Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Herb of the Week - Violets

Wonderful wild garden and prairie flowers, Violets also make great borders and companions for upright flowering plants, like hybrid roses and herbs.  They are easy to grow from seed and since this is garden planning time, I thought you might want to know more about this special little edible flower.

So this week's Herb of the Week is Sweet Violets.

The Ancient Greeks considered the Violet a symbol of fertility and love, they used it in love potions. Pliny recommended that a garland of them be worn about the head to ward off headaches and dizzy spells.  The scent of violets is fleeting, so making a syrup or freezing a tea made from fresh leaves and flowers is a great way to preserve its wonderful scent.

To Grow
Violets are perennials that spread via runner.  They are originally from Europe, but are now naturalized throughout North America, and can be found growing in most any soil or situation. Violets are easily cultivated through root cuttings or seeds. There exist over 900 species, however all have practically the same medicinal and edible herb values.

The heart shaped leaves, often with scalloped or slightly serrated edges, are dark green, smooth or sometimes downy underneath, and grow in a rosette at the base of the plant.  Roots are creeping and send out runners. Depending on soil and the amount of light the plant receives the flowers may be from deep purple or blue to pinkish or even yellow white. All have 5 petals, which may have a yellow (fur) or beard on the inside of two of the petals, blooming from March to June.

To Use
Gather flowers in full bloom, leaves anytime, and rootstock in fall. Dry root for later use.  Medicinal and edible, the flowers and leaves of viola are made into a syrup used in alternative medicine mainly for respiratory ailments associated with congestion, coughing, and sore throat. Large doses of the root contain an alkaloid called violine which is emetic (causing vomiting).  In some cultures this was used as a cure, although I don’t recommend it. 

A decoction made from the root can be used as a laxative. Tea made from the entire plant is used to treat digestive disorders and since it is rich in vitamin A and C great for cold season.  New research has detected the presence of a glycoside of salicylic acid (natural aspirin) which substantiates its use for centuries as a medicinal remedy for headache, body pains and as a sedative.  Other constituents in the plant such as Eugenol, Ferulic-acid, Kaempferol, Quercetin, Scopoletin, also show promise in the treatment of many kinds of cancer, arthritis, AIDS, gum disease and more, although these studies are still recent. Used externally the fresh crushed leaves reduce swelling and soothe irritations. Violet leaf oil is good for tinnitus (ringing in the ears.)

As a bath additive the fresh crushed flowers are soothing to the skin and the aroma is very relaxing.
Flowers are also edible and used in salads, made into jelly, frozen in ice cubes and candied for decoration.


Simple Violet Syrup (for treating coughs, colds and headaches)

2 cups boiling water
1 cup packed fresh flowers and leaves
2 lb. sugar

Pour boiling water over fresh crushed flowers and leaves cover and let stand for 12 hours. Strain and squeeze through cloth, add sugar and boil for 1 hour or until syrupy. Store in glass jars. Give 1 to 3 tsp. 2 or 3 times a day (only 1 tsp. for children.)

One of my herbal pals at Prairieland Herb Farm in Iowa  has a blog detailing how to make violet syrup.

Violet Tea

1 cup water
1/4 cup fresh or dried violet leaves or flowers

Steep dried or fresh violets in 1 cup of water for 10 min. stain, use honey to sweeten to taste. Take in 1/2 cup doses twice a day for medicinal use or enjoy one cup slowly as a morning tea.

Violet Jelly
Violet flowers make a killer jelly.  I like this recipe although when I first started making this I used the Sure-Jel recipe for grape jelly and substituted about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fresh violet flowers for the grapes.

2 heaping cups of fresh violet petals
2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup well-strained, clear lemon juice
4 cups sugar
3 oz liquid pectin (Certo) (you can also use powdered Sure-Jel dissolved in water)

Wash petals well, drain and place in heat-proof glass or nonreactive bowl. Pour boiling water over petals and let steep from 30 minutes to 24 hours. It usually takes about two hours for violets. Strain through a fine sieve, reserving the clear, purplish liquid or infusion. If not using immediately, refrigerate up to 24 hours.
Place jars and lids on rack in pan or stockpot deep enough to cover them with about two inches of water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, keeping the jars hot until ready to fill.

To make the jelly, stir lemon juice and sugar into reserved infusion in a two-quart nonreactive or stainless steel pan. Bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Add the liquid pectin and continue to boil two minutes, skimming any foam that may rise to the surface.

Ladle quickly into jars to within about 1/8 inch from the top; clean each rim and threads of the jar as it's filled, and place flat lid and ring on each before filling the next. Screw band on tightly and invert jar on tea towel for about 5 to 10 minutes. Jars should seal and lids should pop shut within 10 minutes as they cool. If they do not seal, you can place them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes or place in the refrigerator.
Sealed jars will last up to one year in a cool, dark place. Put any unsealed jelly in the refrigerator. They should keep about three weeks. Makes four or five half-pint jars.

We will soon be sharing garden planning tips so if you are thinking about including herbs in your flower or vegetable garden or creating a personal herb garden, please stop back for more info.


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