Violets heralds of the spring

I live next door to a reduntant church with a beautiful brick and flint wall seperating the graveyard from my husband's farm yard. At the bottom of that wall is a narrow sloping verge - probably only a metre or so wide, that in March and April shyly produces a little patch of violets.

violet flowers and leaves on a grassy bank

richly coloured violet flowers found near a churchyard in Norfolk

Violets come in many guises

I'm not sure what sort of violets they are growing by the churchyard wall. But they are a heartwarmingly beautiful sight as I head out on my daily dog walk.

By all accounts, violets are a promiscuous family of plants that will happily cross pollinate and cross breed with their cousins. In 1993, Clive Stace, in his book "New Flora of the British Isles" listed no fewer than 28 species, sub-species and hybrids of this plant.  It seems odd therefore that the Victorians should have associated the violet with faithfulness and modesty!

white flowered violets growing wild on a sunny bank

Wild white violets growing on a bank

I strongly suspect that "my" violets are either Common Dog Violets Viola rivinicina or Early Dog Violets Viola reichenbachia. They're not scented.  Dog violets are probably what John Clare was talking about in this poem "Holywell"

And just to say that spring was come,
The violet left its woodland home
And, hermit-like from storms and wind
Sought the best shelter it could find
'neath long grass banks, with feeble flowers
peeping faintly purple flowers

Traditional uses for the violet

It is the sweet violet v. odorata that I want to find in the wild.  As a small child, my daughter used to adore the little purple violet-flavoured sweeties that I forget the name of.  The same plant that flavoured those sweets has been used int he making of perfume since ancient Greek times and in medieval Britain, sweet violet were ono of the many herbs strewn on the floor to help deodorize the home.  Apparently they were also used medicinally for insomnia, headache and depression. 

21st century uses for violets

In the 21st Century kitchen, fresh violet flowers, which are edible,  look great scattered over cupcakes.  They can be made into a syrup for pouring over ice cream.

Make violet flowers into sweets by dipping them into beaten egg-white and then into caster sugar.  Dry them out and store them in an air-tight tin.