Northern downy violets and common blue violets were very pretty for the last month. At our location in south-central Pennsylvania the common violet comes into full bloom about a week after the northern violets are peaking in their abundance.
Downy northern violet starts blooming here during the last week of April. As a community they bloom for at least a couple of weeks with new flowers springing up in between the long scalloped leaves of any given plant. Violet plants that receive only morning sun started blooming later than those in the open yard, so our entire blooming season for these pretty purple violets lasts about a month.
The easiest way to tell the difference between downy northern violet and the common blue violet is to look at their leaves. The downy northern has elongated leaves with scalloped edges and spurs on each side at the base of each leaf. The first leaves of the season are shorter and somewhat rounded and they may be confused with the common blue violet leaves which are heart-shaped leaves with scalloped edges.
We appeared to have lost the only two examples of arrow-leaved violets this winter. These plants were different than the much more plentiful common blue and downy northern violets. The leaves were large and the whole plant noticeable from a distance merely due to its size, as compared to the diminutive downy northern violets. The blooms weren’t much different as I remember, but the leaves were more wedge-shaped than the upright and narrow leaves of the downy northern violet.
We decided to hold off on making violet jelly this year. We still have one jar and plenty of other jellies in the pantry, so as Momma would say, “Waste not, want not!” We’ll save the sugar for making blackberry jelly or maybe elderberry jelly in 2 or 3 months.
A few weeks ago I came across a bookmark for a violet jelly recipe. Last year I marked the recipe page as the violets had already bloomed for the year when I first saw the recipe. I knew that Viola sp. were edible and had already put a few blossoms on top of a salad or on a plate or drink just to snaz things up a bit. The colorful blossoms don’t seem to have much of a taste and that made me curious about violet jelly.
As serendipity would have it, a ton of native violets grow wild on our property. At the time I was reading about making jelly from violets our Northern Downy Violets were in full bloom, so we made a batch of violet jelly! Oddly, I thought it would taste like grapes, because of the cool colors I guess. The real taste is floral – like a violet and slightly fruity or berry-like with a faint hint of elderberry. Elderberry jelly has a much, much stronger flavor, but there were notes of it in our violet jelly.
Three of us went outside on a sunny and breezy day in April to pick two cups of violet flowers. Just the flower heads were needed so any stems that came off the plant were picked out of the bowl. Violet flowers were picked from our backyard on the mountain ridge top.
In about 15 minutes time we had the amount of violets we needed to make the jelly. Nearly three cups of violets were loosely tossed into a measuring bowl and the whole amount was firmly packed in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Now, that’s not firmly packed like brown sugar measured out for a batch of cookies, but the flowers were pressed down lightly to fit in the measuring cup.
The violets appeared rather clean, but since the pollen has been very high lately they were given a quick rinse with water in a colander anyway.
The next step for making the violet jelly was to pour two cups of boiling water on top of the flowers. We want two cups of liquid to make the jelly, so don’t rely on using the measuring cup scale for adding two cups of water. Since the violets already took up space in the measuring cup, boiling water was measured out in a separate measuring cup and then poured on top of the flowers.
After a couple of hours steeping the deep blue liquid could be decanted off the flowers. We let the measuring cup sit at room temperature for a couple of hours so we could see the color develop and then let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. After 24 hours of total steeping time, a double layer of cheesecloth was draped over a 2 quart bowl and the flower and water mixture was poured over the cheesecloth. The flowers were held back from the liquid and then taken to the compost pile.
At this point the violet liquid was a very deep blue color. Four cups of sugar were measured out into a separate bowl. A 3 oz. package of liquid pectin, Certo brand, was opened and sat upright in a glass. A quarter cup of lemon juice was measured out too so that all ingredients were ready when needed. Previously, about an hour before, glass jars were washed and sterilized in the dishwasher and the door kept closed so that the jars would stay hot until needed. Bands and lids were sterilized with a kettle of boiling water poured over them as laid out in a skillet and covered with a lid until needed.
Take caution! To cook up the jelly use a 4 quart pan. When we made this particular batch of jelly we used a 2 quart pan to cook the jelly and created one heck of a mess. As the jelly cooks to a boil foam is formed and that foam layer rises a couple of inches up from the liquid level in the pan. Needless to say there was a scorched mess on the stove top to clean up because the hot jelly ran over. I just knew that pan looked a little full at the time, but I neglected my own thoughts and decided to follow the recipe to a T. Wish I had listened to myself, but since I didn’t, maybe you won’t make the same mistake.
At this point in making the jelly we should have transferred the blue liquid to a 4 quart pan before turning on the heat. The heat was set to high and the mixture was constantly stirred. The lemon juice was added and the color changed immediately from deep blue to a light lavender or pink color.
Sugar was added to the pan and the heating continued. It didn’t take too long to bring the mixture to a boil and it was constantly stirred.
Once the boil was reached, the packet of liquid pectin was added and the mixture boiled for two minutes more. With the smaller pan we had to guess at how long the pectin-sugar-juice mixture was actually boiled because the pan was taken off the heat to stop the boiling over. We guessed ok because the jelly gelled just fine.
Evidently, the same jelly recipe could be used for other floral jellies, like rose or rose hips jelly, or herb jellies, like mint or lemon thyme jelly. It would be fun to try some other fine jellies like that, but if we find another big violet patch, we’ll be making some more violet jelly first.
Northern Downy Violet is a native spring flower that we see popping up all over the lawns here on the mountain ridge. The front and back yard were virtually covered with these light to deep purple blossoms. They are most common in areas with the least amount of grass or weeds growing. Northern Downy Violet is known as Viola fimbriatula, although in the past I’ve called it Downy Northern Violet.
From late April to early May violets bloom en masse in open areas adjacent to woodlands in central Pennsylvania. Lots of rain made it a beautiful violet bloom time this year.
Look for violets in woodland settings with open areas that receive sunlight or have partial shade. Old lots, waste areas and fields may be good areas to find them, too.
Very small plants may be no bigger than two inches square. Others can be six inches in diameter, but more commonly the entire plant is 3-4 inches in diameter and just as tall. These little violets may have a single bloom or up to a couple of dozen blooms.
Violas in general have irregular-shaped flowers with five petals and a short spur that may or may not extend beyond the flower stem. In the Northern Downy Violet the spur is a short one. The two upper petals are somewhat plainer than the three lower petals. All are similar color, ranging from light blue to deep purple in individual plants, and most have veins of deeper purple color. The two outer lower petals are bearded – you can see some fuzz on the inner white parts of these petals.
The softly hairy leaves give this violet the moniker “downy”. Leaves are toothed and blunt or rounded at the tips and somewhat arrow-shaped. The base of the leaves may have notches with some being more exaggerated than others.
Flowers rise above the foliage at first, then as the plant continues to grow the leaves may grow taller than the blooms.
In same general area we also see the Common Blue Violet, Viola papilionacea, and Arrow-Leaved Violets, V. sagittata. The arrow-leaved violets seem to bloom slightly later than the northern downy violets, and both precede the common blue violet. All the blue violets are done blooming here by the end of June.
Hiking along the mountain ridge the other day we saw some ground covers in bloom like the chickweed in the fields. Spring wild flowers that were blooming included white violets, hepatica and rue anemone. These wild flowers were all growing in a rocky, wooded area. The white violets were found down in the holler near a spring-fed stream, whereas the hepatica and rue anemone were on the hillsides in the woods.
White violets were just beginning to bloom. More violets were observed with flower buds or no buds than had open flowers.
The Northern White Violet, Viola pallens, is identified by its leaf shape and flower shape. The leaves and flowers reside on separate stems, which is the first thing to determine when seeking to identify a violet. Some species share their leaf stems with the flowers, like the field pansy.
The basal leaves are small, round or blunted heart shapes with scalloped edges. The upper petals of the flower are not twisted as they would be in the Sweet White Violet, V. blanda, which also has heart-shaped leaves that are more pointed. Photos taken 21 April 2011.
(Click on photos to see larger images.)
The violets were adjacent to a spring-fed stream and probably within 20 feet of the flowing water. This is the same stream where we saw skunk cabbage.
The white violets don’t seem to have any medicinal qualities, but they are edible. We won’t be harvesting any violets so that we can go back and enjoy them next year. Leaves can be used in salads, as cooked greens or dried for use in tea. Flowers make pretty garnishes for salad plates.
Probably the first thing noticeable about yellow stemmed violets would be their heart-shaped leaves. The leaves branch off each other which gives a nice effect of producing a clump of heart-like leaves. Each leaf stands apart from the other as to make the heart-shaped outlines very obvious.
Stemmed violets have both flowers and leaves produced on the same stem. The differences between several yellow-stemmed violets come down to leaf shape.
The yellow stemmed violet that we have here is called the Downy Yellow Violet, Viola pubescens. Two identifying characteristics are first, the downy or softly hairy surface of the stems and leaves, and second, the toothed stipule, which is like a tiny leaf at the base of the heart-shaped leaves.
Note the yellow circle around the toothed stipule (hard to see the teeth in this image) and the downy hair on the leaves and stems.
The flowers appear differently depending on the angle that you view them at. Looking down on the violet you’ll see four petals, sideways you can see the spur and straight on gives you a look at the lined lower petal.
Yellow violets seem common in low-lying areas near creeks or wetlands. Blooming cohorts included white violets, the common blue violet, miterwort, wild ginger and wild stonecrop. Bloodroot and trout lily had already bloomed in this area. Photos were taken 30 April 2010 near the Day Use Area of Little Buffalo State Park in Newport, PA.
These pretty violets – and all members of Viola – are edible, but the Peterson Edible Plants Guide tells us that the yellow species may be mildly cathartic, which means that they may act as a laxative. The young leaves and flowers can be added to salads. The leaves can be used to thicken soups, boiled as a cooked green, or dried to make tea.