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Are edible flowers just for show

01:00 Fri 21st Dec 2001 |

A.� It is true that adding edible flowers to salads and dishes in expensive restaurants has become very trendy, some would say overly so, as it was in the late sixties and early seventies.

Some have little or no taste and are really just artistic flourishes, but others have real taste and can genuinely enhance the flavour as well as the look of food.

Q.� Is this a recent trend

A.� No, in fact if anything we don't use them as much as our ancestors. Records show that flowers were widely used in medieval cooking and were almost certainly important, not just for presentation but nutrition too, throughout history.

Q.� Are we talking about flowering herbs

A.� No, there are plenty of ornamental plants that can be used, but we do use the flowers of herbs too. For instance, many of us will grow chives in the garden, but may rarely see them flower because they are continuously cutting the stems for cooking.

If you've never tried it before allow part of your chives to go to flower. Chives are part of the alium (onion) family, and are widely grown in our herbaceous borders for their purple-blue, spiky flowers. Try picking a couple and mixing them in with the salad. Do beware though, they have a very strong�flavour and are hot.

Q.� So what other flowers are good in salads

A.� Nasturtiums are excellent. Not only do they flower prolifically and can easily be grow in containers (they are often best grown in pots as they have a tendency to flop about if in the border) but the blooms have a delicious, peppery flavour. Even the seed heads are edible and widely used pickled, otherwise known as capers.

Pot marigolds are another flower with a spicy flavour and shouldn't be eaten whole, rather have their petals sprinkled over the salad. Dandelions aren't flowers we tend to grow on purpose but they have been used as food for centuries. The leaves are blanched and then cut up and added to salad. They taste delicious, as long as you get them before the plant has flowered after which they become bitter and no good to anyone.

Q.� What about flowers you actually cook

A.� Hyssop (Hyssopsus officialis) is mentioned as an herb in the bible, but its blue flowers apparently help us digest digest fatty meats and fish. Taste wise it probably goes best with chicken.

The lovely orange petals of the Tiger lily (Lilum lancifolium) has long been used in Chinese cooking as a stuffing for fish and Day lilies (Hemerocallis) are used in the same way or you can eat the young buds too if you can afford to lose a few blooms. They apparently taste like mange tout.

Q.� What about roses

A.� Rose petals have a delicate, perfumed taste and have been eaten for centuries. You can scatter them or boil them to make rose water for flavouring or to make rose jelly. For cake decorations paint them with egg white and dust with castor sugar.

Q.� Could we eat any flower then

A.� No. There are just as many toxic ones as edible ones. If in doubt check, and never eat flowers that have been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides.

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By Tom Gard

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