Louise E. Schuerholz takes time to smell the roses -- and eats them, too.
The 71-year-old Ellicott City resident, who has been a member of the Ellicott City Branch and Twig garden club since 1967, grows edible flowers and other plants on her half-acre lot.
"If you can't eat it, don't plant it," said Mrs. Schuerholz with a grin.
The gardener became interested in edible flowers 22 years ago, after volunteering to do a program on the subject for her garden club.
"This woman wanted to charge our club $75 to speak about edible flowers, and I thought she would talk about dandelion wine, so I decided I could do as much," Mrs. Schuerholz said. "Whoa, I didn't know at the time what there was to know."
After months of researching in the library and trying out recipes, Mrs. Schuerholz delivered a program that culminated with a luncheon menu made up of flower recipes. The gardener later was asked to make presentations on the topic to other garden clubs and county branches of the Cooperative Extension Service University of Maryland System.
Today, Mrs. Schuerholz's garden grows with such delectable delights as "pinks," which have the botanical name "dianthus."
"Dianthus blossoms are used in soups and salads and have a clovelike flower," she said. "They are from my spring garden, which is the showiest and includes tulips, pansies and peonies, all of which can be used for garnishes and salads."
Another flower in Mrs. Schuerholz's garden, the yucca plant, commonly referred to as Spanish bayonet, produces blossoms that can be creamed and cooked with onions.
"Yucca blossoms were an old standby for the Indians, who used them mostly for medicinal purposes," Mrs. Schuerholz said.
Her garden also includes marigolds, sweet woodruff, nasturtiums, roses and even a few dandelions, all of which the gardener has used in recipes. And she has plenty of trivia to share about her flowers.
She noted that marigolds are one flower that rabbits won't eat; that it takes 75,000 blossoms to make 1 pound of the spice known as saffron; that a geranium on a windowsill will keep the flies away; and that raw, young violet leaves are rich in vitamin C.
Mrs. Schuerholz recommends that potential flower-eaters take precautions before foraging for plants for tomorrow's dinner.
"Avail yourself of a list of poisonous plants," she said. The gardener suggests contacting the Cooperative Extension Service for more information. She also recommends reading the book, "A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America," by Lee Peterson.
When picking blossoms from your garden, make sure that no toxic sprays have been used, she said.
"Don't eat commercially grown flowers or those that have been treated with chemicals that are not released for use on edible crops and that may have pesticide residue," she said.
Mrs. Schuerholz also said that flowers should be washed thoroughly but gently before preparing.
She urges gardeners who have a taste for the unusual to explore edible flowers.
"You can't get away from it," Mrs. Schuerholz said. "The minute you get into this, there's an insatiable quest to learn more."