Violets: An Herb To Know

WSY0041315  It may be hard to believe, looking out the window at endless white snow, or long stretches of beige lawn and bare trees, but soon the grass will be green and flowers will begin to bloom.  If you are among the wise and don’t treat your lawn, you may be lucky and violets will be sprinkled throughout the grass in slightly shaded areas.  Violets have been appreciated for their pretty purple flowers and sweet fragrance for centuries.  Pure essential oil of violets is one of the most expensive flower essences.

As a child, I picked little bouquets, and I still pick blossoms to put on canapés or tiny cupcakes for spring tea parties and to dry for potpourris.  I also use the blooms and leaves in salads.  Cooked leaves are often used as a thickening agent in soups and stews.  The flowers can be made into syrups, candies, tea, and jelly.

Violets are easy-to-grow perennials that are happiest in good soil and dappled sunlight.  Early farmers often observed the violets growing in their pastures as an indicator of soil fertility:  the more abundant the flowers, the better the soil.  Few flowers meant the soil needed amendments.  Violets spread by seed.  The most common color is purple, but white or yellow can also be found.   Here, purple violets are abundant in the lawn behind the potager, while the white and yellow ones are abundant in the adjacent woods.  The violet is the state flower of Wisconsin, Illinois, Rhode Island and New Jersey.

Recent research has found that eating violets greatly reduces tumor formation and the recurrence of many cancers, especially breast cancer.  The Romans made garlands of violets to ease headache or prevent a hangover.  The Greeks made poultices of the leaves for inflamed eyes or bedsores.  Greek women applied violets mixed with goat’s milk to have a beautiful complexion. American colonists made a syrup of violet flowers to ease bronchitis and asthma.

Violets are a symbol of faithfulness and modesty.  Most cultures believed the heart-shaped leaves indicated the plant was beneficial to romance.  Combining violets with a single red rose in a small bouquet expresses never-ending love.  Mythology says that Zeus loved the nymph Io, and to protect her from his jealous wife, he turned her into a white heifer.  Io cried when she had to eat rough grass, so Zeus took pity on her and turned her tears into sweet flowers, violets.  The Greek word “Io” means “violet.”  Some versions of the myth say that the jealous wife, Hera, actually turned Io into a cow, and because Zeus could not turn her back into a nymph, he attempted to make her life as pleasant as possible by giving her a diet of violets.

Violets are a wonderful addition to the herb garden, providing color, Vitamin C, fragrance and flavor from some of the sometimes difficult shadier spots in the garden.  They are a benefit to many insects and a host plant for some species of butterflies.  True violets are sometimes hard to find in garden centers, but their cousins the violas and pansies are common cool weather offerings.  If planned to use for culinary or medicinal purposes, be certain they have not been grown with chemicals, which can not only be harmful to you, but to any pollinators that may visit them.

About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
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18 Responses to Violets: An Herb To Know

  1. No violets in the garden, but plenty on our lawn. Love the idea of decorating cupcakes with violets.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. JOY journal says:

    I’m not sure if it was intentional or a blessing, but we have about three varieties in our lawn, which was, long ago part of a massive farm. We love them!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bcparkison says:

    I love my wild violets. Thanks for more info.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I too have violets in my garden but did not realise that they were fertility indicators. I shall look more closely at wher e they grow and where they don’t! Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Irotchka says:

    Violets are the symbol flowers of Toulouse. We are producing tea, perfume, candies and a lot of other things with this flower. You can find it nearly in every garden here 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  6. Island Time says:

    Lovely post, thank you. The margins of our woods are carpeted with the tiny wild, native, yellow wood violets. A few pale purple ones were a gift from a fellow gardener. Love them and their elusive scent. I hope your snow is soon gone and that spring will arrive soon to your area. Here it seems the switch has suddenly been flipped to ON; I planted some peas in the garden yesterday, two weeks ago the gound was frozen solid! Happy gardening!

    Like

  7. Cortney says:

    Indeed we do have violets at the edge of the woods. I’ve always loved them and picked them near daily as a child as my parent’s yard is littered with them. Funnily, I never thought of them as herbs, but thanks to you, now I will.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Garden Gal says:

    What a sweet article. I’ve always loved these brave little blooms but didn’t know they were considered an herb. Think I might float a few in my next cup of mint tea!

    Like

  9. peggywright says:

    I love my purple and white violets.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Helen says:

    I’ve not seen violets wild or cultivated but they were one of the first edible flowers I became aware of, so they’ve been on my mind to get for many years.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. chickenmomma says:

    Violets grow wild here in the field below our garden. Like you I also love to keep a small bouquet in my kitchen to cheer me. I also sprinkle the flowers and leaves on my salads. I think I read somewhere that they are high in vitamin C. Thank you for your informative post!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. A. JoAnn says:

    I love the violets that pop up in random places, especially those given to me by a lovely lady named Anne. Though she is gone, her remembrance flower continues to grace us every spring.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Oh this is a lovely post — violets really are delightful and beneficial plants. I have wild violets popping up in my lawn and I love them!

    Liked by 1 person

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