Wild violets (Viola odorata) – sometimes known as Sweet Violets – are a pretty little low-growing plant that loves shady damp areas and shyly put out a flush of sweetly fragrant purple flowers in winter & spring.
They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, in the same way that coriander is divisive, but if you love them, you love them. There are many flowers know as violets or violas, so be sure you are sure of your ID on these flowers before looking to harvest them: low-growing clumps of heart-shaped green leaves, with small, purple, 5-petalled flowers blooming under the shelter of the leaves. Strongly scented flowers- sweet and highly perfumed.
The plant has a history of medicinal uses, and whilst there’s not much medical evidence to support the efficacy of violet leaves relieving any symptoms (it’s said to help with respiratory complaints, anxiety and insomnia), both the leaves and flowers are safely edible, and can be used in different ways. Young leaves are nice in salads, and the flowers can be crystallised & used on cakes, added to ice cubes for visual interest, or turned into a pretty purple syrup which is floral and sweet.
Here’s a traditional recipe for converting the aromatic flowers into a lovely sweet syrup.
- 1 cup wild/sweet violet flowers
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1tbsp lemon juice (optional – see notes)
- Pick flowers in the afternoon of a sunny day, as the scent is strongest then.
- Remove flowers from their stems & add to a heat-proof jar/bowl
- Cover with boiling water, and leave overnight.
- Strain liquid into a bowl that fits over a saucepan (you’ll use the double boiling method of heating).
- Add sugar to violet liquid.
- Bring some water to the simmer in the saucepan, then place bowl on top.
- Stir violet liquid over the double boiler until sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat.
- Add lemon juice and marvel at how the colour changes from dark grey/purple to pink/purple.
- Pour into hot sterilised bottles and seal.
Keep this in the fridge, as it doesn’t quite get hot enough to be shelf-stable for ages.
We use this syrup to flavour cakes and biscuits, over pancakes and waffles, and as a aromatic addition to G&Ts – it adds both sweetness and colour!
- Using the double boiling method allows you to keep the colour. If you heat the liquid directly in a saucepan, it kills the colour and the aroma, so you end up with a murky Grey/black syrup that doesn’t taste of much.
- You can leave the lemon juice out if you like, and then add a bit when mixing drinks with it for that special Mary Poppins kind of colour-changing magic.
- In the fridge this will last for months, as it’s essentially a simple sugar syrup, but beware – it will form some pretty gnarly crystals after a while!!