Traveling With Edible Flowers in Punjab

From college classrooms to flower fields, Anna Ćwiklinska attends an Indian wedding where some edible flower dishes were served in an unforgettable way.


| Winter 2014-15



flower fields

the author, Anna Cwiklinska, tours the world meeting with flower farmers. Here she's pictured in Chandigarh, the capital of the Punjab Province, India.

Photo by Anna Cwiklinska

Since starting a professional life as a field expert responsible for flower seeds production, my life took a 180 percent turn from the orderly and sometimes boring life of a college teacher to a never ending adventure. Every year, I visit a minimum of eight different countries on various continents to check the seed production fields with local farmers, looking at plant uniformity, trueness to type and predicting seed yields. Thanks to this job, my dreams came true. I spend a lot of time outside in the field, closer to nature and use my skills at something that I truly enjoy. It gives me great opportunities to travel and visit places that are not to be found in travel guides and that I would have never discovered staying at the college. Each of my travels is like opening a short story book and each leaves in me some kind of an imprint. However, a few of my trips can be named “unforgettable.” That is the only appropriate word to describe a trip to India where I attended a short (just 3 days) part of a wedding ceremony organized for “only” 300 people per day.

I did not end up in that place accidentally. The parents of the groom have been producers of flower seeds and have cooperated with me for several years. My host, Amar, informed me by email a few days before flying to India that because of the wedding preparations, the work in the fields would be a little bit complicated and disorganized. Amar also informed me that I was invited to the wedding party. I had no clue of how such a wedding party would look like and what to expect. I packed two additional dresses, only good for a European wedding, and took off to India.

Trip went as usual and after 14 hours in planes and at airports, I landed happily at the place of my final destination: Chandigarh, the capital of the Punjab Province. Punjab is very developed agriculturally and has become one of the richest provinces in India. This is where the Indian “green revolution” started in the sixties and continued into the seventies. This large and important event saved millions of people in India and other poor countries from starvation. One of the local farmers told me how this historical event improved the life of his family. He was born in the Bengal Province and in 1943, when he was still a little child, a famine hit his village. His mother and his brothers died from hunger and together with his father, they started a journey to the unknown, looking for a new place and trying to overcome their sadness. They finally settled nearby Patiala, a city in Punjab in Northern India. The beginnings were not easy, but eventually after a few years, they would call this new place “home”. In the early sixties, he heard about this new program now called “the green revolution.” He knew that something important was happening that could build the foundations for a future with no hunger and a better life.  He was proud to show me a picture of him with Dr. Norman Borlaug who had come to visit the fields surrounding his village.

Punjab’s agriculture is rich and offers a perfect environment for seed production. Most of the farmers are experienced; the soil is fertile and rich in nutrients with unlimited access to water. Such great conditions make the flower fields even more colorful: Tropaeolum, flowering in all tones of yellow, orange, red and pink; tall and dwarf Tagetes (marigolds) in all bright colors from creamy yellow to dark brown red. This is the only place in the world, where good quality seeds of Verbena can be obtained in commercial quantities. All fields glitter in hundreds shades of white, pink, violet, red, blue and purple: such a colorful and pleasant place to be!

I still had to check fields of Nemesia, Mesembrylanthemum and Arctotis and finally was able to observe how farmers collect seeds of Bellis (daisy). The job has to start very early in the morning at sunrise when there is still a little bit of humidity in the air as flowers that are too dry would crumble. Women, as only women do this kind of job, walk the Bellis fields three to four times per week during the harvest season to collect the dry flower heads into small containers. Inside the dry flowers are hidden the tiny golden yellow mature seeds. My guides during this day in the fields, watching women collecting Bellis seeds, is an old and experienced farmer and his son, a well educated young man speaking impeccable English. They then showed me the drying process for the seeds of Lobularia. Plants are harvested from the field and deployed in layers exposed to full sun on concrete floor and allowed to slowly dry in the gentle breeze.

Time was running fast and after a quick lunch, I had to finish work and prepare myself for the rites accompanying the wedding of Kuvai and Asmita. After four days of walking the fields, taking notes and doing plant selections in such a wonderful environment, I was ready for my new experience without knowing what to expect.





elderberry, echinacea, bee hive

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