Although flowers are generally used as decoration, there are a surprising number that can be eaten and look very attractive on a plate. They can be used in salads, soups and main dishes as well as in drinks or in jellies. There about 100 common edible flowers. A few examples are dandelions (well known for salads), lilac and violets (also for salads), sunflowers (well known for their seeds, but the buds and petals are also edible) and jasmine (for tea).
Like mushrooming, it is essential that you know what you are looking for and can identify the flowers with absolute certainty. If in doubt don’t pick them as some flowers are toxic! There are various sources which can help with identification and the proper way to prepare flowers to eat, including reference books and the Internet. Do not use flowers that have been treated with pesticides. The simple way to avoid this is to grow your own, but some commercial growers are very helpful in this respect. There may be one in your area who also supplies restaurants and may be a mine of information on the subject. When decorating dishes with flowers, ensure that they are all edible: it’s likely that your guests have no idea which can be eaten and which not.
So far we have only mentioned fresh flowers, but edible flowers can also be conserved in a number of ways and eaten out of season. For example, flower oils can be made by steeping the petals of edible flowers in olive oil, sunflower oil or similar oils for around seven days and then removing them. The remaining oil will keep for up to three months. Similarly, edible flower petals can be steeped in vinegar for three to four weeks before being removed, to provide a subtle aromatic vinegar for use in salad dressings etc. Finely chopped edible flower petals can also be mixed with unsalted butter, left to stand at room temperature for several hours and then put in a refrigerator for a few days to enhance the flavour. This will last for several months if frozen. Edible flower petals also make attractive ice cubes for drinks when frozen with water in an ice-cube tray. Other recipes include candied flowers, floral liqueur, flower honey, jelly and syrup. As you see, flowers are very versatile.