These three members of the genus Viola are spring blooming plants known for their pretty five petaled flowers. The common violet (V. odorata) also known as sweet violet is a perennial native to Europe and Asia where it grows in forest edges but is widely grown in North America. It is four to six inches tall and and consists of a basal rosette of heart shaped leaves and very fragrant dark violet or white flowers. Johnny jump up (V. tricolor) also called hearsease and love-in-idleness, is sprawling biennial or short lived perennial native to Europe. It has small flowers about a half inch wide but is the ancestor of the large flowered hybrid pansies, V. x wittrockiana with three to three inch blossoms.
Pansies and johnny jump ups have a mild wintergreen flavor but are valued for the color they provide in salads and other foods such as pancakes and tea sandwiches. Johnny jumps up is also good with soft cheeses, grilled meats and steamed vegetables while the stronger flavor of sweet violet may be made into jelly and fritters, added to desserts, fruit salads, and teas, or used to flavor vinegar or honey. The French use an extract of violets to make a violet syrup that is used to make scones and marshmallows. Crystallized violets are especially valued for decorating. The leaves of violets are also edible and can be cooked like spinach.
Harvest flowers early in the morning and pluck them from their green calyx. Wash and dry, putting aside some to dry for future use. Fifty to seventy five flowers yield one cup.