Wild violet blossoms are spring foraging at its sweetest — literally and metaphorically.
When we first arrived on our urban homestead three years ago, the common blue violet (Viola sororia) was among the first flowers that came up, creating a purple-hued carpet on the slope above our cottage. I remember sitting there in wonder, reveling in the fact that we’d finally found a place to put roots down in and to steward.
Even now, when I see violets, I’m reminded of that sweet first spring of preparing our garden and falling in love with our new home.
Foraging wild violet is one of the markers of spring. The leaves and flowers are edible. The leaves are high in vitamin C and the flowers have antioxidant bioflavonoids. They’re also medicinal: they have anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties, among others. Collecting violets is an almost meditative activity: plop yourself down amidst the violet-dotted ground and get lost in the picking, letting your fingers do the work and letting your mind go quiet.
The common blue violet is easy to identify because of the basal rosette of heart-shaped leaves and the little “tail” that the flower has at its back. Kids tend to really love collecting violets, and they make for some fun crafts, like making violet flower ice cubes, or violet flower syrup that turns purple and makes magical color-changing drinks.
Better yet: use the syrup to make wild violet ice cream!
How to use wild violet
Here are some of the many delicious uses of violet flowers and leaves:
- leaves and flowers in salads (try this wildcrafted spring salad by Meagan from Growing Up Herbal)
- leaves sauteed or steamed
- leaves added to soups
- violet herbal tea
- wild violet jelly
- violet flower ice cubes
- wild violet syrup (see below), added to desserts and drinks
- violet ice cream (see below)
Wild violet ice cream
This ice cream is wild and sweet, just like the season of spring. The violet flowers add a delicate flavor that makes you think of a green spring meadow.
And because this recipe uses the “freeze and stir” method, you don’t need an ice cream maker! (I don’t have one myself.)
Start by making the violet flower syrup the day before making the ice cream.
- 2 cup of loosely packed violet blossoms
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup granulated cane sugar
Strip the violet petals off the top of the stem and place them in a non-reactive container, such as glass or stainless steel. Bring water to boil and pour over the blossoms. Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight, or up to 24 hours.
Place a heatproof bowl over a pot of water and pour the violets and the steeping water into the bowl. Add sugar. Cook on low heat until the syrup coats the back of a wooden spoon. Strain, let cool, then transfer into a glass jar.
To make ice cream:
- 1 ¼ cups whole milk
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
- 1 ½ tbsp of violet syrup (see above)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 egg yolks
- pinch of salt
- violet food color (optional)
- fresh or candied violet blossoms (to serve)
Pour the cream, milk, and syrup into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add half the sugar. Heat over low heat, stirring occasionally. Take off heat and let cool.
Beat the egg yolks with the rest of the sugar with an electric mixer until the mixture thickens and is pale yellow in color. Add ½ cup of cream mixture and beat until the mixture gets runnier. Stir this mixture back into the cream mixture. Add food coloring (if using).
Return the pan to stove and cook over low heat, stirring continuously, for a few minutes until the custard thickens. Pour into a bread pan or another freezer-safe dish. Letting the mixture sit in a sink with some ice water helps to speed up the cooling process.
Place in the freezer for 45 minutes, then remove and stir with a spatula. Return to the freezer.
Continue to check the cream mixture every 30 minutes or so, stirring each time. Repeat for 3-4 hours, or until frozen. Use fresh violet flowers to garnish the bowls of ice cream just before serving.