Notes from Herb Heaven
Originally from Britain and Europe, this common garden plant is not just a pretty face! Not often listed as a herb, the violet is nevertheless a worthy inclusion in this series due to its culinary and medicinal uses. Viola oderata is a low-growing perennial that makes an attractive groundcover. It love shade but will tolerate sun, although it does not like the tropics or hot, dry summers. Give violets in a moist, rich, well-drained soil, one with good compost that stays moist between showers and watering. Do not let them go dry for long periods. Violets are propagated by division or seed. Plant out divisions 30 cm apart and keep shaded for a few days. To fertilise, mulch with rotted manure once in spring. Take care not to cover the root crown. If the planting is too dense, spray with a complete plant food. Feed again in the summer with a liquid, organic fertiliser. Note that too much nitrogen may cause the plants not to flower. In the event of no flowers, cut the leaves off in early winter and you will be rewarded with a spring display.
Medicinally it is used for headaches, coughs, colds, bronchitis and catarrh. It also has a laxative effect. Syrup made from the flowers was widely used in earlier days, and is still effective in relieving a cough. An infusion made from the leaves and flowers can be used as a mouthwash for throat infections. I have known of people chewing a couple of flowers and a few leaves for a migraine or headache. Its actions are anti-inflammatory, expectorant, diuretic and it has been used as an anti-tumour remedy. Make a cup of violet tea from a quarter cup of leaves and flowers, steep for 5 minutes, strain and drink. Add a bit of honey if liked. This will help clear congestion of the nose, throat, chest and lungs. A cautionary word; too much can lead to nausea and vomiting.
Use a strong infusion as a wash for eczema and rashes. The crushed leaves are used in Africa and Europe as a poultice for skin cancer and growths. Violet flowers are often found in salads and as a garnish. The flowers can also be crystallised to use as decorations for cakes, and also as a sweet treat.
1 cup violet flowers
Try it drizzled over ricotta cheese and dried fruit.