Each spring I take a page from traditionalist European and some American cooks and herbalists and harvest native woodland violets for culinary use. The ones featured here are the “plain” blue violet, viola sororia, which appears in abundance in woods and meadows all across the eastern U. S. When I have enough–and as you can see below I certainly do this year!–I make a batch of violet syrup. As the photo above shows, violet syrup ingredients are very basic–violet petals, sugar, and water.
If you don’t have an abundance of woodland violets, you can still take advantage of what you have. I use the flowers as garnishes for desserts and fruit dishes, and to brighten salads and vinaigrettes. A quick YouTube video showing me out harvesting and using violets in the kitchen is here.
|Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia|
The practice of cooking with violets is not too common in the U.S., but is well known in France and other central European countries. An Internet search on “sirop de violettes” turns up literally dozens of recipes for home cooks on French sites. In their recipes Europeans usually employ a slightly darker purple scented and more flavorful native violet called viola oderata.
This variety has been imported into the U. S. and has naturalized readily, so it can sometimes be found “growing wild” in American woodlands. I’ve never come upon a patch of scented violets locally, but have been growing two purchased varieties, one called Clive Groves, the other called Reid’s Crimson in my yard for several years with great success. (Yes, the Reid’s Crimson is a glorious crimson color.)
|Chamomile tea sweetened with violet syrup|
In past centuries violet syrups and tinctures were widely used as medicinals and tonics. The blooms are in fact rich in antioxidants and a source of vitamins A and C, so were beneficial in preventing vitamin deficiencies. In medieval times pharmacists and healers provided assorted violet concoctions to help insomnia, soothe sore throats, and ease headaches. Even further back, Macer’s Herbal (first written in Latin in the 10th century) mentions the violet as one of the herbs considered powerful against ‘wykked sperytis.’
Frankly, I don’t worry about warding off either evil spirits or headaches with my violet syrup, but I do find a little splash of it a pleasant way to sweeten a cup of chamomile tea or a dish of seasonal berries. Along with a few fresh violet blooms for garnishes, the syrup likewise makes a pleasing topper for a plain or berry ice cream sundae. The syrup is mild and just faintly floral; it’s color is what lends the large share of its appeal.
- 2¼ to 2½ cups loosely packed fresh purple violet blooms, all stems removed before measuring
- 4 to 5 strips (1-inch by ½-inch) lemon zest (no white pith)
- ¾ cup boiling water
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- Gently but thoroughly wash the violets in a colander under barely warm water. Shake, then let stand to drain thoroughly. Put the violets in a 4-cup measure or similar-sized heat-proof non-reactive bowl. Pour the boiling water over them. Stir them down into the water, then cover and let stand for at least 1½ hours and up to several hours, if preferred.
- Pour the violet-infused water mixture through a fine sieve into a non-reactive 1- to 2-quart saucepan (preferably one with a lip for pouring; discard the sieved violets and lemon strips. Stir the sugar into the violet water. Bring to a boil, stirring, over medium heat. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils gently. Cook without stirring for 4 minutes. Check the syrup color, and if you desire a warmer purple shade stir in 2 or 3 drops of fresh lemon juice; for a brighter magenta shade, a drop at a time, thoroughly stir in more lemon juice until the desired shade is obtained. Bring the mixture back to a boil and cook 1 minute longer.
- Let cool slightly. Then pour the syrup into a clean sterilized bottle or jar. Cool to room temperature, then store, refrigerated, for up to 2 months. Makes about 1 cup.For how to use violets in salads and vinaigrette dressings, go here. To turn them into an all-natural purple decorating sugar, go here. For how to use them fresh and candied as pastry decorations follow the links below.