There is a lot of confusion regarding the use of fresh flowers on Wedding Cakes so I thought I’d clarify a few points.
First the negatives of using fresh flowers on wedding or other celebration cakes….
Despite my job I must state that fresh flowers are not a general food product and flowers should not be eaten unless they are sourced from a reputable organic edible source for the following reasons:
EDIBLE OR TOXIC? - Firstly, and not wanting to state the obvious here, quite a few plants are actually poisonous and could cause a range of symptoms from vomiting to blistering skin around the mouth etc or worse if ingested. They have no place being attached to food items such as a cake and particularly with the boom in popularity of edible flowers on wedding cakes there is a risk that non edible flowers might be mistaken for edible when they are not. There are an increasing number of wedding cakes which are being decorated with fresh flowers and leaves that are actually poisonous. Even if they are not actually eaten there is a risk that sap or fine hair irritants from poisonous plants can leech into a cake if they come into contact with it. I recently saw a wedding cake on Pinterest with Euphorbia stems poked into the cake itself. The gardeners amongst you will know that the sap of Euphoribia is an extreme irritant and causes problems even if it comes in contact with the skin let alone ingested. The Royal Horticultural Society produces a list of those plants that have been clearly identified as clearly poisonous but this is not a comprehensive list.
In the photo below the stunning cake is made by the fabulous Bees Bakery. Bees Bakery is scrupulous about only sourcing organic edible flowers from us here at Maddocks Farm Organics to decorate their wedding cakes. The cake below is photographed alongside flowers in vases including one which is poisonous. Can you identify which one is?
There is a fashion amongst cake makers to artistically drape any flowers or foliage around cake and this has been causing big concern in the horticultural world with experts such as James Wong writing of the dangers in the Guardian. If it’s not edible don’t have it in contact with your cake.
CHEMICAL CONTAMINATION - Secondly, there is the temptation to pick up flowers from a supermarket or florist or to ask your wedding florist to bring along a few extras to decorate the cake when you are getting married. Please don’t for a number of reasons. Firstly floristry flowers are absolutely not the same as edible flowers even if they are the same species. Irrespective of whether you are, or are, not planning on eating them they are still going to come into contact with the cake that you are going to put in your mouth. Flowers from a florist, supermarket or garden centres are not designed to be eaten. They are routinely sprayed with insecticides, herbicides and fungicides, none of those are regulated fit for human consumption because they are designed to maximise the shelf life of the flower – not to be eaten. More importantly, more than 90% of flowers sold in uk are imported and flown long distances many from Africa and Columbia. They are not not regulated for the pesticides they use and just as importantly they are not packaged or handled with food hygiene in mind – quite the opposite! There has been a lot of negative press in recent years about flower pickers suffering huge ill effects from coming into contact with sprayed flowers let along the impact on the environment (but that is a whole other story). Whilst this article pertains particularly to Australia rather than the UK it does illustrate what happens to imported flowers to make them ‘safe‘.
FOOD HYGIENE - UK Environmental Health advises against garnishing your wedding cake with anything that is not an approved food product unless you can ensure that it is free from microbial, chemical or physical contamination.
Finally, for the same reason, please make sure that your caterer or florist does not push the stems of flowers into the cake that you are going to eat. These flower stems have recently been in water in vases or florist buckets so again there are food hygiene problems. Hospitals have banned fresh flowers from wards partly because of the number of bacteria harboured in flower water. Just remember that your cake maker, whilst qualified in food hygiene, is not a horticulturalist and should not be expected to know about flowers. Likewise your florist, may well know about flowers but not cakes.
Another stunning cake from Bees Bakery using our edible flowers. Just one £13.50 was used to decorate this cake.
Now for the positives…….
Please don’t let the above put you off using& fresh flowers on wedding cakes because edible flowers on a wedding cake are stunning and a cheaper alternative to a lot of fancy sugar work. Fresh edible flowers are more contemporary, smell wonderful and also a fantastic talking point. You just need to follow a few simple rules.
1) Buy your flowers from an reputable organic source.
Edible flowers cannot be washed and should therefore be sourced from an organic source. Do not be afraid to ask questions and to ask for a firm’s organic credentials. A company is not allowed by law to refer to itself as organic, or even state that it grows organically, unless it is both licenced and regulated. At Maddocks Farm Organics, we are licenced with the Soil Association as both growers and processors of edible flowers. Our fields and production methods are inspected annually and we have had outstanding reports every single year which is why Jan was made an Organic Hero by the Soil Association and why our products have won several awards. Whilst some organic growers do use natural insecticides such as garlic spray etc, we use nothing here at Maddocks Farm relying on crop rotation, good organic gardening practices, companion planting, sacrificial planting and beneficial insects such as ladybirds to keep our plants free of pests and diseases.
2) Ask how your flowers are grown, picked and processed.
Here at Maddocks Farm our plants are grown directly in the soil (as is a requirement of the Soil Association) so that they have a ready source of minerals and other nutrients they need for healthy natural growth. We grow in raised beds to keep the plants clean and use a mixture of unheated polytunnels and natural outside planting. Our flowers are brought into the preparation room within 15 minutes of being picked and each flower is checked before being packed into food grade approved recycled and recyclable packaging. They are then put immediately into a fridge before packing up for despatch in thermal biodegradable boxes. Our flowers are sent out by overnight courier with chiller packs included to ensure that they arrive before 12 noon the following day in perfect condition. This is particularly important in the height of summer.
A wedding box selection from Maddocks Farm Organic. Here four boxes for £50. The bride chose the colour palate for her cake.
3) Think about how you want to use the flowers.
The way you plan to use your edible flowers on your cake should also dictate to a large extent which sort of flowers you choose and how they are picked and prepared. Thing to consider are:
- What time of year are you getting married?
Maddocks Farm Organics is both an ethical and organic business so we embrace the flower seasons. We don't and wont import. We grow all our own flowers and therefore cannot supply roses any time other than June-October. We will only have elder flowers from the end of May until the middle of June and lavender from mid July. Spring and late Autumn flowers are smaller and grown in unheated polytunnels whereas summer flowers are bigger and blowsier. This needs to be thought about when planning your cake.
Above is Bee's Bakery's famous 'Skirt' cake as featured with our edible flowers in both Vogue, and Bride Magazine. This perfectly takes advantage of the smaller flowers available in March and April and looks stunning. The flowers are easily pressed into soft buttercream.
– Are you having a naked or iced cake and if so what sort of icing are you having?
Some edible flowers have very soft petals which absorb the fat from butter icing or cream if they are left on the cake for too long – an example of this is borage. Having said that, cakes with fresh cream etc should not be left on display for too long anyway – food hygiene regulations state no more than 5 hours and less if the weather is very hot. This stunning naked cake is by Cherish Cakes by Katherine and used 5 boxes of edible flowers. A stunning selection of informal smaller flowers for the shoulders and around the base. This cake was a 12,8,6 and 4 inch.
– Where is your cake going to be displayed and for how long?
With the best will in the world, if you want your cake to sit outside, in directly sunlight or in a boiling hot marquee for several hours then you might want to consider crystallising your flowers, using dried or pressed flowers or just using really robust flowers that can cope with heat or using flower picks. Your edible flower grower can advise on this. In summer the more robust flower option include cornflowers, calendulas, carnations, dianthus and rose buds. Avoid nasturtiums, borage, chamomile and phlox as they will wilt very quickly.
At Maddocks Farm we generally send out our flowers without stalks on them so that they can either be balanced on, or stuck to the cake as you choose. If you want the flowers to hold for a long time, or want larger statement flowers then you can request that they come with stalks on them and these can be placed into florists’ picks which look like small golf tees and can contain small amounts of sealed water so that statement flowers don’t wilt. These are very cheap and widely available online. However I must emphasise that most varieties of edible flowers have very short, or very soft stems - certainly the more interesting and flavourful ones such as abutilons or begonias. Also the stemmed flowers that we grow such as roses are field grown and have really short stems anyway. No more than a couple of inches in length. A world away from forced glass house florist flowers.
– When should you add the edible flowers to your cake?
The later you add fresh flowers to your cake the better. Most good wedding cake makers will assemble the cake on the day of the wedding for you at the venue. If they are delivering the cake the day before then keep the flowers separate in the fridge in their container until the morning of the Wedding. Edible flowers will survive for for a few days in their sealed boxes in the fridge but will deteriorate if they are put on the cake the day before and then refrigerated on the cake. They just dry out.
Whilst it is lovely to have a decorated cake on display during the entire day the most important thing is that the cake looks stunning when it is cut so timing should be worked back from that time. It is best for the cake and best for the flowers.
This might seem daunting and I have more conversations with people worrying about finding time to set up and decorate the cake in what is already a hectic day. However, I can hand on heart say that not a single bride, mother or mother-in-law of the bride, friend or even cake maker has ever come back to me yet and said "never again!". I just get endless thank you emails saying how much they enjoyed it, that it only took 15 minutes or so, how interested people were in the process and how proud they were of creating something so personal. A lot of brides have actually come back to say they loved having 10 minutes quiet time to have a breather and take a moment in what is often a blur of a day.
– If you have to travel to your wedding venue.
I cannot reiterate enough the importance of using the flowers fresh. If you are getting married some distance from home then please don’t get the flowers delivered an extra day earlier to your house and then travel with them. They hate this. We can send directly to the reception venue where you can arrange for somebody to pop them in the fridge and they’ll be waiting for you. Once they are in the fridge this stops any deterioration in quality, just like any other food stuff. If this is not possible then consider petal confetti (see below) or dried edible flowers or pressed flowers as an alternative to whole blooms.
If you want the look for fresh flowers but with more staying power then pressed flowers are an option like this beauty from the Queen of Pressed Flower cakes The Blushing Cook. We sell flowers selections for you to press at home and they can be pressed way in advance and kept in a sealed air tight, light tight container to be added first thing in the morning. They keep well and look stunning. Obviously they loose the fragrance and vitality of fresh flowers and are not so pleasant to eat but they are a great option
– Do you want to use edible petal confetti?
Petal confetti is a stunning and extremely fashionable option. It is also one to consider if you are planning on making and decorating your own wedding cake and are working on a budget. It is an extremely cost effective option as 1 large box of flowers for petal confetti will cover a standard three tier wedding cake with ease. The petals can just be scattered over the cake, (requiring no expertise!) for a stunning natural look. A few accent flowers can be used as a flower cake topper if required. Edible confetti made from calendulas and cornflowers holds extremely well on a cake as well so is a good summer choice.
– When should you order your flowers?
As soon as possible. Maddocks Farm Organics is a very small family firm and every week we have at least three times the number of enquiries as we do flowers. We would therefore recommend pre-ordering your flowers as early as possible. When you place your order you will be asked to choose the delivery date for the flowers; where you’d like the flowers delivered to; to list all your contact details and for information about colours and what you would like. You can contact Jan and change any of these at a later date if, for example, you decide you’d like the flowers sending straight to the reception venue instead. The important thing is to get the order in the diary so that your flowers are reserved.
– The personal touch
Do also consider using edible flowers out of your own garden for a lovely personal touch. Remember to ensure that the species and variety are definitely edible; that they have not been sprayed with anything; and that they away from where pets have been. Alternatively have a go at growing your wedding cake flowers. The best source of edible flower seeds in the UK is The Edible Flower Shop. Just ensure when you grow your own that you grow them organically.
I hope this helps. If you’d like any more advice on using fresh flowers on Wedding Cakes then please do email Jan at firstname.lastname@example.org