedpods to develop that rich vanilla flavor from the vanilla seeds. Vanilla extract is later made using the vanilla seeds. This months-long, labor-intensive process is a big reason why pure vanilla extract is so expensive.
Learn More About Vanilla Orchids
Vanilla orchids are a fascinating plant. If you’re interested in learning more, here are a couple books about vanilla orchids and their history.
- Vanilla: Travels In Search Of The Ice Cream Orchid by Tim Ecott
- Vanilla: A Global History by Rosa Abreu-Runkel
What Do Edible Orchids Taste Like?
Edible orchid flowers have a flavor similar to salad greens. The exact taste and flavor varies depending on the type of orchid. Some orchid flowers have a mild flavor, similar to lettuce, while others have a more distinct flavor similar to cucumbers, watercress or endive. Still other orchid flowers may taste bitter, while some have a mild, sweet “vegetable” flavor.
For example, purple Dendrobium orchid flowers, sometimes called Karma orchids, have a crisp flavor similar to endive. Epidendrum orchid flowers have a mildly sweet, cucumber-melon flavor.
Edible orchids, being plants, do have some nutritional value when eaten. Aside from fiber, you can get small amounts of vitamin A and C from eating orchid blooms.
How Can You Use Edible Orchids?
There is a wide variety of dishes and cuisines that incorporate edible orchids. Use these orchids as an ingredient, a garnish on the side, or to decorate baked goods. There are so many things you can do with edible orchids!
However, before using any orchid flower, either as a garnish or as an ingredient, make sure it is organic and food-grade. This means that it has not been exposed to chemicals such as pesticides or insecticides and is safe to eat.
Also, clean your edible orchid flowers before using them. Wash them thoroughly in a bowl of water and let them air dry. I’ll go into more detail about how to clean and prepare orchid flowers below.
Edible Orchids In Salads
Salads are an easy way to use edible flowers, such as orchids. You can place edible orchid flowers on the top of the salad as a garnish or add them as a finishing touch. This gives the salad extra color and uniqueness.
You can also separate the orchid flower into the individual petals and use it as one of your salad ingredients. Simply mix the orchid petals into the salad. This is very similar to how you would use a nasturtium flower or other edible flower.
Remember, edible Dendrobium orchid flowers typically have a fresh, crisp flavor like endive, while Epidendrum flowers are sweeter and taste more like cucumber. Keep the taste profiles in mind as you decide which type of orchid flower to add to the meal.
If you are using Epidendrum orchid flowers, you don’t need to separate the petals at all. The flowers are so small that you can simply mix whole flowers into the salad.
Edible Orchids As A Garnish
One of the most popular ways to use edible orchids is as a garnish. In Hawaii, it is very common to see purple Dendrobium orchid flowers on the sides of drinks, pineapple soft-serves, and cocktails. You can also place edible orchid flowers on the side of the plate or on top of the food itself to decorate the meal.
Dendrobium flowers are the most popular orchid flower used to garnish meals, but Epidendrum flowers may suit your needs better. These small, dainty orchid flowers look great floated on top of cold soups or cocktails. You can also use these flowers as a garnish for seafood dishes or placed on top small sandwiches or finger foods.
Edible Orchids In Savory Dishes
Edible orchids can also be used in savory dishes, such as soups and stir-frys. For example, in Thailand, orchid tempura is one of the unique, savory dishes you can order at a restaurant. The chefs simply dip orchid flowers in tempura batter and deep fry them. You would eat orchid tempura like any other type of vegetable tempura. It is a very unique dish worth trying.
Salep is another popular way to incorporate orchids into cooking. This is a less obvious method, as it uses dried orchid tubers ground into a fine powder. This powder has a consistency similar to flour, and thus, can be used in a similar fashion. In Africa, salep is incorporated into sauces and main dishes. This helps thicken the sauce and give it a unique flavor.
Edible Orchids In Beverages
Salep is also used in hot drinks. Combined with milk, sugar and other spices, salep makes a deliciously comforting hot drink in the wintertime. This is another unique edible orchid product that you can find in Turkey. If you can’t make it to Turkey, you can also buy instant salep Turkish drink mix online.
More commonly, however, you will see edible Dendrobium orchid flowers used as a garnish for fancy cocktails or tropical drinks, as mentioned earlier.
Turkish Ice Cream
Desserts, such as ice cream, also use ground orchids, or salep, as an ingredient. Dondurma is a famous stretchy ice cream in Turkey. You may have seen it on TV or YouTube. Ice cream vendors love to tease and entertain customers with that incredible stretchy ice cream called dondurma.
The secret ingredient in this ice cream is salep. Yes, edible orchids ground into a fine powder gives this ice cream it’s stretchy, elastic nature and a unique flavor. Turkish ice cream is very dense, gummy and almost chewy due to the salep.
It is a must try if you are ever in Turkey or come across a place selling dondurma. If you didn’t know better, you would never guess that orchids are the secret ingredient!
Edible Flowers In Cakes and Desserts
You can also crystallize and candy orchid flowers and use them to decorate cakes and other desserts. In this method, edible orchid flowers are brushed in pasteurized egg whites, then coated in superfine sugar and allowed to dry for several days.
Use candied edible orchid flowers to decorate cupcakes, cakes, ice cream, or other dessert items. These edible orchid flowers will add a “wow” factor to your tea party, wedding, or any other upscale, fancy event.
In fact, edible orchids are have been used to decorate wedding cakes for years. This is such an easy and classy way to dress up wedding cakes.
For more ideas on how you can use edible orchids and other edible flowers, check out these books:
- Botanical Baking by Juliet Sear. This book is all about baking and cake decorating using edible flowers and herbs.
- Cooking with Flowers: Sweet and Savory Recipes with Rose Petals, Lilacs, Lavender, and Other Edible Flowers by Miche Bacher. This is a wonderful book with lots of inspiration and gorgeous pictures.
- The Art of Edible Flowers by Rebecca Sullivan. Rebecca’s book is chock-full of recipes using edible flowers, including salad recipes, desserts, and drinks.
- Edible Flowers: A Kitchen Companion by Kitty Morse. This is a smaller recipe book, with only a few dozen recipes, but still great for inspiration and ideas on how you can use edible flowers in cooking.
Where To Buy Edible Orchids
I would recommend buying edible orchids from an authorized seller. This way, you can be sure that the orchid blooms have been grown organically and are free of chemicals.
Don’t just buy an orchid at the grocery store and assume that since it came from a grocery store, it is safe to use the blooms in food preparation or as a garnish. On the contrary, there is a good chance that these orchids were treated with insecticides or pesticides. This is fine when you are buying the orchid as an houseplant, but not when you are looking for an edible orchid.
Online Places To Buy Edible Orchids
It can be difficult to buy edible orchids in person, as not many brick-and-mortar locations sell them. Instead, most people buy their edible orchids online. Here are a few places where you can buy edible orchid flowers.
- MarxFoods: This is an online seller of edible flowers, including edible orchid flowers. They sell purple Dendrobium orchid flowers in bulk. Their website includes instructions on how to candy orchid flowers and has other recipe ideas as well.
- California Specialty Farms: These are purple and white edible Dendrobium orchid flowers, sold in bulk (200 flowers). Perfect if you are throwing a party, wedding or large corporate and want to garnish cocktails or dishes.
- Taste Pad Thai: This online seller also sells edible Dendrobium orchid flowers, but in smaller quantities of 50 flowers per order. This is a better choice if you just want to experiment with edible orchid flowers or use them for a smaller party or gathering.
- Gourmet Sweet Botanicals: Here, you can buy a variety of edible microgreens and flowers, including orchids. This seller also happens to sell edible Epidendrum orchid flowers, which are much smaller than Dendrobium orchid flowers, and have a wider variety of colors. Use these edible Epidendrum orchid flowers to decorate smaller items, such as cupcakes, tea sandwiches, cookies, or mix it into salads.
Tips For Buying Edible Orchids
If you are interested in using edible orchids in your cooking or baking, make sure your orchid flowers are “food-safe.” Depending on where you are buying them from, they may also be labeled as “edible orchids.” Edible orchids will be organic and free of chemicals, such as pesticides and insecticides.
Preparing And Storing Edible Orchids
Once you buy edible orchid flowers, store them in the refrigerator to extend their shelf life. Properly stored and kept orchid blooms can last up to 7 days before they begin to wilt and the color begins to fade.
When you are ready to use the edible orchid flowers, follow these steps to prepare them:
- Wash the flowers gently in a large basin filled with cold water. Using cold water will help keep the flower petals firm and keep them from wilting.
- Place them on a towel or paper towel to air dry.
- Ideally, it is best to use them immediately once they are dry.
- However, if you are preparing these edible flowers for use later, once they are dry, store them in an airtight container lined with damp paper towels. Place this container in the refrigerator and use the flowers within 7 days.
What Are Other Types Of Edible Flowers?
If the idea of using edible orchids has intrigued you, check out these other edible flowers below. You can incorporate them in your cooking or baking as you would with edible orchid flowers. Get creative and use a variety of edible flowers for a burst of color and a beautiful meal.
- Nasturtium: These are one of my favorite edible flowers and for good reason. They are easy to grow in any garden and come in many different colors. They have a light, peppery flavor and go well with savory dishes.
- Pansy: Similar to nasturtiums flowers, pansies are a popular edible flower. These are great as garnishes or as a finishing touch to baked goods and have a light grassy flavor. If using these for a dessert, such as cupcakes, you may want to dip these in crystallized sugar first.
- Marigold: These have a light citrus taste. Mix the petals in salads for a lovely orange pop of color.
- Hibiscus: Hibiscus tea has a flavor similar to a light cranberry juice, in my opinion. It’s both tart and sweet. You can use these flowers in tea, salads and mixed drinks.
- Lavender: This is one of my favorite edible flowers to grow. Lavender has a very light, floral taste that is soothing and comforting. You can used dried lavender in teas, baking (lavender scones and lavender pound cake), and desserts (lavender ice cream).
- Butterfly Pea Flowers: These dried flowers are used in drinks, soups and other dishes to add a stunning bright blue color.
As you can see, orchids are edible. What’s more, there is a wide selection of edible flowers you can use in cooking and baking. Edible orchid flowers are a unique and beautiful way you can use orchids in your everyday life.
When looking for edible orchid flowers, I recommend using soft-caned Dendrobium or Epidendrum flowers. Make sure they are organic and food-safe. Clean them thoroughly before use.
There are so many ways you can use orchids in your cooking and baking. Edible orchid flowers are great as a garnish or can be used an ingredient to dress up your meal. You can also experiment with salep in baking and savory dishes.
Hopefully you have some more ideas and are feeling inspired after reading this article! As always, happy orchid growing.
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