Friday, April 27, 2018

Violets: Stories, History, and More

What can you make with two spears of asparagus and one morel mushroom? Not much you might think. But add some violet flowers leaves, some chives, some dandelion leaves, some thyme, some chopped tomatoes and grated cheese, and some eggs--and there's an omelet fit for a king.

That was our lunch yesterday. I sauteed the mushroom and asparagus, added the greens and herbs and cooked only long enough for the greens to wilt. Then beat the eggs, sprayed a skillet with olive oil and when it was hot, poured in the eggs. Added the rest of the ingredients, flipped one half over the other, flipped again, and omelet! It was so good. Larry got out the ketchup but I must have looked shocked because he put it back. A wise man.


I picked enough of the wild violets for a little bouquet for one of the milk glass pitchers I keep just for this use--and began thinking about violets. What do I know about this plant, I wondered--especially the uses of it, its history, and the folklore and superstitions about it?

As for uses: I've made violet jelly, and have to say it's not worth ruining so many pretty flowers. It takes a lot of them to make the jelly, and while it's a very pretty color, it doesn't have a flavor distinctive enough to warrant the use in this way. Far better to put them in a vase and enjoy them, in my opinion.

You can sprinkle the flowers over a salad. They add a nice, almost citrus-y flavor, somewhat like that of redbuds. Add the raw leaves to the salad too, for more green goodness. Today was the first time I tried cooking the green leaves in any way, and I must say they were  excellent, milder than spinach in my opinion. According to my reading, violets are a good source of vitamin C. One book suggested making a soup from the roots; the nodules resemble tiny root crops in a way, so I suppose one could gather enough of them for soup. I don't think I'll ever try it though.

Violets can be used to make syrup, or can be sugared and used as decoration, a nice edible trim!  In the past, poultices and other medicinal uses were made of the plant, including treatment of ulcers, as a pain relief tonic and more.

 If you're interested in more ways to use violets, check out The Nerdy Housewife.

According to the old book, The Language of Flowers, blue violets mean faithfulness; sweet violets mean modesty, and yellow violets mean rural happiness.

Because of its deep purple color, the Romans considered the violet the flower of mourning, which means that the connection between the color and sadness goes back a long way indeed.

In Greek mythology, Zeus fell in love with the nymph Io. To hide her from his wife Hera, Zues changed Io into a white heifer. Poor Io, suddenly confronted with having to eat grass! She appealed to Zeus, who took pity on her and changed her into the violet. Another version of the story is that Hera is the one who changed Io into the heifer, which sounds quite likely to me, because a jealous wife is a force to be reckoned with. In the Greek language, Io means violet.


The French have a special place for violets in their history too. The supporters of Napoleon Bonaparte chose the violet as their symbol, as Napoleon reportedly said he would return from Elba when the violets bloom--and he kept that promise.

Antoine Vollon [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The violet seemed to have strong significance for Shakespeare, as he often referred to them in his writing:

From A Midsummer Night's Dream:

"I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
 Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
 Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
 With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.
 There sleeps Titania, some time of the night,
 Lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight."

And Sonnet 99:

The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love's breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love's veins thou hast too grossly dyed.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol'n thy hair:
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red nor white, had stol'n of both
And to his robbery had annex'd thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
   More flowers I noted, yet I none could see
   But sweet or colour it had stol'n from thee.

Shakespeare wasn't alone in his love for the sweet violet; check Bartleby's for many other quotes about this little flower. The frequent referral to the scent of the violet makes me wonder if earlier humans had a stronger sense of smell than we do, for while I think the violets are sweet-smelling, many poems refer to their perfume as something quite heady.

In the United States, violets are so well thought of that they are the state flower of Illinois, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

But what of superstitions about this shy little flower? In Wales, it was once believed that to take less than a full handful of violets into the house of a farmer would spell death to his poultry.

A couple of pretty plates in my collection.

Dreaming of violets is considered good luck; to find out if a sick man will recover, place a bruised violet on his forefinger. If he sleeps well, he will recover; if not, well...see the Romans' belief about the flower above.

Violets have been used in herbal concoctions of all sorts, and are believed to aid in healing mouth and throat cancers, fevers and headaches, sore or chapped skin, and for inflammation. Many beauty preparations, from perfumes and colognes to bath salts and more, have been made with this little spring flower.

In my yard I have some white violets, some bi-colored, and the usual blue (I'd call them purple) ones. On Joe's Run I have found yellow violets and some stemmed ones with multiple flowers on one stem. What kinds grow where you live?

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

9 comments:

Nance said...

In southern Iows/northern Missouri we have the blue(purple), yellow, white and more rarely, white and purple on one blossom. They are in bloom now along with a few Sweet Williams, dandelions of course! And flowering trees are in bloom including the wild plum and the Bradford pear. The redbuds are this close (thumb and fore finger almost touching).

Granny Sue said...

That's quite a variety of varieties, Nance! I saw some white and purple in my grass today--I transplanted some years ago and they made their home in the lawn, it seems. The wild phlox is in bloom here (probably what is called Sweet Williams where you are), and so are the trillium, wild anemones, bluets, golden ragwort, cinquefoil, and a few others. The wild cherry and plums are also in bloom, and apples are finally starting. Our redbuds are out but not as pretty as in most years. Isn't it funny how it varies from place to place?

Quinn said...

I love violets! And I am very very fortunate to have so many here. We are way behind you in terms of growth, though - they have just begun to put out little leaves this past week, and I have already transplanted the first couple of clumps that were about to be buried under a new garden bed. I had no idea the leaves are good to eat! I know the goats don't care for them, but have never tried them myself. This will be the year - thank you :)

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

Such loveliness! I adore violets but find none growing wild here in NW WA - but maybe I've not looked closely enough. I have a little pot of them on my deck and do love the scent. Happy weekend to you!

Jenny said...

I've been starting a new bed of asparagus the last few years & so haven't been getting a lot yet. This morning's breakfast was sautéed asparagus & mushrooms in butter with a little fresh spinach then I drizzled a little bacon grease on it all as it finished cooking. I used it all as filling in a cheese omelet..so good! I didn't know you could add violet leaves as well.

Selina B said...

we tend to grow more of the purples here, they are the most popular, referring to their smell perhaps the violets of old were a lot stronger in perfume than they are today? it could also be where they are grown too? aren't they more of a cold climate flower? even if they aren't scented they would have to be the prettiest flowers?
thanx for sharing

Granny Sue said...

Quinn, they really are good, cooked or raw. Let me know if you give them a try.

Granny Sue said...

I assumed violets grew everywhere, JoAnn. Maybe they just haven't made it that dar west yet--apparently they traveled here from Europe.

Granny Sue said...

I guess it's time for us to start a new bed too. My hubby, bless him, seems to be intent on killing them out with his weedeater :/ We had a huge patch for a good while, but he gets impatient with them when they get all ferny and cuts them down. I think that's why it keeps dwindling. We have a few seedlings coming up here and there, so I am hopeful we can get started again--if I can keep the weedeater away.

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