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~Each plant, each of its blossoms, and its petals,~
~reflect the magic and mystery of creation~


Flowers have been eaten all over the world since antiquity. They have been incorporated into traditional foods of numerous cultures. The Chinese have been using daylilies, lotus, and chrysanthemums in their cuisine for centuries. Romans used mallow, rose and violets, Italian and Hispanic cultures used stuffed squash blossoms, not forgetting the Asians who till today use rose petals liberally. During the Elizabethan era primroses were stewed and fondant was made of gillyflower. Queen Bess loved Lavender conserve. American colonists made violet vinegar, Oswego tea with bergamot flowers, and mutton broth with marigolds. Odysseus encountered the lotus-eating Sybarites on his way home from Troy. Charlemagne ordered his wine to be flavored with carnations. Chartreuse, a classic green liqueur developed in France in the seventeenth century, uses carnation petals as one of its secret ingredients. Dandelions and numerous other flowers were referred to in the Old Testament of the Bible. So eating flowers is nothing new!!!

Edible flowers make food for any occasion special. They add a magical touch, distinctive color and taste to salads, cakes and pastries, and elegance to beverages when floating in a punch bowl or frozen in ice cubes. Favorite uses include using them fresh in salads, soups, many entrees, and desserts, as garnish dishes, adding color and taste to salad vinaigrettes, making festive ice rings, and as candied flowers. There are so many varieties and colors of flowers that you can choose any, to fit in with your decor for special occasions.

Before experimenting with the pretty flowers, you must know which flowers are safe and unsafe for eating. Flowers of all culinary herbs are safe to use. As long as the leaf of a herb is edible, then so is the flower. Herb blossoms have the same flavor as their leaves, except chamomile and lavender blossoms, their flavor is usually more subtle. A good way to experiment to use the flowers of a herb in recipes calling for that particular herb.


Handy Tips For Beginners

button Pick flowers on the day you are planning to use them. The best time to pick them is in the morning when they are fresh and moist. Remove the stem, stamen, sepals, and calyx as they are bitter.

button Inspect flowers for any signs of disease or insect damage

button Wash flowers thoroughly in cool water before using. Wrap in paper towels and keep in the refrigerator until mealtime.

button They can be stored, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator up to a week.

button Dip them in ice water to restore

button Use flowers sparingly in your recipes. Too much can lead to digestive problems. Also too many flowers will overpower the flavor of the food. The flavor of the flowers should compliment the food.

button Be sure you know what you're eating -- some flowers, such as lily of the valley, have edible flowers, but their roots are poisonous.

button Flowers used for eating should be pesticide-free. Commercial pesticides are poisonous

button Purchase from produce markets or supermarkets.

button Flowers purchased at florists should never be eaten.

button It's safest to use only those you grow yourself.

button Never use non-edible flowers as a garnish.

button Do not eat flowers if you have hay fever, asthma or allergies.

When cooking with flowers, the possibilities are endless, so put some color into your recipes and your taste buds with edible flowers.


Few Simple Ways Of Using Flowers

button One of the most popular uses is candied or crystallized flowers, used to decorate cake and fine candies. To candy flowers whisk an egg white, with a brush and paint a fine layer onto clean, dry, flower petals (or whole flowers if they're small). Next, gently place the petal into some superfine sugar, and sprinkle some more sugar on top. Shake off the excess and lay it out on waxed paper to dry (this takes about eight hours).

button Borage: Float the blue flowers in drinks or punches. The leaves can be added to salads and white sauces or steamed like spinach. It has a cucumber like flavor.

button Carnation: Wash 1 pound carnation flowers, remove husks, stems and heels. Soak in 1 1/2 pints boiling water. Simmer for 30 minutes then let soak for 12 hours. Strains off the liquid and to it add 2 pounds sugar. Boil rapidly and reduce to scented syrup. Use over ice cream or in herbal tea. Primrose can also be used this way.

button Chives: Fill a bottle with washed chive blossoms and cover with white wine vinegar. Allow to sit for 8-10 days. Strain and bottle, add to salad dressing. The vinegar will be a lovely pink color! Try this with purple or African blue basil, too. Tips: never mix vinegar with metal, do not over steep or the herbs will become bitter.

button Lavender: Try a little in your favorite sugar cookie recipe.

button Calendula: The petals look beautiful sprinkled on salads. A good saffron substitute, also known as the poor man's saffron, according to Barash. A savory rice can be made by boiling rice with a half cup of onions and a half cup of calendula petals. It can be added to salads, drinks, ice-cubes or to top scones with jelly.

button Dandelion: For making tea, infuse one ounce of dandelions in a pint of boiling water for 10 minutes. Add a teaspoon of honey to mask the bitter taste. Dandelions can also be used for salads, tea, vinegars and wine are also clear gallstones, promote digestion and act as a diuretic.

button Elder: Steep 2 pounds of dried flowers in white wine vinegar for 8 days. Strain and bottle the vinegar. Use it to make salad dressing. The same can be done with nasturtium seeds and flowers

button Nastartuim: It is rated amongst the best for its peppery flavor Try it with guacamole.

button Marigold: Marigold has medicinal properties and is used for curing chronic ulcers and varicose veins. The top of the flower can also be rubbed on bee or wasp stings to help soothe the pain and swelling.

button Rose: Rose essence is widely used in India for flavouring drinks, Indian sweets and Biryani rice (savoury rice)

button Rose Vinegar: This is simple to make.Take about 1/2 cup of rose petals, add to heated white vinegar. Bottle when cool and store at room temperature for a couple of days. Strain and you will have an unusual vinegar, pink with the aromatics of roses. Add some Dijon mustard and a dash of fresh pepper and you have a lovely vinigairette dressing.

button Rose Water: You will need 2 cups of freshly picked rose petals, combined with a quart of water in a saucepan. Bring the ingredients to a slight boil, then allow to cool. Strain and bottle. It will keep fresh and scented for several days at room temperature, longer if refrigerated and if you used red rose petals, will have a pink color.

button Squash: Squash blossoms taste great fresh, they're also good sauteed. The flavor of these yellow-orange flowers is something like that of fresh squash, and they have a velvety, slightly crunchy texture.

button Violas are very common garden plants and are usually very easy to grow. All members of this genus have edible leaves and flower buds though it is probably best to avoid the yellow flowered species as these can be strongly laxative if eaten in quantity.Eaten raw or cooked, the leaves are often used to thicken soups.

button If you do develop a taste for flowers, get a copy of Edible Flowers, by Cathy Wilkinson Barash (Fulcrum Publishing,Golden, CO, 1995; $22.95), which has 280 recipes.



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Copyright Pinkie D'Cruz 1998

Monday, February 23, 1998

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