BECKLEY (AP) - Summertime is the season when the earth bursts with life. From roses and sunflowers to nasturtiums and pansies, West Virginia comes into its fullness of color and fragrance when the sun is the brightest.
Many of the flowers that perfume and beautify the earth are also delicious and nourishing. Azalea Garden Club Vice President Deena Salon delighted fellow club members and guests with a flowery feast at her Daniels home, where the club held its monthly meeting May 14.
The first enchantment was for the eyes. Guests were charmed by the crystal ice bowl she'd filled with ice-captured nasturtiums, mint leaves and orchids and the pineapple rosewater and sugar-crystallized flower petals at the beverage bar.
On her table, the essence of summertime was bountifully displayed in a beautiful arrangement of food: fiery and canary colored blossoms of nasturtium scattered among blackberries, apples and greens and atop fresh pineapple; amethyst-and-white orchids gilding a creamy white cake, along with micro-orchids of lemon, violet and orange; strawberries in champagne sauce, enhanced by red, yellow and white roses; a dark, creamy mousse topped by orchids.
The second joy was one of friendship.
Michelle Rottellini, recording secretary for the club, crushed a lavender stalk, releasing a heady perfume. She jokingly rubbed it along her arms, making others laugh.
President Cathy Smith opened the meeting with the collect prayer of the club and once business was dispensed, it was time for the pleasure of eating. Everyone was happy, but there were reservations.
"It's beautiful, too pretty to eat," remarked one guest.
But plates were filled with couscous, quinoa, salads of spinach, dandelion, pinenuts, pecans, herbs and saffron - the threadlike stigma of the crocus.
Strawberries and blackberries were garnished with fragrant lavender cream - whipping cream and lavender blossoms.
All of the flowers in the drinks and on the table - at least, the ones not in vases - were edible, Salon told guests.
"It's very easy to take advantage of what you have available," Salon said. "If you're planning something, just think about the use of the plants and the flowers."
She told guests to remember that edible flowers should be organic and that some flowers are poisonous. Those should appear on the table only if they're in a vase or basket. Otherwise, experts advise, keep them in the garden or in nature.
(Azalea, crocus, daffodil, foxglove, oleander, rhododendron, jack-in-the-pulpit, lily of the valley and wisteria are nonedible and can be poisonous. For a complete list of poisonous and nonedible flowers, visit homecooking.about.com/library/weekly/blflowersnot.htm.)
"Why would anyone be interested in learning about edible flowers?" asked Salon. "The second sentence of our Azalea Garden Club collect is 'By Thy grace, through us, may the beauty of gardens and nature be shared with all mankind.'
"So ... many of our programs focus on practical gardening tips, while others lean toward an end-result of enriching our lives with beautiful and unique practices that incorporate flowers, trees and shrubs into our daily lives."
Not only are flowers beautiful for decoration, but many also offer nourishment, Salon explained.
Consider the hardy dandelion flower, which sprouts abundantly on lawns and gardens, cheerfully pushes up through sidewalk cracks and shows up in the most unusual places.
Most grown-ups - weary of the persistent "beautifying" that the small, yellow blossoms seem determined to add to any outdoor space - label them a weed and either kill them or ignore them.
But Salon reported that the prolific little flowers pack a powerful nutritional punch - providing a healthy salad to anyone who harvests organic ones.
The low-calorie, iron-rich leaves and stems (called "greens") are packed with slightly more calcium than kale, loaded with vitamin A and vitamin C (helping with iron absorption) and offer vitamins B1, B2, B6 and E.
They're also packed with vitamin K, contain all essential amino acids and offer more protein per serving than spinach.
Eating dandelion greens may help reduce the risk of cancer, multiple sclerosis, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and stroke, according to www.incrediblesmoothies.com.
The flowers and leaves are good for making "dandelion tea," and the roots may be cleaned and dried for making coffee.
"I grew up in a family that had orchards, big gardens," she said. "My great aunt, Edna Roberts, was awesome.
"The woman never wasted anything in her life," recalled Salon. "She would go out and pick dandelions on the grass and come in and boil and eat them."
Salon said she never tried her Aunt Edna's dandelions, but she remembered watching her harvest and cook them.
"She'd go out and pull up those dandelions, and I'd watch her," she recalled. "She would talk to me about everything about birds and flowers."
Salon said it was natural for her, as a child, to pick a fruit from a tree and eat it.
"Now, you don't want to go out and start grabbing (flowers or fruit randomly), but on the other side, God created all this for a reason," said Salon.
At her table, Salon served up dandelion greens in salads and a fragrant, caffeine-free "dandelion coffee" to accompany the homemade chocolate mint mousse (infused with chocolate and mojito mints) and angel food cake glazed with hand-stirred sour cream and lemon verbena leaves. She topped the cake with edible micro-orchids and added larger, edible orchids that guests enjoyed with the cake.