Violets were once called heartease, and perhaps this is why it became the birth month flower for February – the month with Valentine’s Day in it. Or maybe just because they are fragrant and lovely and ease our hearts as they start to flower. And they are tasty – lets not forget that in a blog about edibles!
Happy Heart Month
The simple beauty and delightfully friendly tricolored faces of heartease, pansies, and violets have long been admired by poets, artists, and lovers.
So favored they are, that some violets have become state symbols. The common blue violet Viola sororia is the state flower of Illinois, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. Up in Canada, New Brunswick has Viola cucullata as the provincial flower.
We might have missed Valentine’s Day but violets are still the flower of the month so let’s delve into their edibility.
The flowers, fresh or candied, were a favorite edible decoration at medieval banquets. Heartease flowers can be used to flavor and color salads, herbal butters, jams, jellies, syrups, desserts, herbal vinegars, and even wines. Tarts made from pansies or violets were a Victorian delicacy. Some preliminary studies indicate that flowers contain appreciable amounts of vitamins A and C. I love adding the flowers to salads – they look so pretty and are ever so slightly tart – maybe because of the vitamin C?
In moderation, violet leaves are an important spring forage for us humans. The whole wild violet plant is edible. Leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or lightly steamed.
Violet leaves are commonly used as a lettuce substitute in salads and even on sandwiches. These raw leaves are nice and crunchy. Depending on species, some have a slightly mucilaginous texture. If you eat nopalitos regularly you won’t even notice this.
Violets as Medicine
Historically, pansies and violets have been used to treat health problems ranging from epilepsy to depression. A tea made from the leaves was prescribed for quelling anger and inducing sleep. Roman revelers wore wreaths of violets in hopes of preventing hangovers.
Aromatherapy, the science of using scents to aid the physical body and mental well-being uses violet essence. Since the sense of smell is directly “wired” to the brain, and needs no translation such as the sense of sight or hearing do, aromas can have subtle yet direct impact on the body. Europeans have been studying aromatherapy for over a century. Essence of violets appears to be useful to ease exhaustion, bronchial complaints, and skin problems. The oil is said to have antiseptic properties.
As always – make sure of your identification before eating. African violets make lovely houseplants but should not consumed They can make you very sick.
Here in the Southwest we can celebrate February with this pretty, edible – not to mention pretty edible – flower.
Here’s Something Sweet for Sweetheart Month!
May we suggest our dandy little cookbook? Using Honey in New and Savory Ways offers 36 pages of tips for using honey in your cooking, as well as in all manner of dishes. A steal at only $6!
We hope you will help support some local Southwest folks!
From the review:
“Honey is for more than desserts and this book can help! Using honey in cooking savory dishes helps engage all your taste buds and adds a layer of added flavor to everyday dishes – plus holiday fare.”
Beekeeper? We offer volume discounts – because if you sell honey in local markets you might want to offer some of these books as well.
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