Favourite Herbs: Pansies, Violas and Violets

Pansies, Violas and Violets

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Viola spp.

Hardy annuals; may self-seed

Pansies: Height 15 to 18 cm; spread 15 to 20 cm.

Viola: Height 10 to 18 cm; spread 10 to 15 cm.

Perennials

Violets: Height 10 to 15 cm; spread 20 to 25 cm.

All characterized by bicoloured and tricoloured flowers, in a wide range of contrasting shades, on dark-green foliage.

Try these!

Viola odorata (sweet violet): Wonderful perfume and sweet flavour

Viola x wittrockiana (pansy): Slight wintergreen taste

Viola tricolor (viola): Slight wintergreen taste

Planting

Start viola species from seed indoors or grow from young plants purchased from a garden centre.

How much: Six plants; more for ornamental use.

When: As soon as the ground can be worked; very frost tolerant. Plant up to one month before the date of average last spring frost in your area.

Where: Partial shade; bright sun will produce more flowers, but hot sites will scorch plants. Prefers rich, slightly acidic, well-drained soil. Space pansies and violas 15 to 20 cm apart; space violets 10 to 15 cm apart.

Care and Nurture

Viola species are easy to grow! Do not let pansies, violas, or violets dry out: they go to seed quickly if stressed or deprived of moisture. If plants become lanky, cut them back to encourage bushiness.

Harvesting

Because of their excellent frost tolerance, these flowers will likely be both the first and the last herbs you harvest each year.

For best flavour: Harvest mid-morning, after the dew has evaporated and before the day gets too hot.

Leaves: Not eaten.

Flowers: Gather flowers as they open. Clip flower stalk where it attaches to the stem, then cut stalk at the base of the flower head; discard stalk. Eat flowers whole: petals, stamens and all.

Preserving the Harvest

Flowers will keep for several days in the fridge, but they are best used fresh. Petals can be preserved in oil, butter, or vinegar, or they can be dried and stored in a warm, dark, dry place.

Tips

  • Two perennial violets, common dog violet (Viola riviniana) and wood violet (Viola reichenbachiana), are edible. They have little fragrance but a lovely sweet flavour.
  • If you're taking a summer vacation, cut back the foliage by one-third and harvest flowers before you leave; when you return, you'll find another full set of blooms.
  • Violets love well-rotted manure added to their soil.
  • Yellow and white pansies have a gentle fragrance. That’s why I often recommend using these colours in herb gardens.
  • Pansies are a good choice for children’s garden because the plants are easy to grow, the flowers are reliable and colourful, and kids love the flowers because of the colourful 'faces.'

To Note:

  • These flowers are delightful in borders, mixed beds, rock gardens, cottage gardens, windowboxes, hanging baskets, and other containers.
  • The name "pansy" is derived from the French pensée, or thought.
  • Use violet flowers in potpourri, floral waters, and perfumes.
  • The other common name for pansies—heartsease—came from the practice of giving bouquets of these flowers to people with broken hearts.
  • The Greeks chose sweet violet as their symbol of fertility.
  • Ancient Britons used sweet violet flowers as a cosmetic.
  • An infusion made from violet flowers is often used in continental Europe as a substitute for litmus paper as a test for acids and bases (pH). Before litmus paper, violet syrup was used to measure pH. The syrup turns red when exposed to acids, green when exposed to bases.
  • In ancient Athens, violets were used to moderate anger, bring sleep, and to comfort and strengthen the heart.
  • Violets were once thrown on graves for remembrance.