Cup for cup, violet flowers have more vitamin C than oranges do. A four-ounce serving of this floral powerhouse contains nearly 200 mg of vitamin C, perhaps one reason why in olden days it was eaten in salads fairly regularly. But no more.
The small wild woodland violet carpets the Americas in springtime, popping up in lawns and shady spots, either dark purple (V. sororia) or lightly grey (V. sororia priceana.) The Johnny Jump-up (V. tricolor) is easy to grow from seeds and multiplies quickly, and has that winning combination of dark purple, light purple and yellow petals in a single flower. It’s a plant literally made for garnishing.
Johnny Jump-ups remind many people of garden violas, often called pansies, and they are also in the same family. Pansies are also edible, but the substance of their petals is thicker and stiffer.
Fragrant violets (V. odorata) are less common in America than they are in Europe and Australia, where they have long been grown for their use in elegant corsages.
But even stateside perhaps you have seen the Chowards brand of violet-scented gum and candies. Some growers in California now attempt to revitalize the scented-violet, but they are still rarely seen here in the florist trade.
African violets are not edible; they are a different plant family entirely and they do not taste good at all.
These delicate beauties don’t cook well and are better served raw. Clip as much as you can of the green stem end of the blossom without making the petals fall off. If that happens anyway, just trim off the petals to create a violet-colored confetti on your dish.
Try violets in salads, to add color and a little bit of crunch that can be similar to capers. Add a half cup of violets to a cold macaroni salad, along with mayonnaise and celery, and you will have an elevated side dish for a summer party.
One of my favorite ways to use violets is to make them into crunchy candy. You can also make purple violet syrup, which pleases the eye but loses the vitamin C.