Flowers can add beauty, color and flavor to the dinner table. Eat the petals, or steep them in liquid to exude the oils for flavoring foods. The outer petals are used, since the center of the flower can be bitter. The foliage is edible in some species, but be sure before adding any other parts of the plant to dishes. Use fresh flowers that have not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.
Roses are just as useful for the kitchen as they are for the bath and the landscape. The oil varies in intensity and scent among different species. Species roses such as (Rosa rugosa) are among the highest in essential oils. All types of roses are edible. One way to use rose petals is in dried form. The petals are then added to tea blends, or later soaked for flavorings. The whole fresh flowers can be used in cake decorating, or whole petals thrown into salads.
Dianthus caryophyllus are small short-stemmed carnations. They come in many colors but the old fashioned "Pinks" seem to have the most flavor. The flavor and scent is both spicy and sweet. When using carnations in cooking, expect the flavor to predominate the dish. The durable flowers can also be candied for desserts and decorations. Carnations are also used to flavor liqueurs.
Daylily (Hemerocallis) flowers bloom and fade in one day, as the name implies. The most common colors are orange, yellow and red. Due to the mild neutral flavor, daylilies can be stuffed with savory foods. They make an elegant appetizer filled with tuna or shrimp salad. The flowers are large so they make a good table decoration. Arrange them on a fruit or cheese plate.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the best species for cooking. It contains high amounts of essential oils. Due to the fibrous stem, the petals are removed from the flower stalk for eating. For items such as liqueur or ice cream, the petals are soaked to remove the flavorful oil, and then the petals are discarded. Use the whole petals for baking. Lavender is a good flavoring for pound cakes and coffee cakes. Dried lavender flowers can be added to tea blends.
Elderberry flowers (Sambucus) were common culinary delights in the past. They were battered and fried into fritters for dessert. Since fried foods are eaten less today, the flowers are used in different ways. Elder flowers can be used to make liqueurs or enhance salads. Since the red berried forms contain irritants, it is recommended that flowers be taken from blue or black berried elders. Modern hybrids may have white or pink flowers. The tiny flowers are arranged in flat-topped umbels at the ends of the branches in summer. The clusters can be used whole, or the individual florets removed and added to dishes.
Nasturtium (Troplaeolum majus) flowers have a very distinct flavor. It is slightly hot and peppery. This makes them perfect for adding to salads and savory foods. Use the blossoms to garnish foods at serving time. Stuff the flowers with pate or soft cheese for a bite-sized appetizer. The interesting round leaves are also edible and have a similar flavor.