'Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heal that has crushed it.' (Mark Twain)
Cooking with wild flowers is one of the most destructive things that I do, but my bottles and jars are small or half full, as are my glasses of pink violet gin. Forage only where flowers are in abundant supply, leaving plenty, to ensure that others can enjoy the colours and scents of spring. Traditionally, country folk used flower blossom in syrups and wines, and more recently this practice has been taken up commercially, as fragrant blooms are captured in pretty, artisan bottles.The foraging experience can't be replaced, even if the syrup or cordial may now be purchased in a shop. The recipe is easy: steep the blossom in boiling water. Then, when the liquid is cold, strain the scented water. As a rule of thumb, add twice as many grams of sugar to milliltres of liquid and dissolve the sugar slowly, over a low heat. Some blossoms are sweeter than others, so the precise sugar content is an opinion of taste. I also steep edible wild flowers in vinegar (white wine or rice vinegar) with surprisingly colourful results: use Violets for purple vinegar, Primroses for yellow and Lady's Smock (Cuckoo Flower) turns vinegar a Barbie pink.The first two of these spring vinegars are scented and Lady's Smock adds peppery fire.
Gorse flowers steeped in boiling water, dyes it yellow. The yellow water can then be mixed with icing sugar, to make natural yellow icing.The blossom has a heady, coconut scent which you'll often smell before you spy the bright, yellow flowers on cliff walks in spring (or later in the year, it flowers twice); it makes scrumptious syrup. I think that the syrup tastes more like honey than coconut but as with many wild edibles, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact flavour. 17th Century books mention gorse buds pickled in vinegar and they were also used to make tea. When you pick gorse flowers, it is prudent to don a pair of gloves. I foraged flowers on the Isle of Skye recently, whilst awaiting a delayed Outer Hebridean ferry; my fingers bore the gorse thorns, long after my gorse syrup was bottled. Forage blossoms in sunshine and away from sprayed fields, traffic pollution or where animals relieve themselves. I pop flowers into a small jam jar to prevent them getting crushed. There are more tips for gatherers in The Forager's Kitchen (Cico Books 2013). Harvest responsibly, avoid the roots and never forage protected species, such as cowslips, even if you have a plethora of old recipes.
Lady's Smock is purported to have cured scurvy, having the same medicinal virtues attributed to it, as watercress, which is deemed to be a contemporary super food. Its leaves can be used in a wild herb sauce or use the flowers, which have a savoury bitter, peppery taste in salads or vinegar.
Primroses can also be pickled or crystallized, as may the ubiquitous violet, seen on so many shop cupcakes. Crystallising petals requires patience and a pair of tweezers is useful. I came across an interesting, 16th century Primrose pottage recipe, which fuses primroses with almonds, saffron and wine. I have yet to try this and I'll need to be speedy because the season will soon have passed.
Sweet Cicely is one of my favourite wild herbs and I often cook it with rhubarb. There are two recipes using sweet cicely, at the end of this BBC Scotland factsheet http://www.thebeechgrovegarden.com/images/factsheets/Factsheet_7_Final_draft.pdf . When a leaf of Sweet Cicely is bruised, an aniseed aroma is released - this distinguishes it from the toxic Hemlock. Positive identification is imperative and never decorate food with non-edible flowers, no matter how tempting their scents may be.
For more recipes using Violets and other edible spring flowers see
http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Foragers-Kitchen-Fiona-Bird/dp/1908862610/ref=pd_sxp_f_i which is also avaialble from Cico Books and all good bookshops.
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