Photo: cafemama (flickr)
Some cooks with flair use flowers to garnish and to flavor dishes. However it is wise to check a reliable source to make sure a flower is edible and is free of chemicals before combining it with food. Donna Frawley in her cookbook advises that the botanical, not the common name, should always be used by cooks checking which flowers are safe to eat.
The Romans used lavender, mallows, roses and violets in their cooking and Shakespeare referred to the culinary use of honeysuckle, marigolds, nasturtiums and primroses. He also mentioned “gilly flowers” which we know as carnations. During the 17th century, flowers were first crystallized in sugar and also used to flavor syrups, jams, jellies, wines and liqueurs.
After the civil war a substantial number of Italian immigrants came to America and brought with them many herbs, which soon became popular with cooks in this country. Most plants from the Mediterranean region, such as basil, garlic and oregano need good drainage and sun to flourish. Oregano has pretty flowers as well as flavorful leaves. If you serve an Italian meal next summer, a few oregano flowers on the plates or in a vase would be a nice touch.