France: Pansies for the plate is a growing market

Edible flowers are becoming more popular as both an attractive and tasty addition to recipes. Marius Auda is run by father, Gilbert Auda, and his two children, Bernard and Mireille. They started growing flowers in 2004 in response to a demand from local high-end restaurants that were already buying their range of unusual herbs. Mireille Auda says there is now a growing demand from home cooks:

“We sell them in some big supermarkets and people come here to buy them. I am looking into a way of selling them on the internet to respond to increasing demand, but at present, a 125g pot costing €10 will cost the equivalent in postage so I am trying to find a way to sell it with other products to make it worthwhile for the customer.”

She is passionate about growing flowers and discovering their different tastes and uses in the kitchen: “We have plants in flower all year round. Pansies, for example, are present in winter but not in summer. It is really uplifting to grow a culture which is colorful even on the greyest of days.”

Most of the flowers are ones found in gardens, such as cosmos, marigolds, nasturtium, dahlia, and phlox. It is fairly common knowledge that some like nasturtium or borage flowers can be eaten, but others come as more of a surprise such as tuberous begonia flowers: “They have a delicious lemon taste and as they are quite a fleshy flower they also have a good texture. You can also eat their leaves which taste the same.”

Many flowers are reputed to have a high nutritional value packed with minerals and vitamins. Nasturtiums, for example, contain vitamin C. Growing the plants needs a great deal of attention to detail and knowledge of the individual plants: “We are lucky to be in a favorable micro-climate situated in a valley between the sea and the mountains with plenty of sunlight. They are grown in greenhouses to manage their conditions better.

She says they are one of just a handful of large-scale flower growers in France, though there are some smaller producers who have a few flowers as a sideline to their main crops.

Once cut the flowers are packed and sent off to clients as soon as possible. They can be kept in the fridge for up to two hours but are best eaten as fresh as possible. It is advisable not to wash them as the water may damage them and spoil their flavor.

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