Sugar and Gum Arabic Preserved Flowers

It is spring, and with spring comes a field full of lovely flowers, specifically, the bright purples of the common violet and brilliant yellows of the dandelion.  What? You say…the dandelion…a flower…it’s a weed. We will touch more upon the dandelion later.

The common violet, also known as sweet violet, blue violet or garden violet is a native of Europe. It has naturalized throughout North America.  There are approximately 400-500 species of Violets. The name comes from the Greek Ione. 

Io was a prestess of the goddess Juno, who was the wife of the king of the god's Jupiter.  She was a jealous goddess. Jupiter was also a feckless and unfaithful husband, and he fell in love with Io.  In an attempt to hide his affair from his wife, Jupiter changed Io into a white cow. He created a purple flower with heart shaped leaves for her to heat.  The flowers bear her name.

The ancient greeks considered violets a symbol of fertility and love, and they were oftentimes used in love potions.  The Empress Josephine was fond of violets, and it is rumored that Napoleon picked violets from her garden and kept them with him as a reminder of her in a locket.

Violets were used medievally in cooking. The leaves were eaten in salads, and the flowers were used in cooking to impart their color and flavor to vinegar, sugars and syrups. Use caution when eating violets, taken in large quantity, they do have a laxative effect.  

Harleian MS 279 features a recipe for Vyolette, a kind of putting made with rice flower, milk, sugar and violets. 

.lxxxxj. Vyolette. Nym Almaunde Mylke, an flowre of Rys, and pouder Gyngere, Galyngale Pepir, Datis, Fygys, & Rasonys y-corven, an coloure it with Safroun, an boyle it & make it chargeaunt; an whan thou dressyste, take the flowres, and hew he, an styre it there-with; nyme the braunchew with the flowres, an  sette a-boue and serue it Forth.

And another Recipe for Vyolette.

.Cxxv. Vyolette.--Take flourys of Vyolet, boyle hem, presse hem, bray hem smal, temper hem vppe, with Almaunde mylke, or gode Cowe Mylke, a-lye it with Amyndoun, or Flowre of Rys; take Sugre y-now, an putte there-to, or nony in defaute; coloure it with the same that the flowrys be on y-peyntid a-boue.

Violets also had medical useage.  They were used to cure fevers, to be rid of wicked spirits, to treat insomnia, headache, catarrh and to relieve inflammation of cold and chest.

I have been playing this past two weeks with preserving flowers.  Granted, the recipes below are late for the SCA, but the method may have existed in period, and the book “A Queen’s Delight” is often found on the “must read” list.

The Queen’s delight lists many different kinds of flowers that can be candied, conserved, preserved or distilled so that they may be used later in the season; Clove-Gilly flowers, Hyssop, Roses, Borage, Lavender, Peony, Rosemary and Violets.  I took a few liberties with the recipe “To Candy Rosemary-flowers in the Sun”, and (re)created candied or crystalized violets, pansies and dianthus (clove-gilly flower).  I hope to continue the method with roses and mint for a project later in the year. 

“Take Gum-Dragon, and steep it in Rose-water, then take the Rosemary flowers, good coloured, and well pickt, and wet them in the water that your Gum dragon is steeped in, then take them out, and lay them upon a paper, and strew fine Sugar over them; this do in the hot sun, turning them, and strewing Sugar on them, till they are candied, and so keep them for your use.”

A QUEENS Delight; OR, The Art of Preserving, Conserving and Candying. London: 1671

The method is simple and I have included the instructions here if you wish to try to create your own candied flowers.


1 Disposable grill screen
1 Cookie tray
Wax Paper
Small Paintbrush
Superfine sugar*
1/4 Cup rosewater
1 Tbsp. Gum Arabic
Small Jar with Lid
Herbicide/Pesticide free edible flowers
Air tight storage container

Melt the gum arabic into the rosewater.  I suspect the rosewater is more for scent then actual culinary useage so you can (and I did) use about half the rosewater and the rest water.  When the gum arabic has melted into your rosewater it will form a honey colored liquid.  You can leave it in the jar for a few days if you wish.  

Pansies, Dianthus, Violets
Wash your flowers and dry them carefully (excess water will make the sugar form ugly clumps and the flowers will take longer to dry). Remove stems and leaves.  Dip the paint brush into the gum arabic and paint your flowers, making sure that you paint all of them as best you can.  Sprinkle with sugar. Place flowers on screen or waxed paper and let dry for several days.  I preferred the screen because it let air in around the entire flower.  I imaging if you use waxed paper you may need to flip the flowers over about halfway through the drying process to dry thoroughly.

Painted and sugared
As an added step.  I heated my oven to it's lowest setting (170 degrees), then turned off the heat when I began painting the flowers.  I was afraid that the wet weather we were experiencing might affect the flowers drying.  The oven had cooled off considerably by the time I had finished painting all of my flowers.  Most of the flowers dried overnight.  

There are alternative methods that use unflavored gelatine and egg whites if you want something quick that you may not be eating but using strictly as decoration.  Many sites on the internet have directions for these methods.  

My daughter and her friends really enjoyed eating the violets. So much so that they ate the entire first batch! They were described as "being fruity with a hint of flower" and "not bad at all".  I think they taste sort of like violets smell a kind of sweet, grapey-ish (yeah that's a word) flavor.  I didn't care for the pansies or the dianthus. They were very chewy.

Drying on Screen

*To make your own superfine sugar, take granulated sugar and put in your mixer, pulse for several seconds until the sugar looks like fine grained sand.  Ta-dah!