About a week later, I also found some yellow and pale lavender violets in the woods–yes, they are native here in central Maryland, as well!
Unlike many wild and cultivated flowers, violets and their cousins, Johnny-jump-ups and pansies, are edible, so if carefully washed, they can adorn food without any health concerns. They are also tender and have a very mild, indistinct flavor, and, when candied, taste like little more than sugar. Don’t ever use unfamiliar flowers to enhance your dishes, as some are highly poisonous or taste very bitter. (Also, note that African violets are not the same as woodland violets and cannot be used.)
If placed in water, fresh purple violet blooms will hold their vibrant color and delicate shape for several days. But once perched on a cake or cupcakes or cookies, they must be served promptly as they will droop and fade in less than an hour. So, if using them fresh, plan accordingly. (Note that yellow violets are very fragile and droop right away, so aren’t really suitable for decorating unless you want to strew them on a fresh salad soon after you pick them.)
Once they are washed and patted dry, it’s possible to preserve, or “candy,” violets or their kin so they can be held and used like regular pastry decorations (as shown at left and at the top). This involves simply coating the petals on both sides with egg white, then sprinkling them evenly with superfine granulated sugar. (This can be made by grinding regular sugar in a processor until very fine.) I dip each flower into the egg white very lightly on both sides, then use a small paint brush to cover any spots missed. Then, I use a spoon to scoop sugar on one side and then another.