I love the wild violets that pop up in my lawn each spring. They are a cheerful reminder that warmer days are on the way and I enjoy the little spots of color sprinkled throughout my yard. Yes, I have a yard, not a lawn and am quite proud of that fact. I have great swaths of henbit, dead nettle, white clover, dandelions and of course violets. My yard is a haven for early foraging bees and butterflies and I love the look of everything blooming. Imagine my surprise when I started researching this article and found there were many more links for instructions on getting rid of violets, than encouraging them. I actually moved violets to my yard on purpose and was shocked that there are thousands of folks out there not feeling the love at all.
For those of you in the ant-violet camp, you're waging an uphill battle. Violas, or sweet violets are a North American native plant and is happy in just about any climate. Their range is from the far north into Canada, south to Mexico. Only the hottest, driest deserts seem to slow them down. They spread by both underground runners and seeds. It also does absolutely no good to mow the blooming violets to prevent them from setting seed. Those flowers aren't where the seeds come from. The violet is a cleistogamous plant, meaning the seed producing flowers, which actually never bloom in a conventional manner, are produced later in the year and seldom rise above the foliage. The gardener never sees these flowers and they fertilize themselves without opening and only open to release the seeds once they are mature. Even herbicides such as glyphosate have limited effect since the leaves have a waxy surface that prevents absorption. You'll likely do more harm to the environment than the violets by using those. The best way to deal with violets is to learn to live with them and if they stray into your beds, dig them and compost them.
Now, for those who consider violets a joyful spring gift, there are a number of other useful purposes they serve. The leaves are edible and can be used like spinach. They also contain salicylic acid that is a natural aspirin. A couple of teaspoons of dried leaves makes a nice tea that soothes sore throats and eases fevers. Sweeten with a bit of honey if you like. The leaves and flowers contain more Vitamin C than the same weight in oranges and contain a mild antiseptic that Native Americans used to bind wounds. Just be careful about adding any new plant to your menu and only do this gradually to see how your system reacts. Violets are pretty benign, however they do have mild laxative properties and it would be best to introduce them to your diet a little at a time.
However, it is those lovely little flowers that make the violet such a treasure. They're completely edible and have so many different uses. Dip clean flowers in frothy egg whites, sprinkle with sugar and give them about 20 minutes in a 200F degree oven and you have candied violets, suitable for decorating all sorts of cakes and pastries.
Then there is violet vinegar. Such a nice addition to your salad. Place two cups of clean violet blooms in a quart jar and pour 12 to 16 ounces of rice or white wine vinegar over them. Let them sit on the counter for a week or two and give the jar a shake several times a day. The violets will infuse the vinegar with their flavor and turn it a beautiful shade of purple. When it is ready to bottle up, pour the whole thing into a large strainer, and press the violets for the last of their juice. Then strain again using a coffee filter. Return your violet vinegar to the bottle and it is ready to use.
Last, but definitely not least is violet syrup. This took some work. I picked a half gallon of violet blossoms (these were both the usual purple ones and the 'gray' violets) I made an infusion by bringing 2 cups of water to a boil and pouring this over the blossoms. I covered it and left it to steep overnight. The water turned a deep blue. The next day, I strained and pressed the blossoms and re-strained through a coffee filter. After that, I added 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, which made the blue infusion turn a beautiful shade of amethyst. I added 2 cups of sugar and cooked it over medium heat until the sugar was dissolved and the syrup had thickened. This took about 20 minutes. I did let the mixture boil, but was careful not to let it stick or burn, much like one would make candy. The syrup has a light, floral flavor for want of a better description. Very delicate and very tasty. Store the syrup in the refrigerator and use it over ice cream, pancakes, in cake icing, or mix a spoonful into your tea or yogurt. It works anywhere a light, sweet touch is desired.
There are a number of Viola species throughout the Northern Hemisphere and the cheerful little flowers have been the subjects of songs, poems, foods, medicine and love charms for centuries. Known as sweet violets, they are not to be confused with the African violet in the genus Saintpaulia, which are not edible and native only to that continent. In the wild, they favor the edges of woodland areas and along the banks of streams or creeks where acid soil is abundant. They are a host plant for the fritillary butterflies. Remember that they play an important role on our ecology and if that fails, gather some and make some sweet treats instead of trying to eradicate these spring wildflowers