Saturday, March 3, 2012

Flowers or tubers: Yes, you CAN eat your dahlias!

Dahlias decorate a wedding cake.
Photo by Cooper Studios in Shelton, Washington.
Early botanists who regarded dahlias as vegetables weren't as far off base as it might seem to gardeners today, who value the plants for gorgeous dahlia flowers.

Historians say the ancient Aztecs used dahlia flowers to treat epilepsy, and manuscripts found in Mexico also recorded other medicinal uses for the plant: a preparation of dahlia stems was used to treat urinary-tract disorders, for instance. King Philip of Spain's botanist, Francisco Hernandez, sent to Mexico in the 1570s, recorded medicinal uses for the dahlia as well as its floral properties.

The dahlia tuber was a source
of healing for early Aztecs.
The tuber, he wrote, "alleviates stomach pain, dissipates blowing, draws forth urine, invokes perspiration, drives out coldness, strengthens the stomach weak because of the cold, turns aside cholic, opens what has been blocked, and when moved to the swellings, disperses them."

Observers of medical research report that long before insulin was discovered for treating diabetic patients, a particular type of sugar was processed from dahlia tubers, and used for such treatment. Today, medical research and studies have focused on the use of chemicals present in dahlias for liver and kidney issues.

Petals and a full cactus dahlia blossom top and surround this
elegant wedding cake. Cooper Studios photo.
While the dahlia tuber has fallen from favor as a vegetable, edible dahlia flowers are now finding favor among chefs and caterers, particularly caterers of summer weddings. Dahlia flowers are used to enhance the flavor and visual appeal of foods from salads to desserts, from appetizer trays to wedding cakes and punches.

The sharp, spicy tang of petals punches up the flavor of lettuces in a salad, and the whole flowers, whose substantial texture means they last well and whose wide range of colors lends itself to table decor, are often used to float in beverages and to decorate cakes.

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