Q. I am fascinated by the use of flowers in preparing certain food dishes. Are there some basic guidelines to follow when choosing the flowers?
A. Edible petals are creative additions to desserts, teas, salads and fruit dishes, as well as charming decorations for most vegetable and meat preparations. Not all flowers are edible, however! Check with a reputable reference before consuming flowers or other plant parts. The American Medical Association publishes a paperback guide entitled The AMA Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants. Avoid using flowers from the florist or flowers that have been sprayed with pesticides or fungicides. Use only flowers you have grown yourself or ones sold as edible in the produce section of stores.
A few popular suggestions to start you on your way include roses, marigolds, lavender, pansies, violets, apple or crab apple blossoms, geraniums (Pelargonium, that is), calendulas, tulips, tuberous begonias, honeysuckle, nasturtiums, lilacs, dianthus and certainly the flowers of all herbs.
Pick the flowers early in the morning, wash the blossoms and dry them thoroughly on paper towels. Decorate hot dishes at the last minute since steam will wilt the flowers quickly. Cold or frozen dishes may be decorated ahead of time.