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When we were kids, there was a small field of springtime wild purple violets at the end of our suburban street.
My sisters and I picked bouquets to give to our mom, and she made a lovely, simple centerpiece by putting the violets in a canning jar on the kitchen table.
Wild wood violets, particularly the common ones you see everywhere, are one of the harbingers of spring. Violets never fail to make me smile, remembering those carefree childhood days.
Viola (Viola odorata) is the herb of the year for 2022. The family is extensive — there are wild yellow and white violets along with the purple. They’re distantly related to their cultivated cousins including rainbow-colored pansies and Johnny-jump-ups.
During Victorian times, flowers had powerful meanings. A white violet meant “innocence,” while a purple violet was associated with love and fertility.
Easy to identify by their heart-shaped leaves and drooping flowers with five petals, wild violets reproduce through seeds and rhizomes. If you pull a violet up, root and all, you’ll see tiny rhizomes hanging on.
After a rain or at dusk, I love how the violets protect themselves by closing up and drooping down. Sort of like they’re nodding.
The white and purple violets are edible, either raw or cooked. The yellow violets should not be eaten, as they may cause gastrointestinal upsets. The violet that I love most is the common purple violet, and that’s the one I’ll focus on today.
Violets are considered weeds by some folks. Not in my world! We make it a rite of spring to pick as many violets as we can. Great exercise, too!
Violet petals and leaves added to a salad of wild-harvested greens, including chickweed, garlic mustard, and wild onions makes for one tasty and nutritious meal. A nutritious vinaigrette can be made subbing in violet vinegar for regular vinegar.
Smear a bit of violet jam or jelly onto a warm scone. Heaven!
Wild violet syrup is lovely as a healthful sweetener for herbal teas. It’s yummy drizzled over pound cake or ice cream. Pour some into sparkling water for a “mocktail.”
The beauty of violets is not just skin deep. They have impressive medicinal qualities, as well.
The leaves and flowers have been used for respiratory illnesses associated with stuffiness, sore throat, and coughing.
Violets help relieve pain due to their salicylic acid content, similar to what makes aspirin a good pain reliever.
Can’t sleep? Sip a cup of warm violet tea from both the leaves and flowers to ease tension. The color will be pink to blue depending upon the soil’s acidity.
Violets are known as a moist and cooling herb since the leaves when used externally, soothe swelling and skin irritations.
Both petals and leaves are rich in vitamins A and C. The lower leaves, harvested early, are especially nutrient-dense.
Make extra to give as unique, edible gifts.
First, you’ll need to make an infusion.
Place four cups packed violet blossoms, no stems, into a bowl.
Pour four cups boiling water over the flowers. Weigh down to keep petals under the water.
Infuse 12 hours or up to a day.
Strain through a fine strainer, pressing down on solids. You should have three cups infusion; if not, add water.
This recipe makes about six jars, eight oz. each.
Use any size glass canning jars with proper lids and rings.
3 cups wildflower infusion
1/4 cup strained lemon juice
1 box (1.75 oz.) powdered pectin
4-1/2 cups granulated sugar
Boil jars for 10 minutes on a rack in a large pot filled with water. Keep in hot water until ready to fill. In a small pan, keep lids and rings in hot water.
Place the infusion, lemon juice, and pectin in a six to eight-quart pot. Over high heat, bring to a rolling boil (one that cannot be stirred down), stirring constantly. Continue stirring, add sugar all at once and bring back to a rolling boil and boil for one minute.
Pour into hot jars to within 1/4 inch from top.
Remove any foam.
Wipe rims with a clean, wet cloth.
Place lids on jars, screw on rings.
Process sealed jelly in a boiling water bath for five minutes. Let cool away from drafts.
Check seals after one hour.
Refrigerate unsealed jars. Store sealed jars in pantry for up to one year.
NANCY’S VIOLET JAM
I first tasted this when my friend, Nancy, brought me over a small jar.
It was such a beautiful, gourmet treat. The original recipe came from Jim Long of Long Creek Herbs, Nancy told me. This is my latest adaptation.
2 cups packed violet blossoms, no stems
1/4 cup lemon juice
2-1/4 cups water, divided
2 cups sugar
1 box (1.75 oz.) powdered pectin
Put one cup of water and blossoms in blender and blend well.
Add juice. Add sugar and blend again to mix well. Stir pectin into one-and-one-quarter cups water in saucepan and bring to boil.
Boil for one minute.
Pour into violet paste in the blender on low speed.
Blend again and pour into containers.
Cool, seal, and store in the refrigerator or freezer.
Keeps three months in refrigerator; six months in freezer.
BEAUTIFUL VIOLET SYRUP
This freezes well for up to six months.
1 cup packed violet blossoms, no stems
1-1/2 cups boiling water
3/4 cup honey or to taste
Put violets in a bowl and pour boiling water over.
Weigh down to keep flowers submerged. Infuse three to four hours.
Pour infusion with petals into a heavy saucepan or double boiler.
Add honey and simmer over low heat until the honey is completely dissolved.
Strain to remove petals.
Cool, then store in the refrigerator. Keeps for several months. Or freeze for up to six months.
Be sure only to pick plants from pesticide and herbicide-free areas and wash plants before eating.
Always make an identification when harvesting wild edibles.
In our woods, vining purple vinca/periwinkle thrives. From a distance, the flowers look a bit similar to violets, so be extra cautious.
Vinca is not edible.
Wild violets are not the same as African violets (Saintpaulias spp), a common houseplant that is not edible.
RITA HEIKENFELD comes from a family of wise women in tune with nature. She is a certified modern herbalist, culinary educator, author, and national media personality. Most important, she is a wife, mom, and grandma. Rita lives on a little patch of heaven overlooking the East Fork River in Clermont County, Ohio. She is a former adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati, where she developed a comprehensive herbal course.
abouteating.com column: email@example.com
Originally published in the January/February 2022 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.