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The Culinary Violet

By Debbie Whittaker, Herb Gourmet
For The American Violet Society © 2000 All Rights Reserved

             Debbie Whittaker, the Herb Gourmet, is a food writer and culinary herbalist specializing in fast, easy, healthy cooking with herbs as well as in their nutritional benefits as preventive medicine. Ms. Whittaker's recipes and articles have appeared in numerous publications, most frequently in "Herbs for Health" and "The Herb Companion" magazines, and in her own newsletter, "Herb Gourmet". She has lectured and catered for such organizations as the Denver Botanic Gardens, University of Colorado and the Annual Convention of The Herb Society of America. She raises culinary herbs, edible flowers, and heirloom vegetables, all of which she serves in her cooking classes. She is a member of The Herb Society of America and the Chef's Collaborative 2000, an organization that promotes sustainable agriculture cuisine. Ms. Whittaker joined The American Violet Society in 2000 as its resident Culinary Associate/Viola Chef.

             Viola (violets, violas and pansies) are among the most popular edible flowers in America--and with good reason. All flowers are beautiful, but viola are easy to grow and are among the few flowers that actually taste good, too. The simple addition of a few brilliant blooms transforms any dish into an elegant presentation.

             Both the flowers and leaves in fresh and dried forms have been standard fare in Europe and other areas in the world since before the 14th century. Fresh flowers are most often used for garnishing and crystallizing, The pungent perfume of some varieties of v.odorata adds inimitable sweetness to desserts, fruit salads and teas while the mild pea flavor of v.tricolor and most other viola combines equally well with sweet or savory foods, like grilled meats and steamed vegetables. The heart-shaped leaves of the v. odorata provide a free source of greens throughout a long growing season. They add texture to green salads when young and tender. Later in the season, slightly tougher, older leaves are cooked with other potted herbs and greens in soups, stews and stir-frys..

             Violets aren't just another pretty face. They are loaded with phytochemicals and medicinal constituents that have been used in the treatment of numerous health problems from the common cold to cancer. The late Euell Gibbons even referred to them as "nature's vitamin pill (1)." A 1/2 cup serving of leaves can provide as much vitamin C as three oranges.

             Few foods bring as much to the table as viola -- stunning aesthetic appeal for a wide array of foods, great flavors ranging from sweet to savory, abundance from easily grown plants, and health-giving constituents unequaled by much commercially available produce. Eat and enjoy!!!

Caution: Never eat plants or flowers unless you are certain that they are the edible variety.  SEE CAUTION BELOW:

VIOLETS (v. odorata and other native species)

Description: Most commonly, the wild, blue violet with heart shaped leaves
Parts used for culinary purposes: Flowers and leaves, fresh and dried
Flavor: Sweet to mild greens flavor. Taste to assess the flavor. The perfumed varieties (usually blue to purple) should be reserved for sweet teas, beverages and desserts described here. The pea-flavored varieties can be used for the savory foods described below under "Violas and Pansies: v. tricolor." They are equally lovely on sweets, but don't add the fabulous flavor of the aromatic varieties.

VIOLAS AND PANSIES especially v. tricolor, also known as 'Johnny Jump Ups' or Heartsease.

Description: Many colors with alternating, thin serrated leaves on stalks
Parts used for culinary purposes: Fresh flowers
Flavor: Mild pea flavors.



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             Caution: Never eat flowers or other parts of plants unless you are certain of their identification, that they are edible and that you do not have an allergy to them.  Never eat large quantities of any food that is new to you, as you may trigger a serious allergic reaction.  Be aware that various chemicals, commonly used along roads, in gardens and along rights of way, may be highly poisonous.  Be certain that your specimens are safe and accurately identified before gathering or using them.  The use of violets medicinally or in large quantities is not recommended without private consultation with a professionally trained professional.  Many plants that are safe in small quantities, such as those used as garnishes or decorations are medicinal in large quantities.  Use moderation.  Do not use rare plants for food.

             !  !  !  IMPORTANT  !  !  !  African violets are NOT viola and are NOT considered edible.  DO NOT SUBSTITUTE AFRICAN VIOLETS FOR SWEET VIOLETS IN THESE OR OTHER RECIPES.  Beware also of look-alikes and sound-alikes, as many plants are nicknamed "violet" because of their color.

             Disclaimer:  Personal experience and historical practice present a long heritage of the use of Viola as a food material.  However, The American Violet Society and contributors to this site assume no liability associated with the consumption of Viola or any other foods described on this website.  The use of any material on this site presumes that the user assumes all risk associated with such use. 

© May 1, 2000, Herb Gourmet 3011 South Krameria, Denver, CO 80222

1 Gibbons, Euell - Handbook of Edible Plants, Donning, 1979.
2 Rules for Eating Edible Flower and Wildcrafter Foods - Planetary Herbology Michael Tierra, CA, ND, 1992, Lotus Press, Box 325, Twin Lakes, WI 53181.

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