Violets, Not Just a Pretty Face

Never underestimate the culinary, cosmetic and medicinal value of the exquisite garden viola…

Words: Margaret Roberts
Styling and photography: Sandy Roberts

marg sandy portraitWith spring around the corner, it’s hard to resist the display of exquisite fragrant garden violets, bravely showing their pretty little mauve and purple faces into the frosty air. They’re a plant I cannot do without.

Of the Viola odorata varieties, we grow the Devon Violet – a lightly mauve, easily spreading violet – and The Czar – a deep-purple violet and a more compact form. I call them a superherb, and understand why the violet was Napoleon’s favourite flower. He gave Josephine, his first wife, violets on their wedding day, and every wedding anniversary thereafter, and finally planted them on her grave.

But don’t confuse these violets with the African violets pot-plant variety, which are not edible. The odorata is the true garden violet, and a low-growing perennial that can still be found in the groundcover perennial section of nurseries and garden centres.

In our busy and stressed lives, this little treasure is all important, and one that every gardener needs to find a space for, as it is a valuable medicinal plant, used as such for thousands of years in Europe and Asia. Great fields of violets were also grown in France and Italy, as the Romans drank violet wine, and this became one of the first much-enjoyed trades with other countries long before grapes were used.

Easy to grow, violets are undemanding, and as a salad ingredient are still today grown in rural France for their vitamin- and mineral-rich leaves and flowers. Mixed with chopped apple, their flowers also make an excellent jelly.

Recipe: Violet Syrup

Served with ice cream or rice pudding, this syrup has remained a favourite treat throughout the centuries. The syrup is made with honey today, and can still be bought at country markets in the Mediterranean areas.

  • 2 cups fresh violet flowers, stalks discarded
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, husk removed

Simmer altogether on a very low heat for 20 minutes. Strain, pour into a glass bottle and keep in the fridge. Serve a little over ice cream with fresh violets, or add to fruit salads or freshly squeezed fruit juices.

Violet tea

Recipe: Violet Tea

Here’s a simple remedy for coughs, colds, flu, bronchitis, catarrh and chesty phlegm. This tea works well for congested sinuses, headaches, and post-nasal drips. And hangovers! Its reputation for treating tumours has been recorded for centuries.

Pour over 1 cup boiling water over ¼ cup fresh violet flowers and leaves. Allow to stand for 5 minutes, stir thoroughly, strain and sip slowly. You can sweeten with a touch of honey if you like.

Violet Cream

It is extremely nourishing and is also an excellent treatment for thread veins and rashes.

Simmer 1 cup of violets and 6 violet leaves in 1 cup good aqueous cream in a double boiler for 20 minutes, pressing the flowers well down into the cream. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then strain through a new sieve. Add 1 tbs almond oil and 3 tsp vitamin E oil. Mix well and spoon into a sterilised glass jar, and label. Use as a night cream and over rashes, thread veins and rough red areas.

Violet Bath Salts

Violets (leaves included) in the bath are the most beautiful skin softener. The gentle violet helps you sleep, helps to remove pollution and stress from your tired body and restores, calm, peace and relaxation. Mix 3 cups of Epsom salts with 1 cup of violet leaves and flowers. Store in a sealed container and use a scoop in the bath for skin softening and to sooth rashes. Make it fresh frequently and keep a tub of the Epson salt mixture ready for those over-tiring days.

muffins+crystalisedRecipe: Crystalised Violets with Muffins

Separate 3 eggs and beat the whites until fluffy.

In a separate bowl add:

275g cake flour
225g sugar
2 tsp baking powder

In a measuring jug add:

125ml boiling water
125ml sunflower oil
1 tsp vanilla essence
½ cup well-rinsed de-stemmed violets

Add the jug of wet ingredients to the cake flour and sugar mixture and stir well. Then add the egg yolks and egg whites, and fold in. Carefully spoon mixture into a greased cupcake pan and bake for 10 minutes until golden brown.

For the icing add 2 tbs cream cheese to 2 cups icing sugar and mix well. Add a few drops of lemon juice to bring it to the consistency required, and pour over the cupcakes.

To make the crystalised violets use 1 egg white beaten lightly and, with a paintbrush, paint the violets with the egg white and dust with castor sugar. Allow to dry and keep in an airtight container until needed.

For more info

Note: Margaret Roberts has a fine selection of plants and seeds available from her nursery. Her shop stocks a wide variety of their health products that can be posted to you.

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