There are 450 different species of Viola in North America and you can eat all of them! Look for them in shady habitats, like a patch of grass next to a sidewalk under a big tree, or in the forest. Identify violets by their distinctive five-petal flowers and rounded, heart-shaped leaves with branching parallel veins. You’ll see one leaf per stem coming from the base of the plant. (As long as you have the flower right you won’t have trouble, but if you’re in the forest later in the season, take care not to confuse the leaves with the toxic lily — see photo showing the difference here).
The flavor of the leaves are very mild, even bland, but the flowers are delicately sweet. Here are five ways to eat violets:
1) Eat the leaves and flowers raw in a salad for a lovely pop of color and sweetness, as well as health. Violets are detoxifying; they help the liver clear waste products from the blood.
2) Boil the leaves and serve them in a mix of greens. The flavor is very mild. I like adding them to pasta dishes.
3) Add the flowers to a bottle of vinegar to make an infused salad dressing. The flowers are high in vitamins A and C.
4) Dry the flowers for a tea you can drink year-round.
5) Candy the flowers for a 19th century treat. Here’s how.Medicinal Action: Violets are reportedly soothing for people with ulcers, and yellow violets are said to have a mild laxative effect. Both factoids according to Thomas J. Elpel.
Note: Ornamental African violets are a different, reportedly toxic kind of violet (Gesneriaceae spp.).
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