Thursday, April 15, 2010

Around Our House: Blue Violets... For DINNER

Lovely Blue Violets in a tossed salad of fresh picked spinach and dandelion greens accompanied by blooms and leaves of a very resilient Pak Choy that overwintered in our garden.

If you ever needed a good reason not to spray your yard with nasty chemicals, consider all of the edible "weeds" that voluntarily grow each year. One of my favorites (aside from the dandelion) is the Common Blue Violet (Viola papilionacea). Every spring, little heart shaped leaves peek out from the ground to be soon followed by a sea of dainty purple and white blossoms. When I was a little girl, we had violets all over our backyard and spent countless hours picking them and pressing them in books. As a botany student at Iowa State in the late 90s, I discovered these cuties were also edible.

Taken from Peterson Field Guides: Edible Wild Plants by Lee Allen Peterson.
Use: salad, cooked green, soup thickener, tea, candy The tender young leaves can be added to salads or boiled for 10-15 minutes to make a palatable green, or added to soup as an okralike thickener. Violet leaves are rather bland and are best mixed with other greens. The dried leaves can be made into a tea. The flowers can be candied. The leaves are rich in vitamin A and C.

My FAVORITE thing to do with my violets is to add the flowers to salads. In the early spring, when there is not much color in your garden aside from the lovely greens, these little flowers make a cheerful addition.

In the past we've also made candied violets by brushing each petal with a diluted mixture of egg whites and then coating each flower with extra fine granulated sugar and allowing to completely dessicate before storing. One year we packaged these up for Mother's Day.

Other fine edible (midwestern US) plants include white clovers, common plantains (not the bananas), dandelions, lamb's-quarter, day lilies, and shepherds purse (to name a few more common yard weeds). Wild plants typically contain a broader range of phytochemicals and nutrients since they are tasked with having to survive outside of the neatly confined and carefully tended environment of the garden. So before you destroy the bounty that nature has bestowed upon you, take a moment to get to know your weeds (buy a book of your region!) and take a nibble.

Common plantain. Very young leaves can be added to salads or boiled for cooked greens.

Shepherd's Purse. Young greens can be eaten as salad or cooked. Dried seed pods can be ground for a pepper-like seasoning.

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