Springtime has arrived when you see the first delicate but fragrant bluish purple blossoms of sweet violets along the roadside or at the woodland’s edge. They have long been used to celebrate the arrival of spring by being added to May wine, scattering on the floor and creating garlands to wear. Native to North Africa, Europe and Asia and related to pansies and Johnny-jump-ups or heartsease, these garden gems have naturalized throughout most of North America. They have been cultivated for over 2000 years and experienced the height of popularity during the Victorian era when they were used for bridal nosegays and to scent syrups and jellies. In the language of flowers they represent “faithfulness” and “ever in my mind” and throughout history were associated with modesty, innocence and love.
A creeping perennial, sweet violets grow best in partial shade or at least afternoon shade and multiply by runners from the main plant after flowering. They should not be allowed to become overcrowded and may be divided each year in spring or fall. They are easily propagated by direct seed after danger of frost, but can be started inside for a head start. You can enjoy them in rock gardens, pots, borders and formal gardens, almost anywhere there is rich, moist soil and good drainage. Deadhead to keep them flowering and trim back as needed. Sweet violets grow about 6 inches tall, have heart shaped leaves and actually produce flowers in spring and autumn although they are very different. In spring, the blossoms consist of five dark bluish purple petals appearing singly on long stalks, are delicately sweet scented, but produce no seed. Autumn flowers are small and insignificant usually hidden under the leaves, have no scent, but produce an abundance of seed.
Flowers and leaves may be harvested as available for use by gathering then rinsing and setting in a colander placed in cold water for 10-15 mins. Pat dry and store flowers and leaves in separate bags in refrigerator until needed. High in Vitamin C, both the leaves and blossoms are edible. The young leaves which are slightly tart may be added to salad or tea sandwiches and older leaves may be cooked in soups and stews. The blossoms may be used fresh, candied or frozen in ice cubes for lovely additions to summer drinks. They have a sweet and perfumed flavor that goes well with fruit, desserts and salads. The candied form is most familiar as a garnish to cakes, pastries and puddings; however the fresh petals are also striking on a chilled soup. A tea made from the flowers or leaves has a tasty floral quality.
Sweet violets may also be used as a natural dye producing a lavender or violet blue color and used to also color confectionery, jellies, jams and liqueurs. The flowers may also be pressed to dry for use in a multitude of natural crafts.
Start seed inside 6 weeks before planting out
for a head start and to pamper them
Here are some recipes using organically grown violets to top your favorite pound cake!
1 cup water
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2c violets, stems removed
Boil all ingredients for 10 minutes or until thickened into a syrup. Strain through cheesecloth into a clean, sterilized glass jar. Seal and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Violet syrup may be drizzled over sliced fruit or pound cake, poured over ice cream, or added to a glass of lemonade.
SUGARED VIOLET POUND CAKE: Drizzle pound cake with a combination of powdered sugar, orange zest & orange juice, then top with a sugared violet.
FRUIT & VIOLET WHIPPED CREAM
2 tsp chopped candied violets
2 tsp chopped candied orange peel
2 c unsweetened whipped cream
2 pints sliced strawberries
4 fresh violet blossoms
Chop candied violets and orange peel separately, then gently fold into whipped cream. Place berries in cups or on top of cake and top with flavored whipped cream. Garnish with a fresh blossom.
". . . I have given you all things even as the green herbs."