The Sweet Violet
Updated: Jun 11
The Sweet Violet, one of the first edible flowers available to the gourmet forager!! The Sweet Violet is a small creeping plant that can be found in woodland, hedgerows in fact most places where there is a little shade, the Sweet Violet is very common in shaded areas of gardens too making accessible to even the most domesticated of wild food enthusiast! The broad leaves are rounded and downy and the flowers violet to blue even white all of which have an extraordinary scent.
Although the leaves are edible, I sometimes use them in my Wild Spring Salad. It’s the flowers that I usually want from this more than common plant!!
The Sweet Violet flowers from March to May and the fragrance of the flowers is very strong, and they have been used in the making of perfume as far many thousands of years and folklore denotes that you can only smell violet flowers once, but the fragrance is strangely short-lived. One of the chemicals, ionine, has a mildly anaesthetising affect on the smell receptors so we have to find other ways to enjoy this pretty little plant.
Sweet Violet Identification
Sweet violets (Viola odorata) are small, perennial flowering plants native to Europe and Asia. They are commonly found in the United Kingdom and are known for their delicate, fragrant flowers. Here are some key characteristics to help you identify sweet violets in the UK:
Leaves: Sweet violet leaves are heart-shaped or oval with rounded edges. They are dark green in color and have a smooth texture. The leaves emerge from a central rosette and are typically 2-6 centimeters long.
Flowers: The flowers of sweet violets are the most distinctive feature. They are small, ranging in color from pale lilac to deep purple. The petals are irregularly shaped, with two upper petals that point upwards, two side petals, and a lower petal that serves as a landing pad for pollinators. The lower petal often has dark purple lines or markings. The flowers have a sweet, pleasant fragrance.
Fragrance: As the name suggests, sweet violets have a strong, sweet scent. The fragrance is often described as powdery and reminiscent of old-fashioned perfumes.
Habit: Sweet violets are low-growing plants, typically reaching a height of 5-15 centimeters. They spread by underground rhizomes, forming small clumps or colonies.
Habitat: Sweet violets prefer moist, shaded areas such as woodland edges, hedgerows, and meadows. They are often found in damp, well-drained soil with some organic matter.
Time of flowering: Sweet violets typically bloom in the spring, from March to May, although the exact timing can vary depending on local conditions and climate.
It's worth noting that there are other species of violets in the UK, but the characteristics described above are specific to sweet violets (Viola odorata). If you come across a violet species that doesn't match these features, it may be a different variety.
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Sweet Violet Uses
Previous uses for the Sweet Violet, especially in medieval Britain, include being used as a deodorant. In history it has also been used as a treatment for cancer and whooping cough. The Sweet Violet also contains salicylic acid, which is used to make aspirin, and is therefore effective in the treatment of headaches and migraines. The plant is also meant to induce endorphins (hormones that activate the pleasure centres in the brain) and is regularly used in aromatherapy.
OK, I don’t need to sell it anymore (not that I would ever do that to you anyway!!), but here is the most important uses… Eating! The sweet violets flavour lends itself to both sweet and savoury. Documented in a 14th century for sweet violet rice pudding through to the Victorian times when it was used as a garnish for lamb. The flowers and leaves can also be used in salads and included in dressings and sweet sauces.
I make a delicious dessert out of this little beauty. Try my Sweet Violet Scented Creams
or you can even try to make the medieval insprired rice pudding below. A quick note on the rice. In the medieval-inspired sweet violet rice pudding recipe below, you can use any type of rice you prefer. However, for a traditional and creamy texture, it is recommended to use short-grain rice such as Arborio or pudding rice. These types of rice tend to release more starch while cooking, resulting in a thick and creamy consistency.
Sweet Violet Rice Pudding Recipe
200 grams rice (any type)
1 litre milk
100 grams sugar
5-6 drops of violet essence or violet syrup
A handful of fresh violet flowers
Rinse the rice thoroughly under cold water to remove any excess starch.
In a large saucepan, combine the rinsed rice and milk.
Bring the mixture to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer the rice and milk mixture for about 30-40 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and the mixture has thickened. Stir occasionally to ensure even cooking.
Add the sugar to the rice pudding and stir until it is completely dissolved.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the rice pudding to cool slightly.
Stir in the violet essence or violet syrup, adjusting the amount to taste. Be cautious as the flavor can be strong, so start with a few drops and add more if desired.
Once the pudding has cooled down, carefully fold in the fresh violet flowers. Reserve a few for garnishing.
Transfer the sweet violet rice pudding to individual serving bowls or a large serving dish.
Place the reserved violet flowers on top for decoration.
You can serve the pudding warm or chilled, according to your preference.
Sweet violets (Viola odorata) have long been valued for their culinary applications, offering both flavour and visual appeal to various dishes. The delicate and fragrant flowers of sweet violets are entirely edible and they serve as a charming garnish in both sweet and savoury creations. Their vibrant purple colour and distinct floral aroma make them an excellent choice for adding a touch of elegance to salads, desserts, and beverages. Simply sprinkle the flowers on top of a salad for an eye-catching and aromatic twist or use them to garnish cakes, pastries, or cocktails, elevating their presentation with a burst of colour and a subtle floral flavour.
Beyond their decorative role, sweet violets can be used to create syrups or essences. These extracts capture the essence of the flower's fragrance, allowing its delightful floral notes to be incorporated into various recipes. Violet syrups can be added to beverages like lemonades, cocktails, or even drizzled over pancakes and waffles for a unique twist. A few drops of violet essence can be used to infuse creams, custards, or puddings, imparting a subtle and delightful floral aroma to these creamy treats. The sweet and delicate flavour of sweet violets can transform ordinary dishes into extraordinary culinary experiences, making them a delightful addition to any chef's repertoire.
With their vibrant colour, enchanting aroma, and delicate flavour, sweet violets offer a range of culinary possibilities. Whether used as a garnish, infused into syrups, or incorporated into desserts, these edible flowers can elevate the aesthetic appeal and taste profile of various dishes, bringing a touch of beauty and elegance to the dining experience.
There are countless recipes, both sweet and savoury that you can use both the leaf and flower within so stay posted and I will provide you with Sweet Violet Recipes.
Check out my Ultimate Guide to Edible Wild and Garden Flowers.