Sweet Violets – Violette odorante
Sweet Violet is a native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It is of particular interest here in PACA (Provence, Alps, Côte d’Azur), our local region, as it is grown commercially in and around Tourrettes-sur-Loup (Alps Maritimes). From May to the end of June the leaves are picked each day and transported to Grasse for the perfumery industry. The scent of the leaves is totally different from the flowers. They smell of freshly mown grass with a hint of cucumber. From October to March, the flowers are picked for bouquets, traditionally 25 flowers surrounded by 7-8 leaves. In the 19th century many varieties of Sweet Violet were grown, the ‘Parma’ Violet being the most popular. Today, it is only one variety, Viola odorata ‘Victoria’ which is grown. The flowers contain a substance called ionones which gives the violet its special scent. These ionones were isolated in 1893 and led to the successful production of synthetic violet, identical in scent and less expensive to produce.
Sweet Violets prefer shade or half-shade. They grow in rosettes, the leaves are heart shaped with scalloped edges. The flowers have 5 petals, 4 petals surrounding the broad lobed lower petal. The fruit splits in 3 parts containing numerous small seeds.
Medicinally the roots were used. They contain saponins that have the ability to loosen mucus. In Herbal Medicine a decoction is made by boiling the roots for 30 minutes, 1 teaspoon of dried root or 1 tablespoon of fresh root to 250 ml of cold water. It is used for children with dry or chronic bronchitis. The dosage is 1 tablespoon of 5% of the decoction, 3 to 6 times a day. High dosages cause nausea and vomiting.
The flowers and a small amount of the leaves can be added to salads. The leaves contain Vitamins A & C. Crystallised sweets, violet tea, violet vinegar and violet syrup are made with the flowers. The syrup is used to flavour cakes, biscuits, ice-cream and drinks.
Sweet Violet Syrup
Ingredients: 6 handfuls of Sweet Violets; 300 ml boiling water; 600 gr white sugar.
Remove the green stalks and leaves from the violets. Put the violets into a dish, pour boiling water over the flowers, cover and leave to infuse overnight or for 24 hours. After the infusion, add sugar to the violet mixture. Pour some water in a pan and bring to the boil. Place the bowl with the violet mixture on top of the pan à la bain-marie. Keep the water in the pan boiling till all the sugar has been dissolved. Strain, pour into sterilised jars and label. The syrup will keep for 6 months in a cool place or fridge. The syrup can be used in cakes, puddings, ice cream, but it is really lovely in a glass of sparkling wine. Just a dash is enough.
Bibliography: Sauvage et comestibles – Marie-Claude Paume; Fytotherapeutisch compendium – J. Van Hellemont; Herbal Teas – Richard Craze; Viola Odorata – Wikipedia; www.fragrantice.com; RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs & their uses – Deni Bown; The Violet of Tourrettes-sur-Loup – Communauté d’Agglomeration Sophia Antipolis; http://www.food.com