Edible flowers pass the taste test: Safety warnings issued as floral ingredients grow in popularity

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The Independent Online
THE Elizabethans crystallised them, Alice B Toklas drank them and Prince Henry, son of Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots, took them as medicine. You can buy them in Sains bury's, eat them in smart restaurants, use them to turn a modest meal into an occasion. If you're not careful, you can also poison yourself and face a hefty fine into the bargain . . .

Edible flowers are the latest spice for jaded palates. Want to cheer up that boring old chicken and mushroom salad? Try a spot of marigold mayonnaise. Fed up with creme de menthe frappee ice cream? Wrap it in gladioli and sprinkle on some pelargoniums.

As traditions go, eating flowers is as old as eating, but until recently was considered the preserve of cranks, vegetarians and Amazonian hunter-gatherers. Today it is the subject of a Which? report.

High on the list of best buys, according to Gardening Which?, are chrysanthemums, pot marigolds and nasturtiums (particularly Whirlybird and Dwarf Jewel). Last year the Consumers' Association conducted taste tests among nearly 800 people and was 'amazed at the enthusiasm of the response'. Peppery nasturtiums were the favourites.

Gardening Which? suggests a few dishes: pansy and pepper quiche, nasturtium salad, sauteed lily buds or yucca flowers. Sainsbury, which sells seasonal mixed packs of 25 edible blooms at its top 50 stores for pounds 1.09 each, says they do best as garnishes. 'You wouldn't just eat your way through a pack,' a spokeswoman said.

Much of this is old hat at the Grafton Manor restaurant in Bromsgrove, Hereford and Worcester, where dishes such as sweet cicely sorbet, comfrey fritters, and damask rose petal and lavender tart, served with angelica custard, have been on the menu for over a decade.

Simon Morris, its head chef, who is researching Elizabethan cuisine, says Shakespeare's contemporaries ate very well but cautions against trying to cook flowers. 'They can go very bitter and grassy,' he said.

Gardening Which? advises against too much experimentation. Daffodil sandwiches can cause vomiting, it says - and picking wild flowers may also be an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.