Sweet Violet (Viola Odorata)
'Common' or 'English' violet, is in full bloom during the depths of winter.
~Legends from the Greeks tell of the Goddess Io who was turned into a heifer by her lover Zeus, in order to protect her, and gave her pastures of violets to eat.
~Apparently Violets sprang where Orpheus would sleep.
~Napoleon Bonaparte gave Josephine a love token of Violets.
~In Germany during the Middle Ages the discovery of the first spring violets was celebrated with dancing. Imagine if we had a dance for each flower that sprang up in Spring!
Violets are such sweeties and make it onto the list of my first memories of childhood foraging. I clearly remember when I was about 7 I would spend hours picking the little purple flowers in the bottom of our garden. I was attracted to the deep purple color and the lovely scent, & would stir these into "magical fairy potions". The flowers would tint the potions bright purple (which is really cool to play around with when making infused drinks or cocktails).
The leaves & flowers are both edible.
The flowers (which are full of Vitamins A & C) make a colorful & very sweet addition to salads, drinks, syrups & ice cubes or infused honey.
The leaves can be cooked and used as a thickener in soups & stews. I also finely slice the very young leaves into salads or add to pestos & smoothies, in small amounts as the leaves can be a bit papery and tough on the tongue, however they offer an incredibly rich green color.
Herbalists throughout history have used violet to treat respiratory conditions such as bronchitis & asthma. It's often added to cough syrups for sore throats, where it's muciligenic content can be very soothing. The leaves have antiseptic & expectorant properties & in China the leaves were burned under abscesses to cure them.
I’ve infused this bowl full of Sweet Violet into honey, a traditional remedy for coughs & sore throats. I have to say though that the honey is (almost sickly) sweet. I think it would be best for those with a sweet tooth that don't like other cough syrups!
Sweet Violet spreads really quickly via creeping rhizomes. You can easily dig a small amount from your friends garden to transplant into yours where it will multiply quickly. Beware, it spreads far & wide, and loves dark, shady places. I've put it around some of my fruit trees that are on the shady side of the garden for a ground cover.
Violets are part of the Violaceae family, with 600 individual species. Viola Odorata is the European native, whilst Violoa Sororia is the North American native.
Viola Odorata aka Sweet Violet is sometimes confused with Viola Tricolor aka Viola or Pansy by which is also often found in home gardens. Viola Tricolor has purple/yellow/cream patches on the flowers which are also edible and look really beautiful in salads and on baking.