Wild Food Wednesday: Common Blue Violet

Spring Speak - Violet by Ken Scott

Spring Speak … violet by Ken Scott

Michigan is the second most agriculturally diverse state in the U.S. and that diversity doesn’t stop at the market! Our woods are alive with tasty and nutritious food if you know where to look. In our Wild Food Wednesdays we’ll tip you off to seasonal goodies that you can find around TC and give you a recipe or two so you can enjoy the meal as much as the hike to find it!

We’ve been waiting impatiently for the appearance of actual spring here in Traverse City, and although winter’s grip is starting to loosen, it may be that a little poking and prodding is in order. On our spring break trip to North Carolina we got a taste of spring and violets and we couldn’t resist sharing this delicious and soon to come woodland edible with you! (and yes, we know it’s not actually Wednesday)

In many years, we will have seen Viola sororia (Common blue violet) in the woods and often in our lawns by now. Violets can be found in a variety of soil conditions, from moist and even swampy deciduous forests to drier forests (though not usually near pines). The flowers and young leaves are delicious!

The Culinary Violet page at the American Violet Society says (in part):

Laura & Landen and in the violets

Laura & Landen and in the violets

Both the flowers and leaves in fresh and dried forms have been standard fare in Europe and other areas in the world since before the 14th century. Fresh flowers are most often used for garnishing and crystallizing, The pungent perfume of some varieties of v.odorata adds inimitable sweetness to desserts, fruit salads and teas while the mild pea flavor of v.tricolor and most other viola combines equally well with sweet or savory foods, like grilled meats and steamed vegetables. The heart-shaped leaves of the v. odorata provide a free source of greens throughout a long growing season. They add texture to green salads when young and tender. Later in the season, slightly tougher, older leaves are cooked with other potted herbs and greens in soups, stews and stir-frys.

Violets aren’t just another pretty face. They are loaded with phytochemicals and medicinal constituents that have been used in the treatment of numerous health problems from the common cold to cancer. The late Euell Gibbons even referred to them as “nature’s vitamin pill (1).” A 1/2 cup serving of leaves can provide as much vitamin C as three oranges.

You can get more information on medicinal and other uses for wild violets (and some great music) from Blind Pig & The Acorn.

IMPORTANT: DO NOT SUBSTITUTE AFRICAN VIOLETS FOR SWEET VIOLETS: African violets are NOT edible!

Wildman Steve Brill is an incredible resource for harvesting and cooking wild foods. Click the cookbook for ordering info and definitely check out his new Wild Edibles app for iOS or Droid. Here’s a recipe from Steve!

Shoots and Greens of Early Spring in NE North America by Steve Brill

Violet Flower Sherbet

From SHOOTS AND GREENS OF EARLY SPRING in Northeastern North America by “Wildman” Steve Brill

Sherbets usually contain water, sugar, and artificial flavors. This one, using natural thickeners and sweeteners, provides an especially rich setting for these luxuriant flowers. Makes 5-1/2 cups. Preparation time: 20 minutes

4 cups water
1/4 cup grape seed or canola oil
1/4 cup vegetable glycerin
1/4 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup lecithin granules (available at health food stores)
2 tbs. flaxseeds
2 tsp. liquid stevia
2 tsp. freshly grated orange rind
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups violet flowers

  1. Puree all ingredients except the violets in a blender.
  2. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions.
  3. Stir in the violet flowers

You might also be interested in this easy violet blossom freezer jam from the Michigan Backyard Gardener – her idea to pay a youngster to harvest for you is a great one!