There’s something really beautiful about seeing cakes and pastries decorated with flowers, but some of the tasty-looking images you see on your social media feed are actually downright deadly!
Botanist James Wong, of BBC’s Country File show, has expressed shock at some of these “clean-eating” posts and photos.
“I’m sure wellness bloggers are nice, well-meaning people, but those are highly toxic Plumeria flowers on that #CleanEating #GlutenFree cake,” Wong tweeted after seeing an image of a beautiful cake covered in the poisonous blooms.
An Instagram post of dangerous flowers adorning a chia-seed smoothie also attracted his attention. “Another day, another ‘clean eating’ Instagrammer posting images of toxic flowers on food,” he wrote. “It may not contain dairy or gluten *gasp* but it does contain the toxic plant alkaloid, lycorine. Symptoms: itching, swelling, (and in quantity) nausea, vomiting & convulsions.”
The photo of the ‘Pink Chia Pudding’ was posted by Marie Reginato, a cookbook author and vegan chef with over 74,000 Instagram followers. Her recipe didn’t advise garnishing with everything included in the shot, but another of her posts showed flowers resembling the poisonous Paperwhite Narcissus blooms. Reginato said that “These flowers are purely for decoration, they’re not edible.”
Peter Cassell, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) press officer, advises consumers to look up any flower or plant before eating it, or to avoid them altogether if they aren’t sure what it is. You can also check with your Poison Control Center, or visit the FDA Poisonous Plant Database.
Botanists and nutritionists alike are worried that people are being inspired to replicate the displays that they see on social media, and may end up inadvertently poisoning themselves or others with toxic blooms.
Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, and author of “Eating in Color” says that: “Flowers can make a gorgeous addition to your smoothie bowls and other Instagrammable treats, but you can’t throw just any flower or greenery into the mix because many of them are toxic when eaten.”
Largeman-Roth advises sourcing edible flowers from food-grade suppliers that sell them specifically for eating. Buying flowers from a florist or picking them from the wild can be risky, so avoid taking that route. You can grow your own flowers for eating, but you must be sure that what you are growing are safe to eat.
Largeman-Roth recommends starting food styling by using hibiscus to infuse teas and cocktails with a pink color, fresh or dried lavender as a garnish, pansies to decorate cakes and cheese platters, and nasturtiums to give a peppery taste in salads.
Even decorating with inedible flowers and then removing them before eating is dangerous. Largeman-Roth says it’s best avoided as sap or pollen from the flower could have contaminated the food without you knowing.