By Penny Ossowski
GROWING PANSIES, VIOLETS, HEARTSEASE
I remember Mum picking a bunch of violets and putting them in a crystal vase on her duchess (dressing table), sitting on a hand embroidered doily and reflected in the mirror, beautiful.
Last month I noticed my violets, which came from Mum many years ago, were flowering. The Violet, viola odorata, also known as the Ordinary Violet, Common Blue
Violet, Sweet Violet or Garden Violet is a cousin of pansies, violas and heartsease. It originated in Europe but is now naturalised throughout the world. There are hundreds of species of violets, some blue violet, deep purple, yellow, white, cream and some bi-coloured, most are perennials but a few are annuals.
The violet will grow in most soils but does best in well-drained, fairly rich soil, with a good helping of compost and some blood and bone. It will grow in full sun or part shade and prefers our cooler months. It is an ideal plant for the general garden, borders, rockeries and also pots and hanging baskets. Violets can be grown from seed, root cutting or division of runners and can become invasive and a nuisance at times but they are easily removed when they get in the way. Division of runners and root cutting should be done after flowering. They like growing in damp spots but don’t need too much water, water only if soil is becoming dry. When they start flowering give them a feed of liquid fertiliser now and then. Dead head and pick flowers regularly to encourage more flowers. If you want to collect seeds bag seed heads to catch the seeds, they will self sow. Mulch plants to keep the roots damp and cool.
Most violets have a subtle yet enticing scent, but some have to rely only on their looks for popularity. Violets are edible and have several medicinal uses. The ancient Greeks used violets to prevent dizziness and headaches from overindulging in alcohol, as a cure for chest congestion (violet flowers are still used in modern herbal cough syrups) and they also used them for several other herbal remedies and as a symbol of love and fertility. Violets are used in many Chinese herbal treatments. Parts of the violet plant are said to be helpful in the treatment of digestive disorders, headache, body pains, high blood pressure, sinus congestion, liver and spleen problems, as a sedative, a laxative and the treatment of hangovers and to make liniments.
The violet flowers are edible and can be used as a garnish and to add colour to salads, they can be candied and crystalised, used to make Violet Syrup, Violet Jelly, Violet Jam, Water, Violet Tea, Violet Wine and for perfumes.
In Australia we have many varieties of native violets some of which have the same qualities as viola odorata. The common native violet in Brisbane is Viola banksii, although it is often sold as Viola hederacea. It will grow in most soils, prefers semi shade, is great in rockeries and as a creeping ground cover and has purple and white flowers. I understand these are edible but am not 100% certain.
Eden Seeds has two Viola varieties. You can buy seeds online for Heartsease and Pansy Swiss Giants.
Violet Syrup: Mix 1 cup violet flowers, 1 cup caster sugar and the juice of two lemons. Heat very gently until just boiling, strain. Keep the liquid in the fridge for up to a week.
Violet Jam: By weight 1 part finely chopped violets to 3 part sugar and add the juice of a lemon for every cup of flowers. Bring to the boil, stirring continually until a little sets on a cool saucer. Remove from heat, place in sterilised jars and seal when cool.
Violet Tea: Steep ¼ cup fresh violet flowers and/or leaves in 1 cup of water for 10 minutes, strain, sweeten to taste. Take in ½ cup doses twice a day.
I’m sure when everyone rediscovers the violet it will become popular again, ask someone who is growing violets for a cutting or two.
From my old autograph book as written by my grandmother -
Roses are red, violets are blue, Sugar is sweet and so are you.