Spring rituals vary from region to region but throughout the south, gathering violets and turning them into jam and liqueur is a popular activity. Pay enough attention to it and you will also hear stories of red bud blossoms being gathered for jam making as well. Personally, I love the look of a lawn full of violets and I am tempted to pull out the weeds and just let the violets fill the space but my husband has other ideas.
Most violets found in lawns are viola sororia and are an herbaceous perennial plant that can quickly become a weed due to the fact that they spread through rhizomes as well as seeds. In my yard, they are allowed to fill spaces that we do not use for gardening, generally the lawn areas, and my husband mows them over along with all of the other weeds that make up the green sections of our yard. The only exception to this is the two weeks in spring that these lovely little flowers are in bloom; he does not mow until I pick as many as I can!
All my life, I have always thought that violets were always purple. White violets were not as common but I can recall seeing them on rare occasions and assumed they were a mutation. It is also worth noting that on even fewer occasions, I encountered yellow violets. However in our yard, here in Virginia, the vast majority of the violets are white with purple veins, lavender or a lighter shade of purple. These are a variety commonly referred to as Confederate Violets and regardless of the color, all violets have edible flowers. Making liqueur is a bit tedious because you must pick large quantities of the blossoms. For the batch I made this year, I must have picked about 3 pints. For a single pint of liquer, I placed 2 cups of blossoms into a pint sized jar and added 2 cups of potato vodka and allowed the flowers to steep for a couple days, shaking it once a day. After it had sat and the flowers faded and grew limp, I strained them out and filled the jar with another 2 cups of blossoms. To this, I poured the previously infused vodka over the blossoms and allowed it to steep, shaking it daily for a couple of days and then I repeated the process a third time. My goal was to get a nice dark liqueur and a strong floral flavor.
Having allowed the last batch of flowers time to infuse the batch, I strained them out and this was the result. If you look at the top of the liquid, you can see that it is a deep violet color, almost grey. Despite everything, it still had a strong alcohol taste but the aroma was all flowers-and honestly, I am not much of a vodka drinker so it was hard to not taste the vodka in the background but there was definitely a floral flavor there as well. And now that it has aged for a couple weeks, it has mellowed a bit.
This was an experiment for me, whether or not I try it again is hard to say. While crawling around the yard picking cup after cup of blossoms, I managed to get a tick bite and that and my nearly broke back may have me think twice. Although, I would like to try making some jam…violet jam, redbud jam, maybe even some redbud likker…
When we were living in Nashville and working with the Master Gardeners, an extension agent once described the weeds found in a winter/spring lawn as the native winter wildflowers. He went on to describe how these plants were the only nectar and pollen sources for pollinating insects during the season. It was those words that convinced us to leave them in the lawn where our bees might benefit from them. As a result, we often leave the lawn a little longer and shaggy in comparison to our neighbors.
This beauty is henbit and is commonly found in lawns. It is also edible and last year, I made a batch of wildflower liqueur with violets and other wildflowers growing in our lawn and dubbed it lawn likker. If you think violets are tiny, henbit is even smaller!
A close up shot of the flower; look at the hairs on the back of the bloom and the tiny little stamens!Dead Nettle is a close cousin of Henbit, both are in the mint family, but if you look closely, you will see that these leaves are heart shaped and gradient in color from the top of the plant to the base while Henbit has round leaves with teeth. Another thing, Dead Nettle flowers make the blossoms from Henbit look huge!Dead Nettle flower on the top, Henbit flower on the bottom.
A third player in this game, Ground Ivy, also called Creeping Charlie because it trails like a vine and can quickly cover an area. These blooms are the largest of the three. While some publications will tell you that it is best to make teas rather than eat the leaves, I don’t think there is any real danger in adding a handful of blooms to a batch of likker-although, your back may cry foul!
My first batch of lawn likker from last year, it has since changed color and is now a bright golden yellow and looks more like a bottle of urine than likker but trust me, the flavor is still floral and so is the aroma!
Want to give it a try? Here are a few links I am bookmarking for future attempts.