Not too many days ago I happened to notice a few violets blooming in my lawn. They were right where I had snapped a photo of just one flower ten years ago.
Back then I had only got the one flower in the photo because as I was setting up to take my shot, Molly had sauntered up and quite nonchalantly plopped down on top of most of the violet flowers. Always the ham.
Seeing the violets blooming made me realize just how long it has been since I made a batch of violet jelly. Too long. Ridiculous really as it only takes two cups of flowers. And it is so good! Especially on freshly baked English Cream Scones.
Violets have a long history in the kitchen but beware…not all violets are edible. Make sure you know which ones you are picking for your plate.
A syrup made from violet flowers and sugar water is a main ingredient in the making of an Oriental sherbet and a wine made from violet flowers was said to have been greatly favoured by the Greeks and the Romans.
The violet flower imparts its flavour to liquids and if steeped in a fine, white wine vinegar, not only does it gives the vinegar a sweet aroma, but a brilliant colour as well.
Nowadays, violets are mainly used fresh to add colour in salads and fruit dishes or crystallized to use as decorations for cakes.
While the flowers are pretty, do not ignore the health benefits found in the leaves. They have a mild taste when added to a salad or when steeped as a tea, but a mere half cup serving of the leaves will give you as much Vitamin C as three oranges.
There is mention in many ancient texts of the violet being used as a remedy for sleeplessness, anger, gout, dizziness, headaches, an antiseptic for wounds, worn as a garland around the head “to dispel the fumes of wine” and for protection against wicked spirits.
According to an old Celtic poem, when violets are steeped in goat’s milk, they will increase female beauty. Could be the reason violets are still found in cosmetic products today.
The perfume industry has had a long history with the wee violet. Nowadays, however, there is more reliance on a synthetically produced substitute. Mores the pity.
Viola odorata, or sweet violet, is a perennial typically found in woodland settings, but also tolerant of a sunny location. They bloom from late February until the end of April. The flowers are generally a deep purple colour, but there are also colour variations in lilac, magenta, pink and white.
Some may not have realized violets put on a second bloom in the autumn. This is when they set their seed and lots of it. But the flowers have no scent.
During the spring flowering, the flowers are fully formed and sweetly scented. But they are barren…producing no seed.
This is a botanical oddity called cleimastogamy…meaning fertilization occurs within an unopened flower. It is not strictly confined to the violet; there are some species of impatiens, campanula (bellflower) and oxalis (shamrock or wood sorrel) which all fertilize in this manner as well.
So, about that violet jelly. I have run out of room here but have posted it to my website at www.duchessofdirt.ca. You will find under “In the Garden” in the “Recipes from the Garden” menu if you are interested.
Have greatly enjoyed reminiscing about violets from ten years ago. Sometimes the old favourites…flowers and memories…are the sweetest.
Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca and her column appears every second Thursday in the Record.