Sweet Violets

(Viola Odorata)

A delicate spring flower that brings an incredible sweet floral flavour to your dishes. Explore our guide to foraging for sweet violets below.
Spring, Edible Flowers, Wild Greens

How to Identify

Sweet violets grow low to the ground and have strongly scented dainty, purple-blue drooping blooms with heart shaped leaves.

 

Flowers can be found in various purple to blue hues, with five oval petals – two petals up top, two on the side, and one down at the bottom – often said to be there as a helpful ledge for pollinators. White flowers can also be found, although more rare. You’ll find each flower on a leafless stalk.

 

The leaves are a uniform deep green, heart shaped with lightly toothed leaves slight shine to them.

Foraging for Sweet Violets
Foraging for Sweet Violets
Foraging for Sweet Violets

When and Where

The flowers generally bloom from March to May, for a period of approximately 4 weeks.

Violets can be found in gardens, hedgerows and woodlands across the UK. They are rapidly becoming a little less common, possibly due to over-picking – so when foraging for sweet violets, please pick mindfully.

Leaves | All Year Round

Flowers | March – May

Flavour and How to Use

Both violet flowers and leaves are edible. The roots must not be eaten as they are toxic.

 

Using Sweet Violet Leaves:

The leaves can be eaten just like any other green, best served fresh in salads or cooked like a green vegetable. Fresh, their flavour is similar to sweet peas!

When cooked, the leaves have mucilaginous properties – which means they’re great for thickening soups or stews.

Brewed into a simple nourishing tea, they are said to be great for treating cold symptoms, pain, and insomnia.

 

Using Sweet Violet Flowers:

Violet flowers have a beautifully unique sweet and floral flavour – similar of course to parma violet sweets!

Traditionally, the flowers were used as a flavouring in desserts and sweet treats, or crystallised into beautiful edible decoration.

 

Here are a handful of ideas and recipes to get you started:

  • Used fresh a a beautiful floral garnish.
  • Made into a violet syrup, to use in cocktails, puddings, pancakes, waffles, as a cordial, or simply on fresh fruit!
  • Crystallised in sugar to make decorations for desserts.
  • Frozen in ice-cubes for a pretty addition to your cocktails.
  • These Wild Fondant Creams by Foraged by Fern look worth a try.
  • Dried and used to make an infused sugar.
  • Infused in vinegar to make a delicious salad dressing.
  • Infused in a spirit (to create something similar to famous french liqueur, Creme de Violette).
Foraging for Sweet Violets
Foraging for Sweet Violets
Foraging for Sweet Violets

Medicinal Properties

Both wild violet leaves and flowers are rich in vitamin A & vitamin C, and have traditionally been used in herbal medicine to treat ailments such as cold symptoms, headaches, depression and insomnia

 

The leaves are packed with fibre and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals that help to keep our immune systems in check.

History and Folklore

Sweet violets were ever so important to Napoleon and his first wife, Josephine. Upon his wife’s death, pressed sweet violets from her grave were found in Napoleon’s locket.

 

Thanks to their beautiful aroma, historically they were also used to make perfume and early household deodorants.

Things to Note

Whilst violets used to be relatively widespread here in the UK, they but becoming increasingly uncommon – most likely due to them being over-foraged.

 

Wild violets are an important source of nectar for our wildlife, therefore when foraging for sweet violets it’s important to pick in absolute moderation (we’d recommend picking a maximum of 20% of what’s available). Harvesting just the blossom doesn’t hurt the plant, but it does reduce nectar for pollinators. Please ensure never to uproot the plant.

 

Other edible flowers we love to pick during the spring are hawthorn blossom, ground ivy flowers, magnolia, dandelions and primroses.

Possible Confusions

There are many different types of violets, all of which are edible – however none have the strong scent found with sweet violets.

 

For beginners, it’s not wise to forage for sweet violets unless they have flowered – as the leaves could be mistaken for a variety of less palatable / poisonous plants – including winter heliotrope or lesser celandine.

Lesser Calandine
Winter Heliotrope

Foraging at our Cookery Courses

All of our Cookery Courses include a short foraging walk as part of the day, introducing you to a handful of commonly found wild ingredients.

Keen to learn more?

There are a wide range of resources on foraging. Here are just a handful of our favourite books.

Our Foraging Tips

Ask permission. 

Essential if you’re picking on private land. As with everything, respect is key and goes a long way.

 

If in doubt, leave it out. 

Why rush? Nature isn’t going anywhere! Take time to ensure you safely identify your finds.

 

One step at a time.

No one becomes an expert overnight. Build up your identification skills and your confidence will grow. 

 

Enjoy the process.

Foraging is not only about what you pick but the experience – Immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the little things. The fresh air, birds chirping, a light breeze or the feel of soil beneath your feet.

 

Celebrate locality.

With an abundance of forage at your doorstep, why not start local?

 

The 10% rule.

Only take what you need (or 10% of what is available). This not only means that you leave plenty for other foragers, but also local wildlife. We want to enjoy our ecosystem not damage it. 

 

Leave room for regrowth.

Never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.

 

Wash before consumption.

Always give your foraging finds a good wash before consuming, especially when picking on busy routes/path.