One of the most beautiful spring sights is a “field” of purple or blue violets. The violets I am referring to are those that prefer moist, shady habitats. With over 300 species of violets, many varieties fit this general description. There is nothing more pleasant than lying amid thousands of violets, surrounded by their sweet aroma. Although there are violets where I currently live (sagebrush violet, for example), there are not vast carpets of these spring harbingers. I miss the plentiful violets from previous springs.
At a friend’s house recently I noted violets in her garden, Viola odorata, also known as the sweet, English or blue violet. This species is an alien imported from Europe. It has escaped from cultivation and can form blankets of flowers in the appropriate environment, just as the native violets do. How I wish there were large quantities of blue violets nearby.
The leaves and blossoms of all violets can be eaten. Violet leaves and blossoms are high in Vitamin C. A half cup of violet blossoms has more Vitamin C than three oranges. Vitamin A is also abundant in the leaves. As an added bonus the plants are not harmed by picking the flowers, which do not usually produce seeds. Fruitful blooms, without petals and that do not open, form later in the season at the base of the plant and produce the seeds. So if you are lucky enough to have a plentiful supply of violets nearby – pick away!
Throughout recorded history violets have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Pliny wrote of wearing a violet garland around the head to prevent drunkenness and hangovers. I don’t know about the effectiveness of that remedy, however, the hangover might be preferable to the ribbing one would likely receive with garlands of violets adorning their head. Many of the medicinal uses were for coughs, colds and other similar ailments.
The culinary uses of violets are limited only by one’s imagination. Candied violets are a common dessert decoration. The leaves can be eaten as a potherb (boiled or sautéed with a little butter or spices) or in omelets, casseroles or wherever spinach is used. The raw leaves and flowers are a nice addition to greed salads. An infusion of flowers can be used to prepare various derivations of syrups and jellies, which all turn out a beautiful purple or reddish color.
Although this is not cooking blog, I do want to share the recipe for Violet Jam. This uncooked jam is filled with Vitamin C and fiber. I make it every spring when quantities of purple violets are available: Add 1 1/2 cups of water to 2 cups tightly packed violet blossoms and 2 Tblspns lemon juice. Whirl in a blender or food processor until the violets become a smooth paste. Add 4 cups sugar and blend until the sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile dissolve 2 packages pectin in 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil for one minute. Add the pectin to the violet puree and blend well. Pour into clean jars. Since this jam is uncooked it must be kept in the refrigerator or freezer. Delicious on water crackers.
The pictures are of sweet violets from a garden in Fall River Mills CA. This is a wildflower you can use without hesitation.