#1 Flowersinterview

A passionate
   appetite
for flowers

As a child she dreamt of exploring the whole of nature, questioned everything and made it her career. Food Designer Katja Gruijters uncovers floral secrets in her studio-cum-incubator lab. She doesn’t understand why we place flowers in a vase but not on a plate like vegetables and fruit. For 'Funny how flowers can do that.co.uk' she is on a passionate quest for everything there is to know about the healing and nutritional properties of flowers_________.

Floral menu

“Flowers are so much more than just a decoration! I find it bizarre that we place flowers on the table in a vase instead of on a plate. We can eat more than 50 species, so why don’t we? “Flowers could just as easily be fruit or vegetables. Thankfully we’re seeing more and more restaurants cooking with flowers. Even the Netherlands’ biggest supermarket chain now offers a salad featuring edible flowers. It’s clearly a trend that is becoming ever more widespread. Hopefully it will become a fixed part of our food pattern. For that to happen, flowers also need to be cultivated to be fit for human consumption. How wonderful would it be if you could just snip the flowers off a bouquet on the table and scatter them on your salad? That would be amazing, wouldn’t it? Edible flowers are very healthy, and they’re one of the Netherlands’ biggest export products - naturally we need to exploit that potential as much as possible! You can order them online, but you don’t see them being sold fresh very often. And also …. I prefer to buy them on a stem! Other cultures have long used flowers in the kitchen. In Asia they serve gallons of chrysanthemum tea, in France they eat tubs of viola ice-cream in the summer, and in Italy, every greengrocer sells courgette flowers… it really is time that we started to catch up! Luckily we’ve made some progress already.””

“Did you know that lily petals make excellent plasters?”

Superfood on a stem

“Experimenting with violas - that’s how I started. Did you know that they’re packed with vitamin C? The more I found out, the less I understood why we do so little with them. So I took the plunge and went to the Flower Council of Holland: ’Did you know that some flowers are really good for your health?’ It was a good match. At the moment I’m examining the curative properties of lilies for them - an increasingly interesting and versatile species. Did you know that lily petals were originally used as plasters?”

Incubator lab as playground

“Food and flowers are more closely related than you might think. Both are plants, come from nature, and are perishable. There are loads of similarities. Most vegetables in the vegetable patch have tasty flowers which are extremely edible - think of courgettes and cucumbers. As a designer I like to work with these types of natural materials. The challenge lies in stepping beyond the established boundaries. It brings you into exciting areas. That enormous unexplored area, the whole natural cycle - I find all that utterly fascinating. Looking at what else you can do with flowers. Preserving, dyeing, bottling, making oil, tea and syrup from them … You name it. In the studio we have sown cultivation projects for us to study. We have effectively created our own edible incubator lab. We study growth processes there, copy them, preserve, observe again … It’s an amazing playground!”

Flowercast

Lilies
Tigerlily
Daylily
Violet
Apple blossom
Chrysanthemums
Zucchini flower
Orchid

Crunchy apple blossom

“Apple blossom is a typical example of ‘remarkably tasty’. It tastes of apple, the texture is a bit crunchy, fresh like the taste of springtime. If you place a flower on your tongue it starts to tingle - it has a very strange and surprising effect in your mouth. They are Szechuan buttons with a tingling, numbing effect. They’re also used before a meal because they cleanse your palate. I once made a drink out of them for my Wonderfood Dinner inspired by Alice in Wonderland at the Mode Biennale in Arnhem. The guests didn’t know what was happening to them! Of course a project like that is an excellent opportunity to tell my story.”

“I want to snip the flowers from the bouquet on the table in order to scatter them on my salad”

Candy from the florist

“My flower candies are another ‘show and tell’ device. They’re like traditional sweets with violas, lavender and rose petals. The idea behind it was to stimulate senses other than smell and vision by adding taste. That is my biggest passion: illustrating what I want to say by having the consumer experience the story, as it were. I can’t think of anything that’s more fun.”

St John's wort oil from your windowsill

“One of my most recent ‘show and tell’ projects was the Winter Anti-Depression Show at Marres in Maastricht, where the public could find out how you can combat winter depression with St. John’s wort, amongst other things. This plant flowers on 24 June, St. John’s Day, the time when the sun is at its zenith… And it is that herb in particular that helps to tackle winter depression. Isn’t that amazing?! I find details like that fascinating.”

“What are we eating this evening? Stir-fried lilies, viola ice cream, or courgette flower salad?”

The beautiful orchid

“Right now the orchid is my favourite edible flower. I find it visually lovely to look at. At first glance you would not expect it to be edible. But here too the warning applies: don’t try this at home. Because it only applies to variants grown to be fit for human consumption.”

Katja's wishlist

“Do you know what I would really like to do? Design an exhibition about flowers where you can see, smell, eat and taste flowers. Where we stimulate all the senses, and tell the underlying stories. I think that would be amazing.”

Stroking catkins

“Growth makes people happy - and not just the effect of the plant itself, but working with plants also has an effect on how you feel. I can remember how my father taught me to look carefully at nature. He showed me the small things in life: the flower buds opening, a bee with pollen on its legs… We lived on the edge of the forest in Geldrop, Brabant. We did treasure hunts, played hide and seek, went in search of animals, birds and rabbits. We made chains out of daisies and dandelions… I was a real outdoors child and spent a lot of time playing and roaming around in nature. At the start of the year I would look at the catkins in the garden with my father every day. Whenever spring comes around again, it makes me particularly happy - that’s something I’ve carried with me since childhood. How remarkable and beautiful life is - particularly the small things… That’s true isn’t it? You really don’t need any more than that. In the spring I can’t resist touching catkins with my fingers to feel whether they’re opening, and then I know: the child inside me is still there_______.”