Edible flowers were popular during the Victorian era, but you don’t need a complicated recipe to cook with them. In fact, the simpler, the better.

Edible flowers were popular during the Victorian era, but you don’t need a complicated recipe to cook with them. In fact, the simpler, the better.

“Let the flowers do the talking. Let the flowers make the beauty of the dish,” said Carol Schlitt, nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension in Edwardsville.

Something as simple as freezing pansies in ice cubes or sprinkling sugar-coated violets on cupcakes create a beautiful finish.

“It’s adds a point of conversation, and it adds good flavor. Most people have basil growing in a pot for pesto, but the flowers can be used, too,” she said.

Edible flowers can be purchased in the produce sections of some supermarkets, or they can be freshly picked. Don’t use any flowers that have been sprayed with chemicals, including blooms from a florist, and don’t eat flowers picked from the side of a road (which easily pick up road dirt). If you’re not sure a flower is edible, don’t use it.

More advice from Schlitt:

- Eat only the petals; remove the pistils and stamens.

- Store flowers in the refrigerator and use as soon as possible.

- Wash flowers right before using because water can wilt them.

-Test for color-fastness before using so they don’t bleed all over a cake’s white icing.

- If flowers are used as a garnish, they should be edible.

-Be cautious about serving flowers to children in case they have an allergic reaction.

Schlitt likes to make Hearts and Flowers Salad, a colorful medley of baby field greens, flower petals and thin slices of ham and cheese cut into hearts.

“Pansies, chrysanthemums or dianthus are pretty in the salad. I really like nasturtiums. They have a peppery flavor, a pungency,” she said. Flowers from herb plants (dill, oregano, savory, thyme) add an herbal note.

She also likes to make “composed butter.” Beat 1/2 cup of finely chopped or shredded flowers into a softened stick of unsalted butter. Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice and/or shallots. Refrigerate until ready to use on breads and rolls, pancakes and waffles, steaks off the grill, fish, vegetables and pasta.

To decorate cakes or cupcakes, make crystallized flowers: Dip whole flowers or petals in pasteurized egg white (you can use egg-white powder sold at cake decorating stores) and then sprinkle with superfine granulated sugar. Let them dry at least eight hours on wax paper. Store in layers between wax paper in a tightly sealed, airtight container.

Schlitt suggests floating flowers on soups or in punch bowls, sprinkling them on muffins and cupcakes, stuffing blossoms with hors d’oeuvre fillings and garnishing the top of brie or camembert cheese with a cascade of petals.

“For a wedding shower, you can use the colors of the wedding,” she added.

Hearts and Flowers Salad
From Carol Schlitt

3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red-wine vinegar or champagne vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
5 cups mixed baby field greens
4 slices thinly sliced cheddar cheese (both yellow and white), cut into small- and medium-sized hearts
4 slices thinly sliced ham, cut into small- and medium-sized hearts
1/2 cup flower petals (any kind)

To prepare salad dressing, combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, Italian seasoning, sugar, salt and black pepper in a pint jar with tight-fitting lid. Shake briskly until mixed.

Place baby field greens in a salad bowl. Add cheese and ham hearts and toss gently. Shake dressing and pour over salad. Add flower petals and toss lightly.

Note: To cut hearts, use a small cookie cutter.

Makes 6 servings.

Squash Blossom Soup
From Carol Schlitt

3 tablespoons butter or margarine
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups cooked and strained squash
1 cup chopped squash blossoms
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 cups evaporated skim milk

Combine the butter, flour and chicken stock in medium stockpot. Add squash, blossoms, celery, onion and parsley. Simmer 10 minutes. Add milk and heat thoroughly, but do not boil.

Makes 6 servings.

Hibiscus Tea
From Carol Schlitt

12 red hibiscus flowers
8 ounces boiling water
1 lime
Honey

Place 12 red hibiscus flowers in a teapot. Add 1 cup boiling water; let steep a few minutes. Tea will look purple. Squeeze juice of lime into teapot. The tea will turn red. Sweeten with a little honey, but not too much as the hibiscus nectar is already sweet enough for hummingbirds.

Makes 1 serving.

Blue Flower Chive Omelet
From “Cooking in the Shaker Spirit” by James Haller and Jeffrey Paige (Yankee Books)

3 tablespoons butter
4 eggs
4 tablespoons milk
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced chives
About a dozen or so chive blossoms, gently washed and dried

Melt butter in a frying pan. Combine eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and chives in a blender and pour into the hot, buttered pan. As the edges of the omelet begin to set, reduce the heat somewhat and with a spatula turn the uncooked eggs to the bottom of the skillet until they are all cooked.

Sprinkle the washed chive blossoms across the top of the eggs and then fold the omelet over and let cook another few minutes. Serve.

Makes 2 servings.

Grilled Salmon With Nasturtium Vinaigrette
From www.about.com

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/4 cup shallots, finely minced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3/4 cup chopped nasturtium flowers
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
8 (3 ounces each) boneless salmon fillets
2 tablespoons olive oil
Chives for garnish

Preheat grill or broiler. Whisk together balsamic vinegar, shallots, 1/2 cup olive oil and dill weed until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in nasturtium flowers and chives.

Rub salmon fillets with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill or broil salmon about 3 minutes per side, depending on thickness, but take care not to overcook.

For each serving, place 2 salmon fillets on each plate. Whisk the nasturtium vinaigrette briefly to re-combine, then spoon over salmon. Garnish with chopped chives.

Makes 4 servings.

Do not eat

Avoid eating these commonly known poisonous plants and flowers: Anemone, autumn crocus, azalea, black locust, bloodroot, boxwood, burning bush, buttercup, butterfly weed, caladium, calla lily, Carolina jasmine, Christmas rose, clematis, daffodil, delphinium, four o’clock, foxglove, gloriosa lily, hyacinth, hydrangea, iris, English ivy, jimson weed, lantana, lily of the valley, mistletoe, morning glory, mountain laurel, nightshade, oleander, periwinkle, philodendron, privet, rhododendron, schefflera, sweet pea, trumpet flower, wisteria.

Source: www.homecooking.about.com

Guide to tastes

Each flower has a unique flavor. Here’s a general guideline:

Sweet: Chamomile, dandelion, daylily, elderberry, linden, okra, red clover, yucca

Spicy-sweet: Anise hyssop, bee balm, dianthus, fennel, pineapple sage

Bitter: Calendula, chicory, chrysanthemum, English daisy, sunflower

Floral: Honeysuckle, jasmine, lavender, lilac, rose, scented geranium, sweet violet

Mint: Johnny-jump-up, mint, pansy

Citrus: Hibiscus, lemon verbena, signet marigold, tuberous begonia

Source: Carol Schlitt

Springfield State Journal-Register writer Kathryn Rem can be reached at  kathryn.rem@sj-r.com.