Please don't eat the common daisies. But do try the English daisy and the violets and the nasturtiums and all the other edible flowers that decorate your garden. The fiery, sweet or herbal flavors of flowers add panache to any dish they grace. And flowers can command center stage, too.
A friend once taught me to prepare the flowers of wild elderberry bushes the way people do in the Rhine River Valley of her native Germany.
Pick each flower cluster -- they look like Queen Anne's lace -- along with a little piece of stem and dip it in a wine-thinned crepe batter. Then, holding each cluster by its stem, dip it in boiling oil for a moment or two. Drain on paper toweling and dust with powdered sugar. Try other flowers this way, too.
For centuries jasmine, chrysanthemums, hibiscus and orang blossoms have been important as food. Middle Eastern cooking exudes the fragrance of rosewater. And Apicius recorded the use of flowers by the ancient Romans in his "Roman Cook Book." But the custom of eating flowers fell into disuse with the introduction of other edible plants.
Now chefs are rediscovering the delights of garnishing platters with flowers people can eat. And gardeners are finding that flowers they once grew only for show make cooking a lark.
Of course, toxic flowers should never be ingested (Africa marigolds, bleeding heart, buttercup, foxglove, common daisy, iris, lupine, oleander, periwinkle, poinsettia and wisteria among them). And never eat flowers from a florist shop as they are treated with chemicals.
But most flowers are perfectly safe. You may pick them froyour garden or purchase them from specialty stores or gourmet supermarkets.
It's common to see crystallized violets and roses decoratin pastries, but borage, English daisy, chamomile, geranium, honeysuckle, pansy, calendula, carnations, pinks, viola and violet blossoms also crystallize well.
Familiar flowers that go unnoticed summer after summer also make surprisingly good eating, especially fried stuffed zucchini blossoms. Or toss peppery nasturtiums raw in salads, float them in gelatin pudding or pickle their seed pods and buds as a substitute for capers.
Though dandelions may be weeds in the lawns of Americans Europeans have long appreciated their flowers and leaves in salads. Colorful sweet hollyhocks taste good stuffed with jack cheese, battered and deep-fried. Bright orange and yellow calendulas add a saffron color to stews and soups.
English daisies go well in salads or as a garnish for cakes. Fuchsia make an exotic garnish or a tasty pickle, while velvety pansies, like other members of the viola family, are colorful in salads.
Poet William Blake saw "Heaven in a Wild Flower." Start cooking with flowers and you'll agree. Here are two recipes from Paradise Farms in California to serve as inspiration:
1 egg white, at room temperature
any edible flower petals or small whole edible flowers with few petals (pansy, borage, rose, daisy, chamomile, geranium, viola, violet)
Beat egg white lightly in a small bowl. Rinse flower petals and dry thoroughly. With small brush, paint both sides with egg white, being sure to cover completely. Use wood pick to separate leaves of multi-petal flowers. Sprinkle both sides lightly with sugar. Place on rack or baking sheet and let dry in cool place until sugar has hardened. Store in airtight container to use throughout the year.
RASPBERRY AND NASTURTIUM SALAD
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups sour cream or plain yogurt
1 cup raspberry vinegar
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint or 2 teaspoons dried mint
3 pints fresh raspberries
24 nasturtium flowers
In a chilled metal bowl, whisk cream until whisk leaves tracks in cream. Add sour cream or yogurt and whisk until smooth. Whisk in vinegar. Blend in sugar. Stir in mint. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours. When ready to serve, whisk to blend. On a dessert plate, place raspberries in center and arrange nasturtiums around fruit. Dribble dressing over. Serves six to eight.