Flowers are among nature’s most important, beautiful, complex, and symbolic creations. They are like antennae that transmit messages to the natural world through colors and patterns, and fragrances that let the insects and birds know where the nectar is. For this reason, vegetable and fruit gardeners plant flowers alongside their crops, hoping to attract beneficial pollinators. Not only do flowers communicate with their surroundings, they communicate to us too. For centuries, we have used flowers to tell someone “I love you” or “I’m sorry” or “It’s going to be alright.”
They can also speak to us all on their own. When I witness the blooming trees of spring and see the specks of color scattered across the floor of a grand meadow, I think of the people going for a jog, the people having a picnic or hiking, the people opening the windows of their home, releasing the stagnant winter air, and I wonder if flowers aren’t partly responsible for pushing us out into the world after a long chill. At least for me, when I look out my window and see flowers welcoming the warm air, I need to get up and get out and seize the day!
I think it is safe to say that the Native Americans had a strong awareness of flowers as master communicators because of their plethora of applications, both aesthetic and medicinal. They extracted dyes from sunflowers and lavender flowers, dying their clothes and painting their faces, celebrating who they were and communicating to others tribes about what they stood for. But the Native Americans understood how flowers can communicate with our bodies; they used flowers to treat anything from the common cold, to insect bites, and nausea. The juice extracted from roots of the black-eyed Susan and lobelia were applied to snake bites and consumed as a drink in order to treat digestive issues, fevers, and colds.
Consuming flowers may seem like a dated pastime, but eating flowers is popular among many Americans today. Although they may have health benefits, it is because of their unique contribution of flavor and appearance that makes them a popular food item. The most commonly consumed flower is the sunflower, particularly the seed, which is roasted and salted or ground into flour. Pansies and hollyhocks are popular eaten raw or in salads. The petals of begonia are popularly used in hot sauces because of its earthy bitterness, which is said to translate to a robust flavor when added to spice.
It seems that no matter what form the flower takes, no matter how we process it, or extract it’s juices or pigments, the flower maintains its communicative ability. It can speak to us internally or help us to communicate externally—with ourselves and with each other and with the natural world.