Focus on... the violet
The violet is one of the key plants for the arrival of spring. It is native to Europe and has been widely cultivated on the French Riviera (where I live today) for its fragrant properties in perfumery and sweets. It is also found in the region of Toulouse with the Russian violet (viola suavis). It can used in many ways, perhaps unsuspected for some, and it is found very easily in our regions, so why deprive yourself?
Latin : viola reichenbachiana or odorata, depending on whether we are talking about the pale wood violet or the sweet violet (more fragrant). There is also viola alba, the white violet, viola canina, the heath violet, viola hirta, the hairy violet, covered with stiff hairs...
Other common names: wood violet, English violet, common violet, florist's violet, garden violet. The pale wood violet is also called early dog-violet: unscented, it's just good for dogs they used to say. It is therefore advised to smell the flowerbed before picking to confirm the good variety.
Its leaves are heart-shaped at the base and toothed all along, of a rather dark green.
Its violet flowers (surprising?) are rather the same shape as pansies in smaller size. They appear from mid-February to May and the plant, reproducing by underground stolons (like strawberries), is generally found in the form of whole beds. As we saw above, it is the sweet variety that is fragrant.
The flowers are sterile. There are secondary flowers, green and self-fertile, that form seeds. The seeds are usually transported by the ants to the anthills (the larvae feed on an excrescence attached to the seed), but reproduction is also done a lot thanks to the shoots produced by the stolons which explains the carpets that we find in the forest.
Where to find it
I'm starting to know places with swwet violets other than my in-laws' garden, which has beautiful flowerbeds for my greatest pleasure! They are found particularly in cool undergrowth as well as on banks as in the photo below (note how picking violets puts young children to sleep...). It is a species of half-shade which can therefore be found on borders, in hedges or at the edge of paths. It appreciates rich and rather basic soils (on limestone rock as you can see showing on the surface in the picture below).
I remind as mentioned above that only the sweet violet perfumes our nostrils so make them work before moving on to the harvest step! Its leaves are used in perfumery, not the flowers, by the method of distillation and they can also be eaten to enjoy their fragrance! The young leaves will be perfect for adding a subtle note to a mesclun of classic or wild salads (lamb's lettuce, arugula, wild garlic, white nettle or even dandelion). Cooked, they are rich in mucilages (substances that swell on contact with water forming a viscous material) and will therefore be perfect for cooking to thicken a soup while adding flavor. You can actually use them like you would use spinach (I will try a quiche someday!). The older leaves are more fibrous and will therefore be eaten preferably cooked, but in any case they can be picked before and after flowering. The leaves contain a lot of vitamin C, vitamin A, mineral salts and saponin. To finish with the flower, let's remember that cooking would destroy a large part of the aromas, so it is better to eat it raw and fresh! For my part, I do not hesitate to taste one along the way while having a deep thought of thanks to our generous Nature. To enjoy an even more gourmet moment, I have the immense pleasure of leaving the keyboard to the sweet Marlène of Grimoire d'Etoiles to explain to us how to crystallize them with sugar:
"You just need to take a few fresh edible flowers or leaves. Choose them rather small in size because once crystallized, the large pieces break easily. Wash them briefly and pat them dry because they must be perfectly dry before you start sugaring.
Prepare a bowl of caster sugar and a bowl of lightly beaten egg white at room temperature. Provide a flat surface covered with a baking sheet. Take the flowers by their peduncles or the leaves by their stems, then using a brush cover them entirely with a film of egg white. To keep the flowers open, start from the back from your fingers to the outer edges. Then brush the front always starting from the heart outwards. Then above the bowl, generously sprinkle all sides with powdered sugar. Gently place your sweet vegetable on the baking sheet and sprinkle it with a little more sugar. Wait for complete drying and put in a jar or enjoy."
You can see her making them in a video from the 30th of march 2022 on her Instagram account @grimoiredetoiles.
It seems that almost only the limits of the imagination can circumscribe the possible uses: infusion in water, alcohol, vinegar, oil, in syrup, jelly, honey or even incense.
The flowers are expectorant so they are particularly useful to cure the end of winter ills when they point the tip of their nose! I dry a few handfuls of it every year to use as an infusion for this very purpose. Violet also has a purifying, laxative (mild) and diuretic effect, as well as emollient properties which can be useful against certain skin dryness conditions (psoriasis, eczema). Its delicate smell of undergrowth gives it soothing and calming properties that will be useful to reduce stress, fight sleep disorders or even migraines. The roots meanwhile, and that's why I haven't talked about them in the consumption part, have emetic properties.
It is traditionally associated with modesty, prudishness or secret love, on the pretext that its flowers would hide under the leaves or turn their heads towards the ground. But it is not so, so I allow myself to share with you the symbolism of the violet seen by Marlène again, which spoke to me a lot more:
"According to my feelings, it is the flower of love, communion and duality due to its perfectly balanced masculine and feminine energies. Looking closely at its flower, its heads side evokes the feminine attribute and its tails side the male attribute. Its color results from the mixture of red and blue, symbol of the two genders."
By its delicate and sensual smell, it would be aphrodisiac. He is also credited with gifts of protection and healing. Some traditions evoke that the picking of the first violets of the year is accompanied by a wish that they will help to grant, just as burning violet incense would bring good luck.
"The violet has two faces. She is both a celestial angel and a pretty little witch." (Nicole Parrot, The language of flowers - free translation)
In France, the violet is on the red list of vascular flora at the national level but in "minor concern", that is to say that the risk of disappearance is low.