The violets are blooming and as always I am taken in by their sweet fragrance and colourful little faces. I met a gardener yesterday afternoon, a woman decades my senior, and as we spoke of the violets in her garden and our mutual affection for their graceful charm, I was surprised to learn that she did not know that they are edible!
Never one to pass up the chance to act as a goodwill ambassador for these often maligned and overlooked plants, I set about naming off their uses: syrups, jellies, candies, cake garnishes, fresh salad ingredients… violets are an easy edible flower to grow and so practical as a perennial ground cover or a spot of colour in a lawn. They are also very amenable to a range of conditions. I even grow a patch in the shadiest part of my community garden plot where just about nothing else edible will thrive. The only difference I’ve found in growing them this way is that they tend to come up and bloom a bit later.
Last May I wrote about the violets I inherited with this place and the effort that I was taking to preserve and rehome them as we excavated the yard. What I did not mention is that I have been slowly collecting different varieties of all sorts of colours and patterns. I acquired an all white variety from my friend Julianna in a transplant trade a few years back. That year, I bought a few unusual types at a nursery outside of Toronto, and my friend David dug a few up from his parent’s lawn as a gift last spring. I have six varieties in total, but there are more out there that I’d like to add to my collection.
We tend to associate violets with the nursery rhyme, but they are so much more varied than the commonplace blue. In fact, I just read in “Herbal: The Essential Guide to Herbs for Living” that they, “enjoyed cult status” in Victorian England and that they were even more varied than they are now. Unfortunately, many cultivated varieties were lost.
Are you growing violets or any unusual varieties? Planning to make something with them? I’ll randomly drawn two names from the comments below next Wed, April 25, 2012. The winners will receive a copy of my new book, “Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces,” which happens to include a section on growing violets as well as suggested uses.