Spring Flowers: Common Violet

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Who:

Common violet, also known as common meadow violet, blue violet, purple violet

Viola sororia

Violaceae (Violet) family

What:

Very common low-growing native perennial wildflower with edible leaves and flowers.

Great for eating raw, topping desserts, or kickstarting wild fermentation.

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Where:

Commonly found in lawns in gardens, especially in well-draining soil. Also found in old fields, pastures, woodland edges and hiking trails.

When:

Leaves and flowers emerge from perennial rhizome early in spring and persist through midsummer or beyond.

Why:

Violet flowers signal the first wave of sugary sweetness on the landscape early in spring, not to mention a solid dose of necessary vitamins and minerals to help the body adjust with the changing of the seasons.

Less known but no less desirable are the leafy greens of the common violet, which are at their best when they’re still young and tender in the spring. Once summer sets in those leaves will hang around, but they will become considerably more fibrous and eventually unpalatable as the season progresses. You’re your own best judge when it comes to that kind of preference, so don’t be afraid to nibble!

Viola sororia  flower .  Photo by Jay Sturner via Wikimedia Commons.

Viola sororia flower. Photo by Jay Sturner via Wikimedia Commons.

How:

Violet greens are best consumed raw as part of a salad, but you might consider cooking with them as a substitute for cooked spinach or some similar potherb. 

The flowers make a great spring substitute for out-of-season berries as a topping for desserts, or in sweet baked goods. They’re also great for imbuing a ferment with wild yeasts and complex yet subtle floral aromas.

Flower can be dried for later use, or simply toss them in a paper bag and the’ll keep well in the freezer for at least a couple months.

Key characteristics:

  • Curled, downy, heart-shaped leaves with noticeable venation growing straight from a stemless rhizome

  • Small five-petaled flowers ranging from light to deep purple, blue, sometimes white, resting atop individual upright leafless stalks.

http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=m820


Lookalikes:

The leaves may bear a passing resemblance to the following two plants, both of which are edible and easily distinguishable upon further inspection—

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Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata

Brassicaceae family

  • Similar leaf shape, growth habit, and seasonality

  • Garlic mustard and violets have distinctly different venation patterns

  • Garlic mustard smells strongly of garlic/onions when crushed; violets do not

  • Garlic mustard has a flavor like bitter roasted garlic; violets are very mild and mellow

  • Garlic mustard develops a distinct brassica flower stalk with tiny white flowers and long upright seed pods; violets do not have these traits

(We will cover Garlic mustard in greater detail in the coming weeks.)

Glechoma hederacea.  Photo: Rasbak via Wikimedia Commons

Glechoma hederacea. Photo: Rasbak via Wikimedia Commons

Ground ivy, also known as creeping charlie, Glechoma hederacea

Lamiaceae family

  • Similar leaf shape to V. sororia and A. petiolata

  • Also has a purple flower with similar seasonality as the common violet

  • Ground ivy is a perennial creeping vine; violets are small individuals and grow from a distinct rhizome

  • Ground ivy is in the mint family so it has a square stem; violets do not have stems

  • Ground ivy’s flowers are borne on its stems; violets have no stems, and each flower has its own upright stalk, usually curved at the top

(This is as far as we’ll go with Ground ivy; though edible, I don’t think it’s all that enjoyable to consume.)

https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/weeds/plants/ground_ivy.htm

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