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Welcome spring with wild violet treats

Welcome spring with wild violet treats

Spring has sprung in many parts of the state, and soon you might notice patches of purple flowers peeking out of shady areas near forest edges, and – to the chagrin of some – the lawn. A bane to those who want a pristine yard, wild violets are hardy and spread quickly. While they are considered weeds in some areas, these native plants are attractive, benefit pollinators and are edible! They can be easily made into a fun snack with color-changing properties. You might even want them in your yard after using this recipe for violet simple syrup, which can be used as-is or frozen into a cooling granita or sorbet.  

Icy pink granita in a small glass with a silver scoop

Violet syrup, granita or sorbet 

Vegan; yields a few cups of syrup or sorbet 

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups wild violet flowers 
  • 2 cups sugar 
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice  

Method 

Step 1: Make the violet infusion.  

  • Heat two cups of water to boiling and pour over the violets in a heat-safe vessel. Refrigerate mixture at least two hours or set overnight to steep. 
  • Strain the violet infusion and compost or discard the spent flowers. 

Step 2: Make violet syrup 

  • Pour violet infusion into a saucepan with two cups sugar. Heat until sugar is completely dissolved and syrup is steaming hot, just beginning to simmer. Cool the mixture. Add two tablespoons of lemon and watch the syrup turn from blue to pink! The finished syrup can be used to provide subtle flavor and color to baked goods and beverages. 

Step 3: Freeze and stir 

  • Pour the syrup into a wide, shallow dish and place in the freezer. Stir with a fork every 45 minutes or so to break up crystals and create a slushy treat. For sorbet, freeze longer until semi-firm and enjoy.  

Infused violets turn water blue in a glass teapot

ID and gathering  

Wild violet IDViola sororia, Viola spp.

According to the University of Michigan Herbarium, our state has 25 species of wild violets, including the common blue violet found across much of Michigan and used in this recipe. More than 100 violet varieties grow worldwide. Cultivated violets are called pansies. African violets, members of a different plant family, are not considered edible. 

Violets bloom in spring and taper off when summer weather gets hot. They can be identified by their purplish, butterfly-shaped flowers which have 5-petals – two facing up, two sideways, and a central, spurred lower petal. Leaves are oblong to kidney-shaped, and edges are toothed.  

Gathering 

To gather violets, look for an area near a woodland edge with partial shade. Pluck flowers into a bowl or colander, leaving greens and stems behind. Violets grow low to the ground, so a knee pad can be helpful to bring along. Wash gently, if necessary, to remove any sand or dirt. Violets are fragile and should be used shortly after picking or refrigerated.

 

A ceramic bowl of violet flowers